TOLLING THE ‘BAHN: As Germany moves to toll cars on its autobahn,Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed that no German car owner would pay more to drive than at present. Image: Shutterstock/ Philip Lange
JEAN BAPTISTE PIGGIN and SASCHA MEYER
BERLIN, Germany - A German plan to toll its high-speed autobahn, something which has caused tension in chancellor Angela Merkel's government and among members of the the European Union - has emerged in detailed form in Berlin.
Trucks already pay by distance to use Germany's 13 000km of autobahn (not to be confused with normal two-lane city motorways) but their use by cars has been free since the first were built before the Second World War.
From 2016, every car on the four-lane highways will be charged the equivalent of R1700 a year as an "infrastructure fee," German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt announced.
FOREIGNERS DRIVING FREE
Merkel was sceptical of the plan in 2013 before being re-elected to her third term as chancellor but it was a key election plank of a coalition all the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union. In an uneasy peace, Merkel's three-party coalition swung behind the plan.
The European Commission in Brussels has warned Germany not to discriminate against non-German vehicles using its roads.
The issue of raising money to fix the congested and ageing 'bahns has often been debated passionately in car-loving Germany. The CSU argued that the French, Italians and others were getting a free ride in Germany while charging Germans to use the roads in their countries.
Merkel vowed that no German car owner would pay more to drive than at present; that problem was solved by reducing domestic road taxes in parallel with the introduction of the R1700 annual fee
For foreign vehicles, the starting price at border vending machines will be about R137 for 10 days' use of the high-speed German autobahns.Earlier plans to collect the money by selling windshield stickers were dumped. Instead, a database will log the licence plates of all paid-up cars and roadside cameras will detect non-payers. (Sound familiar...?)
In a last-minute change to appease German factories whose staff commute daily across technical national borders (there are no customs posts) and German malls that supply bargain goods to Swiss and other shoppers, the fee will not apply to foreign licence-plate cars using Germany's two-lane highways.
'FEE CURES AN INJUSTICE'
CSU stalwart Dobrindt's plan now faces trial-by-fire in Germany, with motoring organisations and rival parties contending that fee collection will consume the entire income generated and breach privacy laws. (Again, sound familiar?)
He said: "The fee cures an injustice by making all those using our highways contribute to their financing."
Dobrindt added that the fee would net Germany the equivalent of about R6-billion a year from foreign vehicles, after deducting collection costs.
Merkel said she was satisfied no German car owner would pay a cent more: "That was my main condition."