Autobahn Levy

Germany's Plan to Levy Highway Tolls on Car Drivers Expensive, Misguided, Self-Defeating

German Highway Toll Sensors Along the A7 Autobahn in Frankfurt am Main. Source AP
The head of Germany's Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner, said he opposes plans by the Bavarian Christian Socialists Union party to introduce nationwide highway tolls payable only by non-Germans.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s plan to impose highway tolls on non-German car drivers could set off a series of retaliatory levies across Europe.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • For decades, Germany has invested too little in building and maintaining roadways.
    • A third of the money raised from German highway tolls on car drivers would be used to administer the new levy.
    • Germany already levies highway tolls on trucks and wants to expand the digital pass collection system to non-German drivers.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

A road toll on passenger cars is the most bureaucratic idea since the deposit on bottles.

Ineffective, inefficient and unjust, according to nearly every expert who has investigated the prestige road toll project of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria. Even in the European Union, doubts are growing about the wisdom of the levy. The only logical conclusion is to end the histrionics.

Germany’s highways, streets and bridges are in desolate condition. Instead of calling on the bureaucracy, the country needs to mobilize the private sector. For decades, too little has been invested in infrastructure. With the ruling right-left governing coalition, the share of investment in the federal budget continues to decline, despite record tax revenues.

“Even in the European Union, doubts are growing about the wisdom of the levy. The only logical conclusion is to end the histrionics. ”

Christian Lindner, Free Democratic Party Chairman

The revenues from the toll Germany already collects on heavy trucks have been used for years to reduce public outlays. Each year, €7 billion is lacking. Only €200 million to €250 million could be expected from the toll on passenger cars.

Levying, administering and monitoring the toll can devour more than 30 percent of those revenues. No other tax or fee is as inefficient as this one.

Do we want to return to the Europe of our grandparents? With border guards and toll bars? With so many stickers on the windshield that the road is no longer visible? Today’s Europe is open and free. Many people make a living from so-called local frontier traffic — whether in commerce, gastronomy or tourism. Germany shouldn’t move backward.

If the passenger car toll happens, it will be a taste of more systematic financial burdens to come on all car drivers and mid-sized businesses. The Bavarian CSU party and the Christian Democratic Union, Social Democratic Party and Green Party are all working on plans to expand the toll on heavy trucks and to impose taxes on light-duty commercial vehicles. The motto: Tolls for one and all. Instead of fleecing car drivers and businesses further, political priorities must be readjusted.

 

Christian Lindner, chairman of the Free Democratic Party, speaking at a party event in Berlin in May 2014. Source DPA
Christian Lindner, head of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Picture Source: DPA
Christian Lindner, chairman of the German Free Democratic Party, said Germany should not impose new highway tolls on non-German residents because it would lead to retaliation across Europe. Source: DPA

 

First of all, additional revenues must be made available for repairing infrastructure. But the money must be used more effectively. Better professional planning would lead to cost savings of up to 10 percent.

Secondly, crumbling bridges cannot be repaired, according to the momentary cash position. We need continuity. The legislative authority must make a hard-and-fast commitment to reserve a greater share of revenue from the gas tax for building and maintaining roadways. The share of investments in the public budget must increase.

 

Today’s Europe is open and free. Many people make a living from so-called local frontier traffic — whether in commerce, gastronomy or tourism. Germany shouldn't move backward.

Thirdly, Germany needs an initiative for more private capital and know-how in the area of infrastructure. Experience with public-private partnerships has been gained in building roads. Transportation projects undertaken by the private sector are completed more rapidly and achieve above-average quality. Throughout the world, 75 percent of all transportation projects are privately financed.

 

Traffic along the A14 Autobahn near Leipzig Source DPA
Germany, led by Bavaria, wants to impose the nation’s first highway tolls on autos but the levy, which would apply only to non-German drivers, is controversial. Source: DPA

 

In an era of low interest rates, insurance and pension funds can discover worthwhile investment potential here. Advantages also accrue to public authorities when private firms are responsible for not only the realization but also the operation of infrastructure. This would bring benefits to all users — better roads, less traffic jams, reduced carbon-dioxide emissions — and no new bureaucracy.

Christian Lindner is the Free Democratic Party’s leader. He can be reached at: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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