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Congested freight traffic: Truck queue on the A2 in Lower Saxony

Photo: Joerg Boethling / IMAGO

After its heating compromise, the traffic light coalition solves the blockade of transport policy decisions. On Wednesday, the Federal Cabinet launched a bill by Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) for a significantly higher truck toll with an additional CO2 levy. The draft has been submitted to SPIEGEL.

The road toll for trucks, which has been levied since 2005, will therefore be supplemented by a climate levy of 1 euros per tonne of CO₂ as of 2023 December 200. From July 2024, smaller vans weighing 3.5 tonnes or more will also be asked to pay – so far, the toll has been limited to vehicles weighing more than 7.5 tonnes.

In the coming year alone, the toll sum is expected to almost double from 7.8 to around 15.2 billion euros. By 2027, the German government expects additional revenues of 30 billion euros. In doing so, it deviates from the previous principle of "road finances road". Rather, the additional revenues are to be used mainly for the expansion of the railways and to cover a large part of the additional 45 billion euros promised by the traffic light coalition for the rail infrastructure.

Emission-free trucks exempt from tolls

"We are thus providing a strong incentive for the industry to switch to climate-friendly vehicles," said Transport Minister Wissing. Commercial vehicles still account for about a third of total CO2 emissions in transport. According to the draft, zero-emission vehicles such as battery or hydrogen trucks will be exempt from tolls by the end of 2025.

The traffic light coalition had already adopted the main features of the reform in its coalition committee in March. They correspond to agreements in the coalition agreement after the 2021 Bundestag elections, and in some cases also to European law requirements. By March 2024 at the latest, national toll systems will have to differentiate according to the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by vehicles. The exception for smaller vans will also no longer be permitted in the future.

Nevertheless, the project has made little progress in recent months because the coalition has been arguing above all about its heating law. Other transport policy decisions have also been blocked so far: for example, the acceleration of the planning of rail and motorway routes or a reform of road traffic law in order to give municipalities more freedom of decision-making, including for purposes such as climate or environmental protection.

Rail lobby relieved, truck lobby appalled

The railway lobby reacted with relief. Dirk Flege, Managing Director of the Pro-Rail Alliance, spoke of a "breakthrough". The law will noticeably relieve the burden on the road network and give the state the freedom "to invest in alternatives to the road". Flege criticised only one remaining "competitive disadvantage" for the railways: While a track access price is charged for electric trains, electric trucks are also exempt from travel costs – and not just from the CO2 surcharge.

A long-awaited success story also for the Greens: The traffic light is implementing its promise, much more in the railways than in the road, said Matthias Gastel, the railway policy spokesman of the Bundestag group. What is now also needed is the desired reform of rail financing so that the money can be used as efficiently as possible. Because of their concession to the heating law, the Greens are under heavy criticism from the climate and environmental movement.

The freight forwarding industry, on the other hand, was appalled. The Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL) spoke of a "senseless driver of inflation". Among medium-sized transport and logistics companies, there is bewilderment about the doubling of tolls pushed by the Greens and now decided by the federal government," says BGL board spokesman Dirk Engelhardt. Because there is a lack of emission-free trucks as well as the refueling or charging infrastructure, freight forwarders would have no other option than to pay the higher fee – and pass the costs on to consumers via retailers. The BGL called for a postponement to 2025 and several reliefs.

A timetable for the deliberation of the bill in the Bundestag was not initially mentioned.