More than two years have passed since Violeta Bulc, Commissioner for Transport, initially announced the presentation of a comprehensive road transport package. Things were finally moving on 31st May: apart from the general communication, the package includes no fewer than eight legislative proposals, reaching from changing driving and rest periods for drivers, rules on posted workers in road transport, cabotage up to the framework for the toll system on Europe’s motorways.
According to the Commission, the Mobility Package is generally going towards a positive future: transport shall become cleaner, more competitive, more interconnected and multimodal. At the same time, social fairness shall be strengthened. However, as it is often the case, looking at specifically proposed changes, shows a completely different picture.
A softening of the provisions on weekly rest periods has been planned in respect of the regulations on driving and rest periods for drivers. In future, it shall be allowed to reduce these to 24 hours over two consecutive weeks. This is a worsening of the situation for long-distance drivers, as it means that they may legally “live” in their HGV for a period of up to three weeks. That the regular weekly rest period of 45 hours may not be spent in the HGV is only a clarification of the already existing regulation, which, however, in the past has been interpreted by some Member States in different ways.
There has been a massive relaxing of regulations with regard to cabotage. Cabotage is the transport of goods within a country by a transport operator from another country. So far, maximal three journeys per week were allowed. Now the Commission Proposal suggests that an unlimited number of cabotage journeys may be undertaken over a period of up to five days. A current Study by the VIDA, the trade union for transport workers and WKÖ, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber shows that at least 15 % of cabotage journeys in Austria are illegal – this is equivalent to 3 % of the entire Austrian inland transport – causing Austria financial losses of EUR 500 million p.a. and 14.000 jobs. Hence, the now proposed relaxation of cabotage means that a large proportion of the currently illegally undertaken cabotage will be legalised.
In contrast, the fact that the Commission is now clarifying that each cabotage journey has to be understood as posting of drivers and that therefore the current provisions on the posting of workers apply – above all in respect of remuneration – must be regarded as positive. However, if there is no cabotage, professional drivers are regarded as posted only from three days a month.
The Commission also proposes amending the Eurovignette Directive, which provides Member States with the framework for a toll on Europe's motorways. The proposal not only provides for the extension of the Directive to motor vehicles but also to a far-reaching extent: in order to do justice to the polluter pays principle, Member States may only provide for kilometre-dependent toll systems for motor vehicles from 2024. This would render the vignette in Austria obsolete and would mean significant extra costs to thousands of commuters who have to use Austria’s motorways on a daily basis. However, the Commission appears not to have taken into consideration that many commuters would just use toll free alternative roads if they had the opportunity. The consequence of this would be traffic jams along densely populated roads, which cannot be what the Commission or the Member States would have wanted. In addition, this foray is disconcerting in view of the fact that the Commission has abandoned the infringement procedure against Germany on introducing a time-dependent vehicle toll, even though it is exactly this toll system, which it will no longer permit from 2024.
The Commission is far gentler when it comes to a toll for HGVs: this continues to be non-binding for Member States, and charging an additional fee for external costs such as air and noise pollution remains a discretionary provision. Whether raising the maximum amounts of these extra charges will be sufficient to ensure that besides Austria and Germany other Member States too internal costs may at least be questioned.