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Chancellor Merkel’s Party Mulls New Universal Road Toll

main 79459991 source Julian Stratenschulte DPA – Road Autobahn highway freeway red car lights stripes
It's complicated: Germany's ruling party is debating a new road toll based on vehicle mileage, location and timing. Source: Julian Stratenschulte / DPA

Germany’s controversial “road tax for foreigners” is yet to become reality. But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has already drafted a possible successor, a toll that would apply to all drivers, both domestic and foreign.

In preparation for the upcoming elections on September 24, a party committee of economics and finance specialists has drafted a new toll plan, of which Handelsblatt has obtained a copy. It may well become part of the Christian Democrats’ election program.

“The central idea is to abolish the motor vehicle tax and to introduce a universal road tax, which is dependent on mileage and can vary by location, time and vehicle,” the committee said in the proposal.

Whether the plan makes it onto the Christian Democrats’ election platform remains to be seen. The party’s infrastructure specialists have already called the proposal by the economics and finance specialists an “abstruse thing.”

People who drive regularly in cities, during rush hours or in professional situations, will end up paying more while drivers who move around outside of rush hours, or in the countryside would pay less.

The new plan would replace the current toll scheme that was designed by Ms. Merkel’s Bavarian coalition partner, the Christian Social Union. The German Lower House, or Bundestag, approved this version of the road toll on Friday, despite reservations from the CDU and its other coalition partner, the Social Democrats.

The currently approved toll plan involves charging all drivers a lump sum. However thanks to a simultaneous reduction in motor vehicle tax, German car owners effectively pay less road tax. This is why, when it was first mooted, the road tax was controversial because the tax reduction effectively meant that drivers from other countries were paying more to use the famed German motorways – this gave rise to the tag, the “foreigners’ road toll.”

In 2015, the European Commission blocked the original plan because it disadvantaged foreign drivers, but gave its approval last year to a revised version.

This new CDU proposal differs in that it would see toll contributions dependent on mileage, while the fuel tax would vary according to a vehicle’s emissions. The new toll would probably increase total taxes drivers pay.

The brief said that people who drive regularly in cities, during rush hours or in professional situations, will end up paying more, while drivers who move around outside of rush hours, or in the countryside – and particularly when there is no other mode of transport available to them – would pay less. As the toll would be collected electronically, it would become clear which driver was doing what, where and when.

Germany wants road taxes in order to fund the maintenance of its highways, and the CDU also hopes its proposal will motivate people to use public transport more often.

It is not yet certain whether the road tax that is currently approved, and which would bring the state an expected annual net sum of €500 million, or $540 million, will actually become reality by 2019 as planned. Some states have voiced opposition to the plan and they might delay its approval in Germany’s Upper House, or Bundesrat.

Also, Germany’s neighbors remain unhappy about the current plan. Although toll roads are common in several European countries – including Switzerland, France, Spain and Italy – the Netherlands and Austria plan to file a case against the German state at the European Court of Justice, saying the current toll plan discriminates against foreign drivers.

Germany has been collecting tolls on federal highways from drivers of heavy trucks since 2005, and it plans to expand this scheme to lighter trucks and all federal roads by the summer of 2018 at the latest.

 

Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt’s Berlin bureau. To contact the author: delhaes@handelsblatt.com

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