It was a Commission proposal, which caused a stir - especially in Austria: in May 2017, the European Commission presented the amendment of the Road Infrastructure Charging Directive, which among other provided for a ban of time-dependent toll systems for passenger cars from 2027. This would mean nothing less than a ban of vignettes on Austria’s motorways.
Many agree that future road transport should be more sustainable and cleaner. The European Commission too aims at fulfilling this target. In order to achieve its resolution, the Commission wants to put more emphasis on the polluter pays principle. To meet this requirement, the Commission proposed to abolish time-dependent toll systems, i.e. vignettes. Instead, kilometre-based toll systems should be given priority.
Whilst the European Parliament's Committee on Transport and Tourism, not only approved of this Commission proposal, but was also in favour of abolishing the vignettes in 2025, the plenary certainly had its own ideas: the majority of MEPs was in favour of Member States being able of retaining vignettes for passenger cars also in future.
In particular for Austria, this change would have significant implications for the existing and proven toll system, which has been accepted by the population. Changing the existing to a kilometre-based system, one can assume that in particular workers who use their cars to commute to work every day, would have to expect significant additional costs.
Hence it is no surprise that the vote in the European Parliament on 25 October 2018 was quite turbulent: first, an amendment to completely exempt passenger cars from the scope of the Directive was unable to secure a majority. However, an amendment was accepted, which redefines “commercial vehicles”: in view of this Directive, passenger cars shall no longer be included. As the ban of vignettes shall apply to those commercial vehicles, this new definition means that the Parliament does not want a ban of vignettes for cars.
Apart from the debate surrounding the ban of vignettes, the report by the Parliament also provides for a number of positive amendments. For example, Member States shall be obliged to levy toll surcharges for air and noise pollution caused by HGV. Member States shall be able to levy a larger amount for these so-called external costs that had been possible before. The so-called cross-financing surcharge, by which Member States are able to increase the toll to create more eco-friendly transport infrastructures in the same area, shall be increased from 25 % to 50 %.
Even though by adopting the report, Parliament has completed work on this Directive for the time being, it will probably take some time for the new Road Infrastructure Charging Directive to come into force. The Council has yet to agree on a common approach and it cannot be assumed that this will be achieved in the near future. Hence, a conclusion of the trilogue negotiations, which can only begin once the Council has agreed on a common approach, before the EU Elections in May 2019 is now barely realistic. Even after the elections some months will probably pass until the EU institutions will resume their work on the proposals in detail. Hence, banning motorway vignettes is not yet completely of the agenda; however, after the vote in Parliament it is at least receded into the distance.