The road sticker is out of gas

“It hasn’t yet been pronounced dead. We’ll put the patient on life support, but the plan has been discarded.” The road sticker plan for light vehicles in Belgium had been going over like a lead balloon for several months now, it was clear. At the end of 2012 and the beginning of this year, Le Soir spelled out the problem: it was a complicated and expensive measure, bringing in too little to the regions’ coffers and viewed with suspicion by the European Commission, for whom the whole business seemed to double-tax foreign drivers. Even then, it seemed to be a dead issue.

Now, after spending millions on feasibility studies, everyone seems to be nailing the coffin shut. “Only the CDH is still holding on to it, if not believing in it,” says someone close to this complicated plan. Flanders, which wasn’t excited about it from the start, has moved on. As to the Walloon minister-president Rudy Demotte’s party, they’ve also finished mourning for the sticker. “It floundered for a while,” one expert explains. “Everyone saw that the European Commission had concerns. We also thought that the revenue would be quite low – barely a dozen euros for Wallonia.” The sticker’s southern sponsors had promised taxpayers that it would be “painless.”

That’s what got the Commission’s hackles up. The European executive let Belgium know that the sticker could not be placed on their entire road system, but only on the “Eurosticker” system (essentially regional roads). If not, the sticker would be considered a second transportation tax. The implementation then became much more complicated than originally planned because only part of the system would have to be monitored, and not all of it. A significant number of cameras and road signs would have to be installed. One of the scenarios under study mentioned 4,792 highway signs and… 207,505 signs.

So, the Belgian road sticker is out. It would be easier to put in place a pilot project for a kilometer tax, as is currently being done near Leuven. As far as road taxes, other than the registration tax, each region will proceed on its own using the transportation tax that is adjusted for a vehicle’s environmental performance. And, one day, they would like to introduce a kilometer tax for cars. This option is supported by Febiac, the auto manufacturers, and Touring. For its part, Brussels is studying the possibility of an urban toll system.

At the same time, the plan for a kilometer tax on trucks is progressing. The sponsor will be designated at the end of the year. The system is based on the number of units loaded on trucks, and will come into effect beginning January 1, 2016. “At first, there will be a single fee for all regions. However, Brussels will quickly increase the bill by a large amount [tripling the fee has been mentioned] to discourage potential diversions of traffic onto its territory. This tax should bring in around €300 million per year to Wallonia alone.”

MICHEL DE MUELENAERE

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