Road charges for lorries could cut air pollution

Lorries on the German Autobahn, where the costs of air pollution is around €0.08/km. Photo: Lvdesign/

Introducing road charges for heavy goods vehicles that reflect the varied health effects of traffic pollution in different European countries would mean charges should be much higher in some countries compared to others.

Health effects of air pollution from lorries and trucks alone cost €43–46 billion per year, making up almost half of the approximately €100 billion cost of air pollution from all transport modes in the member countries of the European Environment Agency (EEA). In a new report, the EEA presents updated estimates of the external costs of air pollution for different categories of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

Heavy goods vehicles are responsible for 40–50 per cent of road transport emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in countries covered by the EEA. Both NOx and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are considered in the report, as they can cause respiratory diseases, cardiovascular illnesses and other health problems.

The 2011 Eurovignette directive (2011/76/EU) prescribes how EU member states could incorporate the health costs from air pollution into any charging structure for large roads and motorways. The revenue from such schemes should be invested in sustainable transport, the directive states. However, adoption of road user charges depends on a decision by individual countries, and EU member states must report to the Commission by October this year on how they will implement road charging, if at all.

In some European countries the cost of air pollution from HGVs is up to 16 times higher than in others, the report notes. The average cost of pollution from a 12–14 tonne Euroclass III lorry is highest in Switzerland, at almost €0.12 per kilometre. Costs are also high in Luxembourg, Germany, Romania, Italy and Austria, at around €0.08/km. This is because the pollutants cause more harm where there are high population densities, or in landlocked regions and mountainous areas where pollution cannot disperse so easily.

At the other end of the scale, the same lorry driving in Cyprus, Malta and Finland causes damage of around half a euro cent per kilometre.

In some regions the cost is also much higher than others. Zurich in Switzerland, Bucharest in Romania, Milan in Italy, the Ruhr Valley in Germany and Barcelona in Spain had some of the highest health costs compared to other large urban zones.

The calculations show that newer lorries would have a reduced impact, and therefore a lower cost. Euroclass IV lorries, which are up to six years old, or Euroclass V, up to three years old, would cause 40–60 per cent lower external costs on the same transport corridors. Charging haulage companies for the external costs of air pollution would incentivise newer and cleaner technologies, the report says.

By internalising the costs that road freight currently imposes on the rest of society, such a charging scheme would also help to level the playing field. The positive effects of road charging have been noted in Switzerland after the country adopted similar legislation.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said: “European economies rely on transporting goods long distances. But there is also a hidden cost, paid in years of reduced health and lost life. This cost is especially high for those living close to Europe’s major transport routes. By incorporating these costs into the price of goods, we can encourage healthier transport methods and cleaner technologies.”

Source: EEA press release, 28 February 2013

The report: “Road user charges for heavy goods vehicles (HGV)”. EEA Technical report No. 1/2013

In this issue