Taxes that target the supply chain

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The workhorse of logistics operations across Europe is the humble and all too often unloved lorry. The past few years have seen all sorts of positive discrimination ideas to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport but at the end of the day, the convenience, flexibility and sheer cheapness of the lorry is practically unbeatable.

Now the European commission is planning to open the way for a whole new set of taxes on lorries. It has just published a green paper extending its “polluter pays” legislation to enable governments to charge tolls for costs related to noise, air pollution and traffic congestion from 2011. At the moment commercial vehicles travelling within the EU can only be charged for wear and tear on roads.

The commission argues that lorries carry 73 per cent of the goods transported by land in the European Union, but are harder on the environment than trains or barges, accounting for 90 per cent of the environmental costs of all transport, which the commission estimates at about €100bn a year.

The green paper says that governments would not have to impose the tolls but could choose to do so for vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes. Charges would be capped, with tolls lower for less-polluting lorries. There would also be an incentive to use motorways and avoid suburban areas. The money raised would have to be spent on measures to reduce the environmental impact from transport.

The commission expects savings of six to eight per cent of CO2 emissions, NOx emissions and sulphur emissions each year from heavy goods vehicles, as lorries would be used on roads where and when they cause least air pollution, congestion and noise. In addition, cleaner lorries would be bought and used on major roads.

In the current climate, it is hard to resist  measures designed to reduce the environmental impact of supply chain operations. In fact, there is a strong case for saying that supply chain professionals should be proactive in improving the environmental performance of their operations. 

But, regardless of whether or not the tolls deliver the promised environmental benefits, one thing is sure: they will add to the factors that are already pushing up the cost of freight transport across Europe. And that could hasten some fundamental rethinking of how companies organise and manage their supply chains.

Malory Davies

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