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Should France scrap road tolls at weekends?

Joshua Melvin · 14 Oct 2014, 10:13

Published: 14 Oct 2014 10:13 GMT+02:00

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Momentum is gathering in France for a reduction in the famously expensive tolls on the country’s privatized motorways.

Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal said on Tuesday she'd like to see a 10 percent drop in the cost of tolls and at the same time called for completely free periods of time, such as weekends.

“The rates are 20 percent too high, so when a motorway toll costs drivers €100, there is an overcharge of €20. What I would like, is to drop the rates by 10 percent and add free periods, for example on weekends,” she told RTL radio.

Though the Prime Minister Manuel Valls' office quickly told reporters free Saturdays and Sundays, would be "difficult to imagine."

Her words echo those last week from Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron who announced he was going to put forward a proposal to cut the tolls.

He told lawmakers he was particularly interested in “changing the formula that sets rates, setting up an independent authority to evaluate the legitimacy of road construction projects and rate increases as wells as obligations about advertising projects.”

Several drivers' groups also recently sent Royal a letter demanding the nationalization of the 8,000 kilometers of France's motorways that are currently run by private companies.

The fact that French drivers are fed up with hefty road tolls is no secret.

Last month the country’s official competition watchdog, the Autorité de la Concurrence, released a scathing report saying the 20-24 percent profits pulled in by France’s private road operators are excessive.

It seems the primary problem with the system, which was set up in 2002 under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, is the contracts with companies like AREA, ASF and ESCOTA, which guarantee increases in the 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 toll 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 Vinci, APRR and Sanef pocketed a total of €7.6 billion.



Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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