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Watchdog urges drop in France’s 'hefty' road tolls

Joshua Melvin · 18 Sep 2014, 14:53

Published: 18 Sep 2014 14:53 GMT+02:00

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If you felt that €50 in tolls was a bit steep for a few hours-drive on France’s privatized motorway system, you’re not the only one.

The country’s official competition watchdog, the Autorité de la Concurrence, released a scathing report on Thursday which said the 20-24 percent profits pulled in by France’s private road operators are excessive.

“These profits are neither justified by the companies’ costs nor the risks to which they are exposed,” the report said, which was leaked to French paper Les Echos, recommending the tolls be decreased.

It seems the primary problem with the system, which began in 2002 under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, is the contracts with companies like AREA, ASF and ESCOTA guarantee increases in tolls.

The Autorité de la Concurrence recommends France rewrite its contracts so that potential toll increases are tied to spikes in traffic and not to the rate of inflation, as they are presently.

Any changes, however, won’t come quickly. Because the tollway contracts are set “in concrete” there is little hope of change before the agreements expire in 2027 and 2033, the report said.

France’s pricey toll roads have come under official scrutiny before. The Local reported in 2013 about a stinging report from France’s national auditor the “Cours des Comptes.”

The auditors, who were asked to report on toll prices, by the National Assembly’s finance committee said in 2011 the private companies that run French motorways, such as Cinci, APRR and Sanef pocketed a total of €7.6 billion.

The auditors doubted the profits were being reinvested back into the network in order to improve the motorway system to the benefit of drivers.

Pierre Chasseray from driver's group "40 million d’automobilistes" told The Local previously the situation had become so bad that driving on a motorway in France has become “a luxury”.

“We obviously welcome this report. The prices have gone up around 10 percent in the last five years. That’s too much and motorists are being punished.

“These companies have introduced automatic toll booths to save money on employing staff but the prices have still gone up. It’s not right.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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