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Bridge with sensors for detecting trucks for tolls on the A3 motorway: Away from diesel

Photo: Jochen Tack / IMAGO

The truck toll on federal roads and motorways is to be expanded and will also bring in more money for investments in the railways in the future. On Friday, the Bundestag passed a law by Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) that introduces an additional CO₂ surcharge on the user fee on 1 December. The law was passed with the votes of the traffic light parliamentary groups SPD, Greens and FDP. The CDU, CSU and AfD voted against, while the Left abstained.

Trucks that are particularly harmful to the climate will have to pay more tolls than others in the future. To this end, a surcharge of 1 euros per tonne of CO₂ is to be introduced from 2023 December 200. Emission-free trucks, such as battery-electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles, will be exempt from tolls until the end of 2025. On the other hand, the previous exemption rule for vehicles powered by natural gas will no longer apply at the turn of the year.

From 1 July 2024, the toll obligation will also apply to smaller vans from 3.5 tonnes. So far, it has been effective from 7.5 tonnes. However, journeys by craft businesses are to remain excluded from this.

From road to rail

In doing so, Germany is implementing a requirement from the EU Infrastructure Costs Directive, which will apply from the end of March 2024: member states that levy a truck toll will have to scale it according to CO₂ emissions in the future. The current German exemption for trucks between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes would also no longer be permissible under European law in the future.

From 2024 to 2027, the government expects the reform to generate additional revenues of 30.5 billion euros. The use of the funds is also to be regulated. Half of the toll revenue is to be earmarked for improvements to federal highways. What is new is that the rest of this hitherto closed financing cycle is being withdrawn from street to street. It is mainly intended for "measures from the area of federal railways", i.e. it is intended to help close the gap to the enormous need for renovation of the railways.

With additional investments from the Special Climate and Transformation Fund, the coalition wants to fulfil its promise to invest significantly more in rail than in road. So far, it has not been able to do this with regular budget funds.

Fierce criticism from freight forwarders

At the same time, the traffic light hopes that the toll increase will accelerate the conversion to more climate-friendly drives and bring the goal of handling a quarter of freight traffic by rail by 2030 – which in turn could reduce revenues if fewer diesel trucks are on the road.

Fierce criticism came in advance from the logistics association BGL, which complained about an "almost doubling" of the truck toll. Medium-sized transport and logistics companies are "bewildered" by this, the association said. There are hardly any emission-free trucks on the market and no corresponding refuelling and charging infrastructure – so freight forwarders have little choice but to pay the higher costs and pass them on to customers via the trade as higher prices of goods.

The truck toll has been collected on the motorways since 2005 and was then gradually extended to all federal roads. Revenues for the federal government are expected to be just under eight billion euros this year.

Passenger car toll processed

The law also continues the settlement of the failed car toll by repealing the 2015 law on the introduction of the car toll, which was never applied. Continuing to apply the law would contradict the principle that only legal norms that apply are in force, according to the justification. The car toll – a prestige project of the CSU in the then federal government – was stopped by the European Court of Justice in 2019 as illegal.

The toll was agreed by the coalition factions along with other transport laws that are also on Friday's agenda: accelerated planning of infrastructure projects such as rail or motorway lines, as well as a reform of the Road Traffic Act.