“Let me assure you that we’re not after a revolution here,” Violeta Bulc said at a small Brussels conference this week after she outlined her plans to overhaul rules governing transport and shipping on roads.
“Charging is a hot topic. It needs to be fair, it needs to be transparent and it needs to allow equal playing fields,” Bulc said.
The Slovenian Commissioner presented spoke at a conference held by consumer organisation Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), which is lobbying for the European Commission to call off its plans to change road toll rules. National governments should be free to make their own road toll rules, FIA argues.
It’s rare that road tolls attract so much attention in Brussels. But Bulc’s comments in Brussels come just one week after the Commission announced a surprise compromise in a prolonged fight with Germany’s transport minister over a controversial road toll bill that will charge drivers registered in other countries more than Germans.
The fight over the German bill has been heated and could have been awkward for the Bulc, who is set to propose a new EU-wide road toll system next spring.
Many drivers in EU countries pay a lot for road tolls but don’t see that money reinvested into improving the quality of roads or building new road infrastructure, FIA argues.
Vehicle charges from 27 member states make up €286.3 billion, but only €178.4 billion was used to build road infrastructure, according to a new study commissioned by the organisation. Cyprus did not provide data for the study.
Car drivers paid 71% of those fees.
The discrepancy between road charges and investment in infrastructure varies a lot between EU countries: in Denmark, motorcyclists pay 1,226% more than what is spent to build public roads. In Malta, car drivers spend 558% of what’s reinvested. Romania has the lowest ratio—more money is spent there on road infrastructure than what car drivers and motorcyclists pay in tolls and fees. That isn’t the case in any other EU country, according to FIA’s study.
Bulc is expected to propose an overhaul of road toll laws that allows lower charges for vehicles that pollute less, as part of what the Commission calls a polluter pays system. The executive has pushed national governments to get rid of vignette systems that charge drivers based on how much time they spend on roads, and has instead advocated for a switch to distance-based tolls.
The Commission is under pressure to slash emissions from the transport sector, where they continue to grow. Most transport emissions come from vehicles on roads.
“It’s a natural focus for me that we focus on roads,” Bulc said.
Bulc is also expected to propose changes next year that aim to make electronic toll systems work better to charge vehicles that cross EU borders.
“My dream is that I can travel from Portugal to Finland without stopping and being charged for the use of roads,” she said.