Who should pay?

Features Road User Charging

From the benefits of road user charging in cities to what hauliers and operators want, the two panel discussions at the Road User Charging conference addressed all sides of the debate – prompting a lively response from the audience. By Maria Highland

The panel discussion of the first day of the Road User Charging conference was based around smarter solutions in cities, posing the question: what do cities really, really, want? Panel participants included Gilles Betis, chairman for the IEEE Smart Cities Initiative; Johan Schoups, CEO of Viapass; and Samuel Kenny, freight and rail transport policy officer for Transport and Environment.  The discussion was led by co-chairman, Keith Mortimer, director of Wyeval Consulting. Topics covered included the benefits and rewards of smarter solutions in cities and questions of funding and public acceptance, behaviour change and political impact were also addressed. The future of road tolling in cities was also discussed, as well as the need for a well-managed road usage that addresses issues of congestion, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

To introduce the discussion, the Gilles Betis broke down the question of ‘what do cities want?’ into a series of smaller questions, to arrive at a conclusion. He asked, “what do cities want?”, supplying the answer that cities want to work together to produce something. “But what?”, he asked, “why are we making our cities smarter?” It comes from wanting to implement and scale a solution, for which road user charging is a tool. Charging road users can help raise money to make the city smarter, he said, and noted the importance of measuring what you gain. Therefore, road user charging can provide a solution to making cities smarter and help trigger the transformation by promoting the implementation of new routes and incentives to invest in cleaner mobility.

Betis, in his summary of the panel discussion, wrote: “road tolling is a great opportunity for the cities to get additional revenues. This additional money can be used then in various ways, to improve road and public infrastructures, road safety and various mobility services. Regarding the traditional way to raise taxes on car usage, which is mainly based on fuel taxes, road user charging has many advantages and is a good way to anticipate the changes forecasted with the introduction of electric mobility.” Samuel Kenny agreed with this and expressed that feels that the future of mobility lies with road user charging and that it will prove necessary as we continue to develop alternatives to fossil fuel based vehicles. He expressed that distance based tolling is the optimal solution and that it will help battle congestion, emissions, as well as providing a source of revenue. Likewise, congestion charging in cities will also act as an incentive for electric vehicles.

The next topic of discussion was electric vehicles. Betis pointed out that pollution in cities is not the only problem that needs to be tackled. He noted there is also an issue of congestion and promoting electric vehicles may resolve the issue of emissions, but fails to do anything for a city that cannot “host all these cars”. He added that the sheer number of cars, and their physical mass, take up space on the roads, sidewalks and in carparks. Likewise, a member of the audience made the point that of by introducing charging ports in the city could become incentive for people to drive into the city.

Another key issue regarding charging in the city was a question public acceptance. Kenny said that people would just eventually learn to accept it over time, and gave a supporting example of the smoking ban in Ireland in 2004. He said that at first everyone was against it but now, over a decade later, you will seldom find anyone who would bring back smoking indoors. However, an audience member added that when implementing a charging system, alternatives need to be provided. This then raises the question of individual mobility and how can the need for it be filled? Solutions to this could include sharing cars, working from home, or even investing in smarter technology and mobility as a service (MaaS). This is demonstrative that despite road user charging being a solution to city congestion and pollution, helping make a city smarter, it can be part of holistic approach to smarter city solutions.

What hauliers and operators want?

On day two of the Road User Charging Conference a panel discussion was held to look at what hauliers and operator want. The panel was led by co-chairman, Steve Morello, senior partner at D’Artagan Consulting, and included panellists: Kurt Joosen, general manager at Transport Joosen NV; Jonny Geidne, departmental analyst, tax and fee department, from the Swedish Transport Agency; and Wouter Van Haaften, senior researcher at the University of Amsterdam (Faculty of Law). All three participants hold different roles within the road haulage industry, and were therefore able to contribute differing perspectives. Haaften said that he was pleased with the outcome of the panel, that there was a lot of discussion and that it was good to have a range of participants in different roles within road haulage.  He noted that it demonstrates that if things are going well for someone in a certain position within their business, it does not mean that this is necessarily the case across the whole industry, and someone in a different position may be faced with an entirely different situation.

The panel discussion aimed to explore the need for interoperability, what is involved in achieving fair and consistent policies, the benefits of investing in a smarter use of technology and the convergence of telematics and tolling applications. A primary point that pervaded the discussion was a question of who was going to pay for the implementation of interoperability and promote the smart use of technology. It was generally accepted that interoperability is the next step make tolling easier for the road users and that telematics and smarter use of technology accompany and complement this notion. Pauline Bastidon, head of European policy at Freight Transport Authority, mentioned in her presentation earlier that day that having numerous OBU’s and invoices was troublesome to users, and that it is much easier and convenient to have one device and one invoice.

However, this posed the questions of who does this really benefit and is having one device that works across multiple nations necessarily useful for those who do not conduct all their business in the EU? Geidne noted that most of Sweden’s road haulage is done on a national scale and only a small percentage of trucks travel within the EU. Likewise, Bill Halkias, president of HELLASTRON, made a point that Greek hauliers do not necessarily travel across the whole of Europe, and yet as a toll road provider, he would be expected to incorporate the ‘one device, one invoice’ function into Greece’s toll roads. Halkias then asked: “who is going to pay?”

Halkias said that he loved the discussion and found it to be very professional. However, he noted that although some very fair points were made, confusion remains around who is going to pay. He says, “we follow what truckers want, one invoice and one device” but asks, “who is going to fund these changes?” He elaborates on this, saying that there is a demand from hauliers that third parties provide products, one device across different networks, but askes who is to revise and implement this? Especially since there are so many different technology solutions available for tolling, and solution providers are choosing to provide the most expensive solution. Network providers are inevitably stuck in the middle, between the truckers and the solutions provider, as they are forced by the directive to accept the EETS provider without being asked if they accept this. In response to his own question of “who will pay?”, Halkias suggest that the user be charged on the grounds of a user pays principle which is also applicable to the polluter pays principle.

Correspondingly, Jack Semple raised some points about interoperability, touching upon issues of cost from a haulier’s perspective: “the technical issues and costs of HGV charging schemes are often discussed but the costs to haulage operators appears to be ignored, is certainly uncosted, and is likely to be the largest cost of all. The comment from the panel’s haulier that ease of movement of goods across Europe has gone backwards in the past 20 years because of RUC schemes should set alarm bells ringing, as haulage is a vital service to all parts of the economy and has facilitated EU growth and integration.” This again, forces the question, who is to pay, particularly when, as Halkias put, “changing circumstances call for a changing directive”.

Haaften also expressed that the issues surrounding the needs of hauliers often have political connotations. For example, regarding the question of who is to pay for the implementation of interoperability is a question of a political nature- is the government to pay where the majority roads are public? Or are the users to pay in countries where roads are predominantly private? This then raises the question of who is benefiting- is the person paying necessarily the one who benefits? Relating to Halkias’ concern that operators are caught in middle and expected to provide the solution to the users, having to purchase from the solution provider and pay out of their own pocket, Haaften makes the point that this should be a government funded endeavour. Yet it is when such circumstances are taken into consideration, that the issue of funding becomes a political one based on what is applicable for that country.