Road users pressed to ‘internalise’ pollution costs


As transport use continues to grow, all modes of transport must pay their fair share for the pollution they emit, including lorries and private car users, argued stakeholders attending a logistics conference on 3 December.

One of the main questions debated in the CLECAT annual freight forwarders’ conference was whether the current EU approach to ‘internalise its external costs’ is right in the current context of economic slowdown.

“All our costs are already internalised,” argued Michael Nielsen, general delegate to the EU at the International Road Transport Union (IRU), which represents trucks, buses and taxis, adding that the sector had already done a lot to tackle externalities, paying for them through petrol and road taxes or the current Eurovignette, for example.

“If congestion is not taken into account – and you hardly ever see trucks on congested roads, but rather private cars of individuals getting their goods in and out of cities – 99% of our external costs are covered,” he said. 

Nielsen also underlined that the objective of Eurovignette should be see that money collected from one transport mode is invested back into that mode to improve performance. 

Nielsen’s call for all transport modes to be tackled equally was supported by freight forwarders. “If introduced, internalisation of external costs must be done for all modes of transport, including private cars,” argued Jean Claude Delen of CLECAT, which represents the industry.

Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency (EEA) underlined that freight markets were driven by consumption patterns and the burden of external costs should therfore be shared across society. A “lifecycle analysis” of external costs of transport should also be considered, so that not only one transport mode or sector is penalised, said EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade.

In parallel, calls were made for the EU to support expansion and interlinking of TEN-T networks, development of regional transport corridors, intense cross-border and regional cooperation as means of cutting down external transport costs. 

Businesses wanted to avoid double charging and called for “careful balancing of greening and competitiveness,” because otherwise internalisation would affect their competitiveness, they said. Non-fiscal measures, including improved emission standards, product development and changes in logistics like longer trains and trucks could also help cut down external transport costs, underlined Rune Landin of BusinessEurope. 

So would standards. Ernst-Peter Ziethen from the European Committee for Standardisation noted that they can be used to reduce external costs through harmonised cross-border technical standards for rail and the development of standards for electric vehicles. Such costs would also be reduced if automotive engines were to use biofuels and if intramodal transport used standardised containers, Ziethen said.

European Commission proposals, presented early July 2008, foresee the revision of the current Eurovignette Directive on tolls for trucks to allow national governments to include pollution costs in their toll tariffs (EURACTIV 07/07/08). 

The Commission strategy for the internalisation of transport external costs is part of a package of initiatives intended to make transport more sustainable. The aim of the initiative is to develop a transport pricing system to cover the negative externalities, such as noise and pollution, generated by road freight.

  • 21 Jan. 2009: European Parliament's transport committee to adopt a report on the European Commission's proposal.
  • 10 March 2009: First reading pleanry vote scheduled.

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