Tolls and sustainable mobility

2 min
The Martorell toll, on the AP-7, in an archive image.

Little by little the details of the plan sent by the Spanish government to Brussels, which includes its commitments to structural reforms in order to justify the arrival of European funds, are becoming known. After the mess surrounding the suppression of reductions for joint tax returns, which seems to be definitively rejected after being included in the plan, now comes another important novelty: the gradual introduction of a pay-as-you-go service on the state road network, that is to say, the generalisation of tolls, a payment system that until now basically punished Catalonia and the Valencia.

It is true that for some time now the central government said it wanted to impose pay-per-use on the road network throughout Spain. The novelty is that now it has set a date: 2024. So says the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan sent to Brussels and presented this Wednesday by the Minister Nadia Calviño. The plan literally states that the government "could implement" such a mechanism starting then. The news is paradoxical for Catalonia because it comes in the same year in which many tolls will end. On 31 August the barriers on the AP-7, the AP-2, the C-31, the C-32 and the C-33 were lifted. In other words, these motorways will be free of charge only temporarily, until the new payment system is established.

Experts have already pointed out that a system where motorways are completely free, as they have been until now in many areas of Spain, is not very sustainable from an economic and environmental point of view, as well as being unfair to taxpayers who do not use them. Most countries have payment systems, either with the classic toll system or the sticker system, which would mean an annual flat rate with different prices depending on the vehicle and whether or not it belongs to a local. These systems are in place in countries such as Switzerland or Austria.

What does not make sense is that public finances should have to bear the cost of maintaining the road network, and the fairest and most efficient way is for everyone to pay according to the use they make of roads. In Catalonia, willingly or unwillingly, we have a certain culture of tolls, but for too many years we have had to endure a comparative disadvantage with the rest of Spain. The AP-7 has been a great business for the State and the concessionaires, as it is a road that concentrates 50% of Spanish exports and a similar percentage of tourism. But for many decades Catalans have had to pay to travel on high-capacity roads, for example to go from Barcelona to Tarragona, due to the lack of competitive alternatives, since the N-340 was not competitive. And the same could be said of Girona.

From 2024 onwards, the Spanish government would have to take this into account when designing the implementation of tolls. And also be brave when it comes to assuming the political costs of a decision that is in line with the criteria of green taxation and discouraging private vehicle use in place throughout Europe.