Autobahn Fees

Toll on Foreign Motorists Approved

Autobahn in the night dpa
Is the price right?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany hopes the controversial tax on drivers from abroad can help finance infrastructure projects, but opponents doubt it will generate the amount of money  expected.

  • Facts


    • Germany is among the few remaining countries in Europe which does not yet have a road toll.
    • The coalition government and the E.U. have long debated the planned road toll and whether it is legal for the tax to be focused on drivers from abroad.
    • The Transport Ministry estimates the new tax disc system will generate €500 million, or $545 million, but experts have questioned this figure.
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It will soon be time for foreign drivers to pay up in Germany.

The country’s right-left coalition government in Berlin has agreed to impose a controversial road toll for highways that only is paid by non-German drivers. The measure is expected to be passed by the Bundestag on Friday.

Rejected by German lawmakers, including many members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own ruling party, the new law is a compromise typical of Germany’s coalition politics.

The tolls on foreign drivers — which Germany’s own motorist association, ADAC, and the European Union have warned is illegal — is a concession to Bavaria, whose Christian Social Union party is a key bloc in Ms. Merkel’s ruling coalition.

Bavaria in southern Germany borders on Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, and is likely to benefit most from the additional income from imposing tolls on drivers from abroad.

“This is a success for transport policy,” said Ulrich Lange, the CSU’s spokesperson for transport policy.

After months of haggling, the three parties in Germany’s ruling coalition have agreed this week to details of the law, according to information obtained by Handelsblatt.

The deal attempts to address concerns of opponents and the European Commission in Brussels, which has threatened to torpedo the toll.

“This is a success for transport policy.”

ulrich lange, CSU politician

The compromise will include less expensive toll payments for short-term visitors to Germany, as well as tight strings attached on how the money is spent. The success of the fees will also be evaluated in 2018 – a key condition of opponents.

The plan for a toll on Germany’s autobahns had met widespread opposition from the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, as well as many within Ms. Merkel’s own CDU.

Many German states had pushed to exempt border regions, fearing a new toll would dissuade foreigners from spending money across the border in their regions. Those concerns have been rejected for now – the tax will apply across all of Germany.

While the left-leaning SPD has been loudest in opposing the toll as unfair and a bureaucratic burden, the party’s parliamentary floor leader, Thomas Oppermann, on Tuesday said the SPD had no choice but to accept the compromise.

Ms. Merkel and the CSU had been forced to accept the adoption of a minimum wage, a key SPD demand that went into effect on January 1.

“We feel bound to honor this compromise,” Mr. Oppermann said.

The Bavarian CSU had pushed for parties to reach an agreement before Easter on a system that will use stickers, called vignettes, to charge foreigners. The key stumbling block had been how these should be priced.

Video: Driving on the autobahn.

Both the European Commission and the SPD party called for a graded pricing system for the short-term visitors.

According to the agreement, drivers entering Germany from abroad will now be charged according to the size of their car engines and level of carbon emissions.

Drivers will pay €5, €10 or €15 for a 10-day pass. A two-month pass will costs €16, €22 or €30, depending on emissions and car size. A full-year permit would not exceed €130, or $141.

For German drivers, the costs of the toll are supposed to be offset by a reduction in the annual motor vehicle tax they already pay.

In reaching a compromise with the CDU and CSU parties, the SPD had also called for drivers‘ data to be deleted after one year.

In addition to passing the road toll, the SPD and CDU will consider a proposal by mid-2016 to extend a toll on trucks to all of Germany’s interstates and highways by mid-2018.

According to the party, this would raise an additional €1 billion for infrastructure.

Higher taxes on trucks had always been the preferred solution for the SPD, which has insisted that introducing a tax disc system applied purely to drivers from abroad is hardly worth the effort.

The ministry of transport, which is headed by the CSU’s Alexander Dombrindt, has said that €500 million will be generated by the new toll on foreign drivers.

But experts questioned this estimate during a budget hearing last week and politicians from the SPD have insisted the system be re-evaluated in 2018.

“If something goes wrong, Minister Dobrindt is responsible,“ said Bettina Hagedorn, an SPD politician responsible for budgetary policy.

Exactly what Mr. Dobrindt will do with the money is also being strictly regulated.

In the future, 65 percent of the proceeds will be used to upgrade the road network. Of what remains, 70 percent will be used to build new highways and improve major four-lane interstate highways.

The remainder would be used for regional needs such as roads circumventing towns. The plan is to be accompanied by a realistic basis for financing for the entire period.

By the end of this year, Mr. Dobrindt will have to submit a plan for construction projects that are planned to 2030, prioritizing the most important ones.

The government is still working to complete a previous long-term construction plan drafted in 2003, and will need to invest more than €3 billion per year for the next 15 years. Any projects that have yet to be started will be reasessed.


Daniel Delhaes covers politics, transport and airlines for Handelsblatt. To contact the author:

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