Extra toll would be fatal to some hauliers, warns Higgins

AN extra toll on heavy goods lorries will put hundreds of Irish hauliers out of business and make the country’s exports more expensive, the European Parliament has been warned.

They voted in favour of a new law that will allow countries to tax trucks using their roads for air and noise pollution.

The new charges are estimated to increase tolls from 12% to 27% and to increase them even further during specific times to discourage lorries from driving during rush hours. It will add 3 cents to 4 cents to the current 15c to 25c per kilometre currently charged.

Fine Gael MEP, Jim Higgins, warned it would be devastating for hauliers.

“Up to 96% of Ireland’s exports go via heavy goods vehicles. Because of the increase in the cost of fuel and now if tolls are going to apply in Britain and across Europe, it will put hundreds of hauliers out of business, and will have a very serious effect on our exports. It’s a disaster”.

He said it suited countries that were in the centre of the EU, like Switzerland, Germany and Austria, but not those countries on the periphery.

He and his fellow Fine Gael MEPs, together with several from Spain, Italy and Portugal, broke ranks with the European People’s Party to which they belong and voted against the new rules.

Mr Higgins said increasing the charges during peak hours could hit Irish truck drivers very badly, as unlike many who could simply rest during the period, they could be trying to make a ferry and so be forced to use the road during these busy times.

Part of the reasoning behind the new tolls are to force more goods traffic onto the more environmentally friendly railway system.

Mr Higgins made the point that rail freight

becomes financially and environmentally attractive for distances of 300km and over and does not apply to a small island country like Ireland.

“Ireland depends on road haulage to brings its goods to market.

“In fact, this measure, while it has good environmental aims, will do nothing to promote the free circulation of goods, especially those coming from peripheral states,” he told the Parliament.

Member states are not obliged to impose the levy which will only apply to primary European networks and the most environmentally friendly tucks will be exempt until the end of 2013 or 2017 — depending on their polluting capacity.

European Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, said the new rules will send the right price signals to operators so they will invest more in efficient logistics, less polluting vehicles and more sustainable transport.

“They give member states new tools to fight congestion with possibilities to vary charges at different times of the day to get heavy lorries off the roads at peak periods”, he said.

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