Opinions - 16.06.2015 - 00:00 

Managing transport flows

How are expensive infrastructures to be funded in future? In Switzerland, there are already early versions of a mobility pricing system that involves all means of transport. Logistics Management Professor Wolfgang Stölzle on the toll debates and alternatives to the motorway tax sticker.


15 June 2015. Since the change in the federal government in Germany, transport has become a permanent fixture in the media: reports about motorway bridges which are blocked because they are in danger of collapsing and about the reasonableness and lawfulness of car tolls appear with great regularity. In Germany, a motorists’ country, it is the toll in particular that has inflamed passions.

It is only owing to the fact that at the outset, the toll will leave German motorists approximately unaffected in financial terms, that politicians are able to keep a lid on the bubbling pot. Instead, criticism homes in on the “foreigners component” of the toll. Now, the Federal President has signed the act on the so-called infrastructure levy. It is time, then, to look at the two popular issues in an objective context.

Up to seven billion lacking

It is not only the disaster of the Schiersteiner Bridge near Wiesbaden which revealed that the German transport infrastructure most urgently requires extensive modernisation. This is due to the fact that the majority of arterial roads and motorways were built in the 1960s and, in a second wave, in the mid-1990s after German reunification. The money was predominantly spent on new constructions.

Funds for maintenance were only put aside to an inadequate extent. Now the ante has to be raised according to the motto of “Maintenance before Extension”, which is also championed by the Transport Minister. Only: where are the six to seven billion euros per annum which are lacking in the transport budget supposed to come from? There is a multi-billion euro hole in the budgets. Without spelling it out, transport politicians intend to entrust the funding of these investments to motorists as a matter of priority. If we accept this so-called paradigm of user funding, then a toll for cars and lorries is basically an expedient measure – provided, however, that the revenue levied on motorists is channelled into the transport budget outright.

But opinions differ on this issue: according to the lip service that is being paid, this should be the case; de facto, however, it is more likely that the Finance Minister will hold out his hand and then decide from his perspective how much money should flow back into the transport budget.

A lump-sum solution is unsuitable

Finally, the configuration of the toll and its effects have to be looked at. It is already clear that the revenue will only be a drop in the ocean of the road infrastructure funding requirements. It will therefore be unable to help remedy the severe impairment of the infrastructure substance. If a toll system is really to be aligned with the utilisation and therefore the wear and tear of the transport infrastructure, an annual or monthly lump-sum sticker solution is unsuitable.

What is required instead is a time-, capacity- and utilisation-related levy, which could be technically implemented in our digital times. In comparison, a tax sticker would be the second worst of all possible solutions. Only doing nothing would be worse. Instead of fine-tuning a sticker solution, which would then also have to do battle with EU conformity, German transport policy should work out a self-coherent concept of mobility pricing for all means of transport. Swiss politics already has quite concrete concepts along such lines up its sleeve. When will we get courageous transport politicians again who are actually willing to implement these concepts?

Bild: Photocase / zettberlin

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