Thursday, September 12, 2013

Road Taxes and Tolls Cause Problems for Freight Haulage Outfits - Home and Abroad

As France Delays the Ecotaxe, UK Hauliers Protest New Charges for Road Use
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – UK – Road haulage outfits who have business in France and have been waiting with bated breath to see what impact the new ‘Ecotaxe’ would have when it was introduced on the 1st October 2013, can sigh with relief – at least for now. Last week the French authorities postponed the start of the scheme until the 1st January 2014. The tax is designed to pass the perceived environmental costs associated with transporting freight and the government have cherry picked the regions affected for the new Pigovian tax’s inception, and a video explaining details of the scheme can be seen HERE. Meanwhile in the UK there is outrage at the proposal to charge for a new section of road adjacent to one of the country’s key container shipping ports.

The new French tax, decided upon following the Grenelle de l'environnement, the forum inspired by President Sarkozy in 2007 which brings together stakeholders from every quarter of government, industry, NGO’s and other interested parties, has been delayed, with the official reason given as problems with the technology which encompasses roadside and satellite observation. With penalties of €750 for a first offence and €1500 for subsequent transgressions any vehicle exceeding 3.5 tonnes is liable to be captured somewhere along the 10,000 kilometres of motorways or 5,000 of national roads covered by the scheme.

The tax rate is to be calculated at €0.12 per kilometre, with a variation dependant on vehicle class and other factors, and the charges calculated by assessing the information gathered automatically by hundreds of sensor points distributed around the road network. The signals read from a small box set in the windscreen area of the cab are converted in tandem with the relevant GPS information to calculate the charge which is then levied directly, cash and cards cannot be used to pay the levy subsequent to discovery, only pre-payment by credit or guaranteed deposit will be acceptable. The whole physical process of identifying transgressors will be monitored by police and Customs officials.

Companies can obtain the on board unit required to comply with the scheme by subscribing with a registered electronic toll system company (SHT) when charges for the tax are made subsequent to the journey, or by way of registering with the company running the scheme on behalf of the French authorities (the Ecomouv’ Pass) by telephone or via the internet. Drivers are required to amend the on board information by changing the number of axles when they collect or deliver a trailer, lifting axles are also counted.

The body responsible for administering the procedure is Ecomouv’, a conglomerate led by the Italian Autostrade operation with a bevy of partners which include electronics and software groups Thales SA, Groupe Steria SCA, national rail firm SNCF and Vivendi’s mobile phone outfit SFR. This grouping was appointed by the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development (MEDDE) in 2011 to oversee the scheme on a long term (11 years+) contract. The authorities anticipate revenues of about €1.2 billion per annum from the tax and is apparently paying Ecomouv’ around €230 million a year for the privilege.

Hauliers who have failed so far to invest in the equipment necessary to avoid prosecution for non-compliance still have time to have the control boxes fitted to their vehicles and there are a range of companies offering the service. Routes covered by the scheme can be identified by this link and any transport manager who is unprepared next month may have to pore over the map very carefully before despatching his drivers with some extremely specific instructions!

Meanwhile plans continue to introduce tolls on the busy stretch of the A14 Huntingdon bypass, a proposal the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has described as ‘tolling by stealth’. The road is crucial to much container traffic entering and leaving the Port of Felixstowe for Midlands and the North and local hauliers are up in arms complaining that, as with the Eurotaxe, customers are unwilling to accept any increases at this time.

Attempts to avoid the bypass will simply mean increased fuel costs for operators, one local firm calculated that their costs alone could reach £200,000 annually, and cause shippers and importers to opt for other ports such as Southampton or London Gateway. Felixstowe is already vulnerable to financial pressures as the new Thames port sees distribution infrastructure developing before opening later this year.

Whilst welcoming the government’s commitment to improve the A14, the RHA complained that the proposed demolition of a railway bridge on the current A14 to stop through traffic using the road was unnecessary, and was insistent that the development required adequate funding for features such as truck stops and without resorting to a toll system, saying that the project ‘looks like the start of building a patch-work of road tolls, which is exactly what the road haulage industry does not want. Valuable road capacity is to be sacrificed to justify a particular method of funding.’ Director of Policy Jack Semple commented:

“David Cameron told the House of Commons that he wanted to see the DfT building new roads. He didn’t say this would involve the disabling of perfectly sound infrastructure.”