The Government has not forgotten to extend the tolls on the highways of Spain. These are your last steps

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The Government puts a fifth in its plan to extend tolls on state highways in Spain. After months of ups and downs, apparent steps backwardsan intense political debatein the streets and within the Executive and, above all, a lot, a lot of media noise, the team of Minister Raquel Sánchez advances in its goal that “who uses and pollutes the most pays more” in the vials.

The horizon does not change either, which points to 2024.

What’s new? That there are steps forward. At a preliminary and planning level, still; but steps after all. In June, the General Directorate of Roads commissioned the preparation of several reports on a new financing system for roads to Inecowhich, in turn, has just contracted advisory and consultancy services to KPMG Abogados for €89,000.

Advances, in short, in tune with what I already hinted before the summer the minister. At the beginning of June, Raquel Sánchez ruled out starting the debate with transport professionals for the time being, but she had already made it clear that Spain would comply with what was promised before Brussels and the measure would end up being applied. To sit down with the sector, yes, she was betting on a “more propitious moment” than the one that left, already then, the brutal rise in fuel prices.

What does the government reveal? Although the novelties are limited to the administrative sphere, they leave some keys to the Government’s plans. What precise The Confidential, which has taken the last steps forward, the Government demands information on the fiscal situation of the general road network, freight transport and an analysis of the special tax on hydrocarbons. In short, get a “global image of the implementation of payment for use in Spain.”

Aware of how delicate the implementation will be, the Government wants to take care of its health, leave everything well tied up already in the study phase and avoid future problems with cases of evasion, fraud or even possible complaints. The mission is clear: “guarantee the viability” of the system.

Tolls on which roads and since when? Another of the keys and another of the points on which the new documentation from the Government sheds some light. As for dates, the Government analyzes “the possible articulation of a payment mechanism for the use of roads that could be implemented as of 2024.” The different documents point to that horizon, the same one that has been used for months. Interesting is also what is noted about what type of vials will be included.

The study just commissioned by Transport —precise The Confidential— wants to assess “the implications that the possible extension of the new management and financing model could have to other road networks managed by different public administrations other than the General State Administration, such as autonomous communities, provinces and municipalities”. It is not a new idea, but a statement that affects something that has over a year on the table: the possibility that the measure is not limited to state highways or other roads dependent on the central administration.

How much will it cost and how will it be applied? Nothing new is known about these details, although since 2021 clues have been unraveling that indicate where the shots could go. Initially, a cost of between 3 and 5 cents per kilometer traveledgiven that after descended to 1. The how is almost as relevant as the how much. It has been proposed to start the change with a vignette model and a fixed payment to later move to another mechanism that would tax the kilometers.

Examples are not lacking in Spain. For better and for worse. Countries like Italy or Austria leave good examples of payment systems. Also Portugal, which at the end of 2020 launched a controversial electronic toll model on its highways, with gantries, which generated deep discomfort among users and serious problems in cross-border traffic, which affected the neighboring regions.

And the million dollar question: why? What Raquel Sánchez remembered in June, during a public forum, the implementation of tolls is included in the draft Law on Sustainable Mobility, which is equivalent to a bet by the Executive. The truth is that the Government promised Brussels to adopt a payment mechanism for the use of the road network to receive the valuable injection of Next Generation recovery funds: more than 70,000 million euros.

There would be another much more practical argument to cover the measure, the desire to apply the philosophy of “who pays more, who uses it the most.” The maintenance of state highways represents a considerable expense for public coffers: the 2022 Budgets reserve 1,371 million euros.

Is this the best time? That’s the other big question. Against the backdrop of inflation, rising fuel prices and a deep and recent crisis with the transport sector, is it the best time to apply new tolls? In June, Sánchez ruled out starting the debate with the companies precisely because of the complexity of the context. “We will propose it at the most propitious moment and always with consensus, but now the bases are not in place to facilitate it,” he slipped.

There would be two other equally relevant ingredients. First, the electoral scene, with a general appointment with the polls at the end of 2023, supposedly the prelude to the application of the new tolls. The second, that it is still curious that taxes are released shortly after some highways have become free and that the Government itself has been forced to take rebate measures to avoid, precisely, the economic impact of the rates.

Cover Image | Calafellvalo (Flickr)

The Government puts a fifth in its plan to extend tolls on state highways in Spain. After months of ups…

The Government puts a fifth in its plan to extend tolls on state highways in Spain. After months of ups…

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