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Can road transport absorb the doubling of EU toll rates at short notice?
EU | Brussels

Can road transport absorb the doubling of EU toll rates at short notice?

22 Nov 2023 · Environment

On 1 December 2023, Germany will become the first EU country to apply the bloc’s new road user charging framework, highlighting three primary issues with the law and its implementation.

In 2022, the EU adopted a new legislative framework for road user charges. Member States are expected to transpose the new rules into national legislation by the end of March 2024. Germany will be the first country to implement the new legislation.

In October, the German federal parliament approved a plan which will lead to the doubling of toll rates for the use of a standard Euro VI truck combination starting 1 December 2023. The doubling of the toll rate includes a double charge for CO₂ emissions. The first charge comes through a rate variation based on the vehicle’s CO₂ performance. The second charge comes from an additional external CO₂ cost which is added. 

Empty incentive

The new toll charges are meant to incentivise the uptake of zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles. However, as often highlighted by IRU, such vehicles are not widely available on the market: even if a transport company could afford to change its fleet in a matter of weeks or months, they have few possibilities to switch to affordable and easily usable low-emission vehicles, including for long-haul trips.

There are also two specific issues with how Germany has implemented the new rules.

Extremely short notice

Germany is introducing the new toll charges on very short notice, having given the market and transport companies less than a month to react.

It is extremely challenging for road transport operators to absorb a doubling of toll rates at such short notice without serious risks. Contract negotiations were made close to impossible until the final decision by the federal parliament. Renegotiating contracts in a month’s time is a challenge for transport operators of all sizes.

Eventually, the road user charge increases could impact consumer prices in Germany and beyond. It is essential that Member States foresee adequate lead time for the application of higher toll rates to allow the road transport and logistics industry to properly adapt to the new situation.

Extreme toll increases

It should be noted that the new EU road user charging framework imposes very few obligations on Member States, giving them ample amounts of decisional flexibility.

For example, in terms of external cost charges, only the levying of an air pollution charge will become mandatory from 2026 onwards. There is no obligation to apply a double charge for CO₂ emissions by varying rates according to the CO₂ performance of the vehicle together with the levying of an external CO₂ cost.

Germany has decided to apply most charges possible under EU law, doubling toll rates. Member States are under no obligation to prescribe the highest increase possible.

Commenting on the rushed and extreme actions of Germany, IRU EU Advocacy Director Raluca Marian said, “We hope that other Member States will be more reasonable. If all Member States followed in Germany’s footsteps, we’ll be facing astronomical costs across the EU.

“There are at least two issues with Germany’s implementation of the new rules: they gave very little notice, and they prescribed the highest amount possible under EU law. This comes in addition to the fact that the new framework cannot incentivise the uptake of zero-emission vehicles since they are not readily available on the market. So small and medium-sized operators, the foundation of the road transport industry, are being penalised with charges that they can’t realistically do anything about.”

Other Member States are preparing to implement the new rules in 2024 or later.

More related information available here.