European Court: Road tolls may not include police costs
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European Court: Road tolls may not include police costs

Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn © Joe MiGo/Wikimedia

A national government may not factor the cost of policing into the price of a road toll for use of the trans-European road network by heavy good vehicles, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled.

The case was brought by two road haulage companies registered in Poland, and a bill they received for €12,420 for the use of German motorways between January 2010 and July 2011.

The two companies considered the bill excessive, and brought an action in the German courts to contest it. They lost the case and appealed, and the appeal court in the region of North Rhine-Westphalia sent a request to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on an issue of EU law.

The question: was it a breach of the EU directive from 1999 on charging heavy goods vehicles for the use of roads to include in the calculation the cost of traffic police?

The ECJ found that the directive imposes on member states the obligation to charge for infrastructure costs only, namely the costs of constructing, operating, maintaining and developing the infrastructure network concerned.

On the matter of whether policing of the roads was or was not part of the operating costs, the court ruled in the negative. The term ‘operating costs’ in the directive refers only to the operation of the infrastructure itself.

Police operations, on the other hand, are the responsibility of the state as part of its public powers rather than its role as operator of the road infrastructure. So, costs related to traffic police cannot be considered to be operating costs as referred to by the directive.

The court also found that there was a discrepancy of 3.8% and 6% on what the two companies were charged, compared to what they ought to be charged if policing costs were not taken into account.

The ECJ ruling on the question from the German court now has to go back to North Rhine-Westphalia to have the case disposed of there. However the German court is bound by the terms of the ruling, as would the courts of any other EU member state be, should a similar dispute come before them.

Something which would have to be borne in mind in Belgium, for example, if Brussels region goes ahead with its plan to introduce a road toll – a plan that is certain to be fought by Flanders on behalf of its commuters.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times