EU Cars Blog

If the car makers aren't rushing to bring us fuel efficient cars, at least some governments in Europe are working on the problem. The Netherlands is planning on scrapping a vehicle purchase and road tax and bringing in a kilometre levy instead.

I lived in Amsterdam for 8 years and inside the city centre congestion isn't too bad, especially when you consider it's the capital city. But there's a good reason for that - the citywide transport network including trains, trams, metro system and buses means you can get from A to B without too much fuss, and the fact that almost everyone owns a bike means that there's no need to get in your car only to queue up on the roads and spend hours circling the city centre looking for a parking spot.

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© Debra Broughton

But outside city centres things are different. The amount of traffic on the roads has grown year by year until these days the motorway between Rotterdam and Amsterdam is one long queue for much of the day. Change is desperately needed.

There are a couple of pretty nice things about the Dutch road pricing scheme. It will replace existing car and road tax so drivers can't complain it's just another tax on driving. It is a tax on driving, but not a tax on car ownership, so people who drive less will pay less. It seems to me (and most of the Dutch population) that people who drive more, wearing out the road surface and causing all that extra congestion, should pay more. It's only fair.

Pricing will depend on time and location and the CO2 emissions of the car. So there's a congestion element and a climate policy element.

There is some road pricing in Europe - in Germany and Austria, trucks are charged according to their emission levels and number of axles. Bergen in Norway has had a congestion charge since 1986 with reductions for electric cars. There are tolls on some motorways in countries like France, Italy and Spain, and you have to buy a disc in Austria before you hit the highways.

In the UK, the London congestion charge gives concessions to electric cars but not to other cars with lower CO2 emissions. The UK's second planned congestion charging scheme in Manchester, which is being voted on by residents right now, offers no incentives for drivers to switch to more efficient cars. This government-funded scheme is said to be a flagship that will be rolled out across cities in the UK if it's approved, and it's disappointing that a government who has committed to an 80% reductions in CO2 emissions hasn't insisted on an environmental incentive in the scheme. On the plus side, the scheme does depend on improvements in public transport.

Carmakers operating in the Dutch market need to get their skates on to be ready for the changing market there, but they have some time to start building up their range of low CO2 cars - the scheme will be phased in starting in 2011. And the car industry loves a phase-in, we know that already.

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