Reform of road use charges to spur cleaner transport and ensure fairness

Clean Transport UN Environment

Gearing up for change: transport sector feels the heat over emissions (UN Environment, 2018)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.


EU countries imposing time-based road use charges will need to switch to distance-based ones for trucks and buses from 2023, and vans from end of 2027, under draft rules adopted today.

The draft rules aim to help meet EU emission reduction targets for the transport sector and make road user charges fairer. These rules would govern charges that EU member states already impose or are about to introduce on trans-European transport network roads.

Moving toward “polluter pays”/“user pays” principle

To ensure that vehicles are charged according to actual road use and the pollution they generate, road charging imposed by member states would need to become distanced-based from 2023 for heavy-duty vehicles and larger goods vans (over 2.4 tonnes) and from end of 2027 for light duty vehicles, meaning vans and minibuses.

To encourage the wider use of environmentally-friendly vehicles, EU countries would need to set different road charging rates based on CO2 emissions.

From 2021, if a member state applies road use charges to heavy-duty vehicles and larger goods vans, “external-cost charges” – charges for traffic-based air or noise pollution, would also need to be applied. From 2026 onwards, if an external-cost charge is applied on any section of the road, it should also be applied to other vehicle categories.

Fair treatment of all road hauliers and drivers from other EU countries

To remove exemptions allowed under current rules, if member states use road charging, it would need to apply to all heavy-duty vehicles and larger goods vans, which are increasingly used for freight transport operations, from 2020. Current rules allow EU countries to exempt heavy-duty vehicles under 12 tonnes and buses and coaches.

The new rules would allow countries to set discounts, e.g. for frequent users of light vehicles in areas which are not densely populated and on the outskirts of cities.

To ensure occasional users and drivers from other EU countries are fairly treated, the draft rules also set limits on the price of short-term “vignettes” that can be imposed on drivers of passenger cars. “Vignette” stickers should also be available for shorter periods of one day and one week, MEPs add.

Rapporteur Christine Revault d’Allonnes Bonnefoy (S&D, FR) Today the European Parliament adopted an ambitious report to achieve the objective of the White Paper on European Transport to move towards the full application of ‘user pays’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles on the European road transport network. This proposal is a turning point for the European transport policy to better tackle CO2 emissions and air pollution from the road transport sector”.

Next steps

Parliament adopted its first reading position on the draft rules with 398 in favour, 179 against and 32 abstentions. For the negotiations to start with the Council on the final wording of the rules, the EU ministers need to adopt their position.

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