Some of the industry associations and interest groups in the road freight transport sector are taking a hard line on the adjustment of toll rates that will take place in Germany on 1 December. However, even the harshest critics seem to understand the need for the ( truck) transport industry to make a positive contribution to the carbon footprint. We take a look at the debate shortly before the start of what is often simplistically read as a toll increase.
At the beginning of last month this year, a new component was introduced for trucks subject to tolls. Whereas the toll previously consisted of the three elements of infrastructure costs, air pollution and noise pollution, CO2 emissions have now been added as a further component to the calculation basis.
Critics of this reform often refer to it as a surcharge, because the exemption of zero-emission vehicles until 31 December 2025 is hardly significant for many transport companies in view of their percentage share of road freight transport per year. In view of these facts, the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport Affairs expects additional revenue of 26.6 billion euros for the years 2024 to 2027 in the segment of trucks with a total mass of more than 7.5 tonnes. As trucks weighing 3.5 tonnes or more will also be subject to tolls from 1 July 2024, politicians are calculating that this adjustment step will generate a further 3.9 billion euros for smaller vehicles. The German government is implementing a Eurovignette Directive adopted by the European Parliament a good one and a half years ago, which is seen as a "more environmentally friendly road toll".
Increasing economic pressure on transport companies
Due to multiple crises in recent years, a less than rosy economic outlook and perpetual fierce competition in a highly fragmented provider landscape, the critical approach to the new toll rate is absolutely understandable. The projected additional annual burden on the economy of 7.6 billion euros is a heavy burden, especially in the current economic situation.
The fact that the funding pots for the switch to emission-free commercial vehicles are (currently) not too full and that the refuelling and charging structure still leaves a lot to be desired increases the resentment among transport companies and the interest groups communicating on their behalf. The truck industry itself also feels underfunded by politicians for this task of rapidly moving away from combustion engines.
Lower CO2 emissions of great importance for climate targets
Road freight transport accounts for a high proportion of CO2 emissions in climate-damaging quantities all over the world. However, in the regional and national distribution of raw materials, semi-finished materials and end products in particular, it will remain a - if not the - central mode of transport for connecting production sites, warehouses, trading facilities and the places where industrial and consumer goods are used and utilised for years to come.
In view of the climate crisis scenarios, it is therefore necessary for responsible policymakers to push for more resource-efficient solutions in this area through legislative proposals. Using the additional funds gained from the toll reform " for the improvement of the federal trunk road infrastructure and for measures in the mobility sector - with a focus on federal railways", as stated on the government's website, can and must provide important impetus for greener logistics.
Efficiency gains reduce cost pressure
If trucks are better utilised, they are less likely to be stuck in traffic jams, they are dispatched more quickly at the ramps, there is less (paper) bureaucracy involved in handling goods, AI-supported software produces optimised route plans and supply chain efficiency increases. As a result, process costs are reduced and the increase in tolls, which is perceived as such in view of the current fleet equipment, carries less weight in a company's overall result. Last but not least, advances in digitalisation can still leverage some potential here in the short term, helping to reduce cost pressure in the transition phase towards a more climate-friendly transport industry.