EU fuel protests "show need for distance tax"

Pressure group claims kilometre charging for freight the "quickest way to level playing field"

Europe's recent protests by road hauliers over high fuel prices have highlighted the urgency of introducing complementary distance charges, according to EU transport and environment pressure group T&E. The NGO yesterday co-hosted a seminar with Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala at the European Parliament in Brussels to publicise its idea.

Fuel duties vary widely around the EU, being the highest in the UK, where the protests were strongest. "One of the reasons the protesters got so much support is because of the blatant unfairness of the [current fuel tax] system," T&E policy officer Frazer Goodwin told participants. "This is the opportune time politically to bring distance pricing back up the agenda."

The group says distance charging, also known as road pricing, is the best way to create fair competition among hauliers while simultaneously internalising environmental and social costs of road freight (ENDS Daily 3 August). "Road pricing is the easiest way to a level playing field," Mr Goodwin said.

Fuel taxes are "blunt and inflexible" instruments to tackle on their own the environmental problems created by transport, the group says: "fuel use is not a good guide to the damage done by the truck," T&E director Malcolm Fergusson told the seminar.

Mr Goodwin said the EU should learn a lesson from Switzerland, where a kilometre-charging system has been agreed for introduction next year. "It's interesting that the country that has gone the furthest is the one that's had the longest and most thorough public debate," he said.

The European Commission raised the possibility of an EU-wide charging system in a 1998 white paper, but has made little progress since. However, Germany, has announced its own plans for kilometre charging: "German hauliers have already accepted that if it's a choice between road taxes or fuel charges, they prefer the road charge," Mr Fergusson said.

Follow Up:
T&E, tel: +32 2 502 9909.

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