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More road tolls for Europe?

Jun 16, 2014
In a recent speech at the Transport Business Summit in Brussels, European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas predicted that more road tolls would be the way forward to ensuring the right transport infrastructure for Europe’s future.

Mr. Kallas first asked what has the European Union done – and what is it doing now - to make sure that transport remains a profitable business?  He said that it has “Created a pan-European strategy for building and investing in transport infrastructure. This is the Trans-European Transport Network, backed up by dedicated financing in the Connecting Europe Facility to make sure it becomes a reality on the ground”.

He said that funding for transport infrastructure for the 2014-2020 budget period had more than tripled – to €26 billion - compared with the previous budget period and that one of the best ways to stimulate growth is to remove more barriers. “The European Union has always been economically successful when it has done this,” he said.  “This is why EU transport policy has always focussed on overcoming obstacles between Member States – whether technical, administrative or regulatory.”

Mr. Kallas said that the ultimate objective is to create a single European transport area with fair competition conditions, for - and between - the different forms of transport: road, rail, air and waterborne. “The barriers are not only physical. There are others which are more hidden. Barriers to efficiency, fairness and transparency. Barriers to the free movement of people, services, goods and capital. We should continue the work on dismantling all types of barriers, push for EU-wide standardisation across the transport sector to avoid bottlenecks and delays, and continue to open up the remaining closed transport markets.”

For the road sector, he said that it was relatively open as a market but the main problem in this sector is investment – pan-European investment in particular - and maintenance of road infrastructure. He said that up to now, this has been considered mainly as a regional priority – even a negative priority, since roads generate by far the most congestion in transport. The widespread view has been that EU transport policy should limit the use of roads as much as possible, in favour of other forms of transport.

“Perhaps this view has been too narrow,” he said. “We also have problems with poor cross-border links in the wider European road network. The road system in Eastern Europe is a particular example of this and puts Europe to shame. While we now have the Connecting Europe Facility to fund infrastructure, it has its limits - whereas there are other ways to end the years of chronic underinvestment in the road sector. The solution suggested by transport planners is charging. It follows the 'user pays' principle, a cornerstone of a fair and efficient pricing policy that also implies changes in road transport cash flows. Just as trains pay track access charges and airlines pay airport fees, those who use roads could also pay towards their maintenance and improvement.”


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