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Column - November 2010
 

Coalition Government commits to establishing a lorry road user charging system

The Coalition Government’s commitment to establishing a lorry road user charging system has been further endorsed in its Infrastructure UK Plan, launched by the Prime Minister at a CBI conference this week.

Freight on Rail supports the principle of a lorry road user charging system if it ensures fairer arrangements for the UK haulage industry, reduces freight’s environmental footprint, improves working standards, road safety and helps support modal shift, where appropriate. 
We  believe any lorry road user charging system should meet the following criteria:- 

  • address the inequalities between UK and non-UK hauliers in international and domestic traffic (cabotage)
  • improve standards and enforcement in  road haulage
  • Remove unfair competition
  • Provide incentives and funding for training
  • improve conditions for drivers
  • improve efficiency of road freight to minimise external costs such as local air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and congestion

The evidence from the schemes operated in Germany and Switzerland demonstrates that the efficiency of the HGV sector has improved with less empty running which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of freight carried. Additionally, funding  has been provided which has supported improvements in working conditions. The use of long distance rail freight which provides a low carbon energy-efficient  alternative has increased and overall where appropriate, modal shift has been encouraged.

Meanwhile, at an EU level, a compromise deal which would allow member states to charge lorry operators for the costs covering air and noise pollution, was agreed among member states that could lead to a new Eurovignette directive next year. There will still be important restrictions on how states can charge for the costs of congestion, which would have to be revenue-neutral, which means governments could charge extra during busy periods, as long as it reduced the cost of driving in less busy periods. Transport and Environment, (T&E) a leading Environment NGO, stated that it believes that this compromise on congestion would effectively mean that there would be little change compared with the current law and would still mean the true cost of congestion caused by lorries could not be covered.

T&E said that not recognising congestion as an external cost restricts how much  could be charged  making the law less effective as a tool. T&E believes charging lorries for the impact they cause makes the freight industry smarter and more efficient.

In approving the deal, EU transport ministers introduced exemptions from air pollution charges for current generation Euro-V lorries and the next-generation Euro-VI, a change that may well be questioned and reconsidered when MEPs debate the deal.

My view is that we have seen from other European countries that a lorry charging system can deliver significant benefits. In particular, it can help to support the economy, reduce congestion and reduce carbon emissions.


 

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