A vital ingredient

Janusz Lacny, President of the International Road Transport Union, writes about the evolution of transport demand and regulations in the EU

Since 1948, through its global network today reaching 180 Members in 74 countries, the International Road Transport Union (IRU) has promoted the facilitation, the effectiveness and the quality of all the services provided by bus, coach, taxi and truck operators.
Over the past 60 years, buses, coaches, taxis and trucks have become the main drivers of trade and tourism, as well as the most efficient engine of economic and social progress around the world. Road transport, which is today the lifeblood of all economies throughout the world, is committed to keep satisfying the ever-increasing demand for the sustainable mobility of people and goods. The industry’s achievements are fully in line with the EU Commission’s approach, which states: “freight transport is the backbone of the ‘real’ economy”.

Government incentives
However, although authorities recognise that road transport volumes have a mutually dependent and direct correlation with GDP growth, the current dichotomy in governmental policies is astonishing: on the one hand, governments have decided to give huge financial assistance to banks, on the grounds that they are vital for the economy. But on the other hand, the same governments, with the full support of the European Commission, are imposing more and more restrictions on road transport and plan to implement new tax burdens, notably through the revision of the Eurovignette Directive.
Road transport plays an equally vital role in ensuring economic development as the banks. Simply, if banks were to cease to exist, trade would continue. However, if road transport were to cease to exist, not only European trade would stop but also European prosperity would come to a grinding halt, notably due to the fact that the current overt taxation of the road transport industry contributes more than 340 billion euros to the European economy.

Top priority
Therefore, in order not to repeat the historical errors of the Great Depression of the 1930s when the economic crisis was exacerbated by the halt in transport and trade, decision-makers and governments should give top priority to effectively facilitating and promoting road transport, by reducing the too many restrictions and traffic bans and by eliminating significantly the totally unjustified excise duties and VAT on diesel fuel for commercial vehicles.
Indeed, when comparing the evolution of transport demand and that of regulations impacting road transport in the EU, we are compelled to question if road transport’s vital role is fully understood by EU institutions meant to defend the economic interests of Europe and of its citizens. It is reflected in the radically different policies and legislations targeting the road transport industry in non-EU countries in Europe, Asia and America, which encourage the development of road transport by enforcing regulations that facilitate rather than penalise road transport, as they recognise that any penalty on road transport is an even greater penalty on the economy as a whole.

Vital questions
Considering its vital economic, social and environmental role worldwide, priority should be given to further facilitate, develop and secure road transport. To do so, the following questions must be raised about the evolution of regulations impacting road transport in Europe:
While road transport is the most regulated transport mode in Europe, why are decision-makers so reluctant to implement appropriate facilitation instruments?
Why do all the EU regulations for road transport have the sole aim of limiting, restricting or penalising its operations?
Why is it that EU drivers, while respecting stringent driving time rules, have a one in six chance of being attacked in a parking area, and yet no governments assume its primary duty to assure the security of people on its territory?
Why are other transport modes heavily subsidised by the EU while road transport is excessively charged through vehicle taxes, high fuel taxation (excise duties, VAT and CO2 taxes) and increasing road charges?
Why is taxation in the EU 5.3 times higher than in the US or 2.1 times higher than in Japan?
Why are so many financial resources being dedicated to rail, which only accounts for 17 per cent of the European market share? In the US, privatised rail represents 43 per cent of the market share and 2.5 times more traffic!
Why are modular concept vehicles not promoted at EU level, though they would make co-modality more attractive by bringing more containers or swap bodies to rail terminals and reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 15 per cent, the number of trips by 32 per cent, road wear by 5 per cent and transport costs by 23 per cent, as confirmed by EU and other feasibility studies?
Why does the road transport industry endure increasingly demanding Euro norms for heavy commercial vehicles, while equivalent norms do not exist for other vehicles or transport modes?
It is politicians’ role to answer these questions. It was my intention to put into perspective how road transport has become vital to all economies and to recall that any penalty on road transport is an even greater penalty on the economy as whole. This said, the issues raised must be addressed by experts and politicians, if we are to make the world a place where our children can prosper in an increasingly challenging global environment.

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