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No free ride: German minister wants road-use toll for foreign drivers

German transport minister proposes road-use toll for foreign drivers to boost highway maintenance coffers

Germany's transport minister on Monday unveiled plans to charge foreign drivers a road-use toll to close what he called a "fairness gap" that lets cars registered in other countries get a free ride on some of the world's best highways and byways.

The proposal by Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt would generate about $3.4 billion every four years by charging about $14 for a 10-day road-use pass and an average of about $123 for a yearlong permit, depending on the foreign vehicle's emissions and engine size, Deutsche Welle reported from the Berlin news conference.

The system would be "revenue neutral" for German-registered cars, Dobrindt said, as the new toll proposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2016, would provide a rebate to car owners on the licensing taxes they already pay.

That has spurred some opposition among Germany's neighbors who see the plan as imposing a tax on foreigners in contradiction to European Union regulations. Austrian Transport Minister Doris Bures called the proposal discriminatory and vowed to challenge its compliance with EU rules.

Dobrindt said the proposal, which would have to be approved by the German parliament, will be written in such a way as to meet any EU test of equal treatment of citizens within the 28-nation alliance. He said the measure was intended to charge foreign drivers their fair share for road maintenance and construction.

"We see some 170 million trips by cars registered abroad on German roads each year. These are not involved in financing our infrastructure in any way," Dobrindt told the news conference. "We want to bridge that gap, and we want all users of our streets to contribute to their maintenance."

Germany already imposes tolls for foreign and domestic trucks using national roads and highways but hasn't collected for cars entering the country. With nine countries on its border, Germany has the largest volume of cost-free foreign road use within the EU, Dobrindt said. 

Several European states operate a similar road-use toll system for all vehicles, including Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.

Stickers attesting to the paid toll would be available online before a foreign driver's entry or at roadside service stations, Dobrindt said.

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