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The Eurovignette Directive

Jun 10, 2020
CIPRA demands to national transport and environment ministers
Image caption:
(c) italo losero_flickr

The Eurovignette Directive offers insufficient protection to the Alps

At EU level, haggling has been going on for years about transit traffic and the environmental pollution caused by HGVs, which is regulated by the infrastructure costs directive. This EU regulation – officially the Eurovignette Directive – was introduced back in 1993 and regulates the voluntary collection of charges (tolls) for commercial vehicles on motorways. The aim is praiseworthy: trucks should bear part of the infrastructure costs. But that alone is not enough. Now the regulation is finally to be strengthened and made binding. CIPRA is getting involved in the current debate for the benefit of people and the environment along the transit routes.

Truck operating costs are too low

Even at the time of the first revision of the Eurovignette Directive, in 1999, there was a loud call[1] for the additional inclusion of environmental costs, i.e. compensation for the damage caused by heavy goods vehicles to people and the environment. Unfortunately this was in vain. To date, these external costs have not been included, despite a further revision of the regulation in 2006. The true cost in comparison with other modes of transport (such as rail) is therefore not given, with truck operating costs set too low for years now. An important point of contention is also the limitation of charges to vehicles of over 12 tonnes total weight. This has led to an increase in the use of smaller trucks by hauliers, thus increasing the overall environmental impact.

EU Parliament seeks commitment

In May 2017, the EU Commission presented a draft revision that included external costs and reduced the weight limit to 3.5 tonnes. The European Parliament amended the draft in mid-2018. It now provides for the mandatory transition to toll systems based on the actual number of kilometres driven. The level of the toll is to be differentiated according to CO2 emission classes. Since then we have been waiting for Member States to take a stand. At the beginning of December 2019, however, national transport ministers were unable to reach agreement. Germany is in particular against lowering weight limits, while Italy and the Netherlands see the mark-ups for external costs such as air pollution and noise as too high.

The next negotiations will take place in mid-June 2020. Should the transport ministers agree among themselves, it will then be necessary to establish a joint text with the Parliament and the Commission.

CIPRA calls for overdue protection of the Alps from transit traffic

In order to promote the interests of people and nature in the Alpine region and to advance the protection of the Alps along the transit axes, the CIPRA organisations formulated their general demands on transit traffic at the end of April 2020. Now they are also submitting to the national environment, transport and health ministers their specific requests for improving the infrastructure costs directive.

As the umbrella organisation of the environmental, nature conservation and sustainability organisations in the Alpine region, with over 100 member organisations, CIPRA in principle supports the revision of the infrastructure costs directive in order to reduce road traffic volumes and achieve the goal of climate neutrality. They also welcome the fact that the common rules should apply to commercial vehicles of over 3.5 tonnes.

However, CIPRA also points out that the eight signatory states to the Alpine Convention – including Germany and Italy – committed themselves to the principles of the infrastructure costs directive over 20 years ago. In the preamble to the Transport Protocol they explicitly commit themselves to traffic reduction. The first article states: “The Contracting Parties undertake to develop the transport sector in accordance with the precautionary, avoidance and polluter-pays principles”. And, according to article three, “the economic viability of transport should be increased and external costs internalised”. What is currently the subject of heated debate has long since become mandatory for some EU countries.

CIPRA is therefore focusing on three demands to improve the infrastructure costs directive:

  1. The directive must include all external costs as a basis for calculation.
  2. The planned permissibility of add-on tolls to promote a modal shift in sensitive areas such as the Alps or densely populated regions must be maintained.
  3. Tolls must be levied as a function of the number of kilometres travelled.

Swiss reality for 20 years

The importance of a truck toll based on actual mileage is evident in the Alpine region outside the EU. In Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the use of motorways has been subject to a flat-rate charge since 1985. This changed as a result of a ground-breaking referendum that established the protection of the Alps from transit traffic (the so-called Alpine Initiative) at constitutional level in 1994, with the relevant implementing law adopted in 1998. Instead of the flat-rate charge, a capacity-linked Heavy Vehicle Levy (LSVA) has since 2001 been payable by all commercial vehicles of over 3.5 tonnes on all roads and includes the emission level and number of kilometres driven. Even though the HVL currently covers only a third of the external costs, it contributes to shifting freight transport from road to rail. The number of transalpine truck journeys has fallen by 33% since 2001, from around 1.4 million to 941,000 in 2018.



On the Swiss Heavy Vehicle Levy: (de)

The state of discussion on the Eurovignette Directive (Deutsche Verkehrszeitung 3.12.19): (de)

On the internalisation of external costs in Switzerland (Top document, chart p. 12): (de)

[1] In the Green Paper “Fair and Efficient Pricing in Transport” in 1995, the White Paper “Pricing” in 1998 and the EU White Paper 2001 on “European Transport Policy for 2010”.

Filed under: Transit