SANDS involved when public authorities are seeking improved application of polluter-pays principle in road transport
Due to recent amendments of EU law, EEA and national legislation on road charging are in a phase of review and reforms intended to reinforce the application of the polluter-pays principle.
In February 2022 the European Union adopted comprehensive amendments of the so-called Eurovignette Directive (Directive 2022/362 amending Directive 1999/62) on the charging of vehicles for the use of road infrastructure. As indicated above, the main objective of the amendments is to strengthen the application of the polluter-pays principle. In brief, the new directive aims at achieving this via requirements obliging the Member States to introduce measures which make national road charging schemes able to facilitate the internalisation of external costs in a more target manner. For example, the new directive is phasing out time-based charging schemes to the benefit of distance-based charging schemes. The latter is considered to better reflect the external costs road-users inflict on roads, society and the environment. Also, the new directive includes new rules to better ensure that road tariffs are calculated based on vehicles’ CO2 emissions and other environmental performances. Moreover, the new directive extends its scope to cover more than just heavy vehicles and to cover a greater part of Member States’ road networks.
Although it is still not formally decided to what extent the new Eurovignette Directive will be incorporated into the EEA Agreement, its amendments are carefully taken into account by several ongoing processes where relevant Norwegian authorities are revising current national schemes for road tolls and the special tax on road-use which is levied on fuel consumption. Recently, SANDS has assisted relevant Norwegian authorities in two important ongoing reviews of the above-mentioned national schemes:
SANDS has advised the concept study co-conducted by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and the Norwegian Tax Administration on a future scheme for road tolls and road-use tax. SANDS’ role was to provide input on the limits and opportunities provided by EEA law in general, including the EETS Directive (2o19/520) and the Eurovignette Directive. The conclusion was that EEA law does not interfere with Norway’s freedom to decide whether it shall continue seeking internalisation of external costs (e.g. costs of accidents, congestion, noise, wear and tear of roads and emissions) via today’s road-use tax put on purchase of fuels, or shift the internalisation of such costs to a distance-based road charging scheme. If opting for the latter alternative, the Eurovignette Directive will have to be complied with to the substantive extent it is incorporated into the EEA Agreement. Arguably, a distance-based road charging scheme ensures a more effective implementation of the polluter-pays principle than the current fuel-consumption-based tax. The current Norwegian scheme for toll roads, which mainly is used to finance road infrastructure construction, is already subject to the Eurovignette Directive as it stood before the 2022 amendment. Even if the amended directive is incorporated into the EEA Agreement, Norway will retain its discretion to continue its current road toll system with only very minor changes. Notably, in the context of the Eurovignette Directive the current Norwegian road toll system are “infrastructure” and “urban” charges. Although the wording of the Eurovignette Directive prescribes a distance-based charge also for an “infrastructure charge”, it seems likely that Norway will be allowed to continue with the current collection scheme where vehicles are charged when passing through toll stations rather than charged based on distance travelled.
Furthermore, SANDS, together with Oslo Economics, has conducted a review of the so-called road tolls reform introduced by the Norwegian Government in 2015 (see White Paper: Meld. St 25 2014-2015). The latter reform inter alia triggered a major reduction in the number of toll road companies, simplified the rate and rebate system and separated providers from the toll road companies. Providers offer road-users agreements where they, via on-board units, are charged when passing by road toll stations. In line with the EETS Directive, providers are commercial undertakings competing which each other and which are free to establish themselves in other EU/EEA countries, including Norway.
These recent works fit well with SANDS’ previous involvement in this field. In 2020 SANDS, in co-operation with Vista Analyse, submitted a report on road charging where SANDS was responsible for describing and analysing relevant EEA law implication.