THE GERMAN government was this week accused of introducing road tolling by stealth after it announced that all road freight will pay to use the country's motorway system from 2003.
The plan will see all HGVs over 12t - national and international - fitted with on-board units linked to roadside sensors or GPS systems and charged between DM0.27 and DM0.37 (8.5p-12p) per kilometre, depending on the number of axles, emissions and weight of the vehicle.
German transport minister Kurt Bodewig claimed the plan was intended to promote alternative transport systems, such as rail and waterways.
However, the International Road Federation (IRF) said:
'The government has deliberately held back information from the public, as they [the public] would then immediately see that it is not acceptable, ' said IRF director of programmes Ansgar Kauf.
Road tolling is a vote-loser, so it is no coincidence that the tolls will start just months after the German general elections in autumn 2002, Kauf claimed.
The IRF is also concerned about the distribution of cash generated by the tolls. The German government has pledged £2.4bn between 2003 and 2007 to tackle congestion, of which 50% is to be dedicated to roads.
This equates to £244M road spending per annum. The freight tolls are expected to generate £1.3bn annually.
'The plan is a good idea in general - trucks cause the damage, and the damagers pay, explained Kauf, 'but less than 20% of road toll revenue is going into roads.'
The International Road Transport Union (IRU) also has concerns: 'We are always in favour of paying our way, but we always look for systems that are transparent, non-discriminatory and where the revenue is put back into transport, ' said IRU head of technical affairs Soren Rasmussen. 'Transparency doesn't exist in these proposals.
'The minister says the proposed charges are based on costs of road usage, but we simply do not believe it. We know of many such calculations in the EU and have never seen any of this magnitude. Our first wish would be to see the calculations.'
Under EU rules, the German government cannot instigate the scheme without first droping its existing charging system, the 'Euro Vignette', which charges international freight traffic on a time basis.