Swiss road freight tax "will not stop growth"

Distance charges, heavier lorries, will only slow total road freight increase, says report

A new Swiss kilometre tax on heavy goods road vehicles will slow down but not reverse the growth of freight traffic on Switzerland's roads, according to a consultancy study published last week. However, the tax could still help to achieve a "massive" reduction in international transit freight on Swiss roads when combined with planned new measures to promote rail transport.

Commissioned by the Swiss transport ministry, the study forecasts the combined effects of a national variable-rate kilometre tax agreed last year (ENDS Daily 28 September 1998) and a subsequent bilateral accord with the EU that will allow lorries up to 40 tonnes onto Swiss roads from 2005 (ENDS Daily 2 December 1998).

Under the "business-as-usual" scenario, freight traffic - including internal, inward, outward and transit movements - would have risen from its current level of 2.5bn vehicle-kilometres to 4bn by 2015. The new measures, however, will reduce this growth to 3.5bn vehicle kilometres, while increased vehicle loading efficiency will largely cancel out the cost of the tax to transport companies.

Total freight traffic will also be reduced slightly if new proposals to lower the kilometre-tax paid for rail freight and build better combined transport terminals are passed by the parliament, says the report. These measures, originally allotted SFr220m (euros 138m), would halve the number of freight transit journeys travelling across the Alps on Swiss roads by 2015.

However, a transport commission in the lower house of parliament (Nationalrat) has recently proposed to achieve the reduction by 2007 by increasing the investment to SFr300m after fierce lobbying from environmental groups and public disquiet over recent Alpine road tunnel accidents.

David Asséo of Swiss NGO Transport and Environment Association told ENDS Daily the proposed new target was "very ambitious," especially since two rail tunnels - the Lötschberg and the St Gothart - are not due to open until 2007 and 2011 respectively, and that the proposals should include a guarantee that more resources would be made available if the target was not met. However, he also indicated that environmental groups would not press for a referendum on the issue if it was approved as currently formulated by the country's second chamber (Standerat) in October.

Follow Up:
Swiss transport ministry, tel: +41 31 322 5511; Transport and Environment Association tel: +41 31 328 8200.

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