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French minister pledges to lower motorway tolls

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French minister pledges to lower motorway tolls
Driving on France's motorways could be cheaper in the future, if France's economy minister keeps his promise. Photo: AFP
14:39 CET+01:00
The long trip down to the south of France may get a little cheaper in future after France's Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron promised to "reduce [motorway] tolls where possible".

Speaking to current affairs programme Capital on TV channel M6 on Sunday, Macron vowed to "put pressure" on the companies that run the country's privatised motorways.

“Concretely, year after year, we will maintain the pressure to try to lower the profits of motorway companies. We will lower prices wherever possible,” the minister said, adding "these are not just words". 

Macron's pledge comes two months after a report by a French government watchdog said the tolls on France’s privatized motorways  are "unjustified" and are delivering an up to 24 percent profit to the companies that run them.

The country’s official competition watchdog, the Autorité de la Concurrence, released a scathing report 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.

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.

And only last month France's ecology minister Ségoléne Royal has called for a 10 percent reduction in the notoriously high tolls on the country's privatized motorways as well as making the roads free on weekends.

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

In December a new bill that will look at the operations of the companies that run France's motorways companies will go before the cabinet.

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