SLOVENIA’S ROAD TOLL VIGNETTE
Publication date: 17 April 2009
FIA maintains pressure calling for a fair price for fair use for tourists.
FIA's constant action against discriminatory motorway toll schemes is bearing fruit. But will a solution come before the 2009 summer holidays?
“Tourism is a promising economic growth sector in Slovenia with international tourist arrivals increasing annually. The road toll vignette system in its current format does much to harm the positive image of Slovenia as a welcoming host of foreign visitors arriving by car or even only in transit to other destinations,” wrote FIA Region One President Werner Kraus in a letter to Slovenian Transport Minister Patrick Vlačič.
Werner Kraus, President of FIA region I, told the Slovenian minister that plans to keep the discriminatory vignette system until the future launch of a new satellite-based road pricing scheme were not acceptable. The earliest possible launch of such a system would be 2010. However, minister Vlačič recently told journalists that a new tolling system could only be introduced when the necessary technology, which is still relatively expensive today, becomes a part of standard car equipment. When that would be, Vlačič did not say. “For the FIA clubs in Europe, it is intolerable that their members will still be subject to road tolls in 2009 charged at rates heavily disproportionate to their usage of Slovenia’s motorway system,” said Kraus.
Slovenia's current system obliged motorists and holiday-makers driving on Slovenian highways to pay for either a six-month or an annual vignette costing, respectively, EUR 35 or EUR 55. It makes no difference whether tourists stay only several weeks, days or even hours travelling through the country. FIA clubs across Europe have been taking up the matter with their national governments, but also their members to bring the new Slovenian road charging “vignette” system into line with other similar systems in the EU. There must be further categories of short duration vignettes as there are, for instance, in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Commission takes up the cause
One clear result of FIA action was to convince the Commission to act. Back in October 2008, the Commission sent to Slovenia a letter of “formal notice” to stop this discriminatory treatment of non-Slovenian drivers. A letter of formal notice is EU jargon for the first formal step in an infringement procedure. Whilst the Slovenian government can delay the process, the final step, if no fundamental changes are made, will be a court case by the European Commission against Slovenia at the European Court of Justice. The Commission's reasoning is simple: By introducing only annual and half-year vignettes for passenger cars and annual vignettes for motorcycles, the Slovenian law that entered into force in July 2008 puts foreign nationals or foreign residents occasionally using Slovenian motorways in a worse position than nationals or Slovenian residents. This is due to the lack of proportionately-priced charges for transit or shorter term usage of the motorway infrastructure.
Light at end of tunnel
Slovenian transport minister Vlačič is quoted by Slovenian journalists as having promised a solution “within weeks” following a visit to Brussels at the end of March. There, Vlačič had allegedly refused a suggestion by European Commissioner Antonio Tajani that a weekly vignette be set at a price of EUR 5. The Slovenian transport minister was apparently promised that the Commission would wait until a new motorway tolling scheme was proposed before deciding on whether or not to take Slovenia to the European Court of Justice. Without giving details, Vlačič “expects” any solution to the discriminatory tolls to be a final one. The change of tone was evidently linked to the Commission freezing some EUR 38 million in EU funds for constructing the motorway section Slivnica-Draženci. The Commission also put on hold all further fund applications for other sections.
The Slovenian transport ministry now says it will start procedures for introducing new seven-day vignettes. This requires the Slovenian National Assembly amending the Public Roads Act so as to abolish the sale of six-month vignettes and introduce 7-day stickers. There will also be new prices: EUR 15 for the 7-day vignettes and EUR 95 for annual ones. The prices for motorcycles will be set at half the price for passenger cars. It is unclear whether these prices will apply from 1 July 2009, in time for the holiday season. In a recent statement, the Slovenian transport ministry says it is important for the country to improve the image of Slovenian public finances by ensuring the release of cohesion funds. “We would also like to prevent any threats to the tourist season in this difficult economic period, as Slovenia wishes to remain a tourist-friendly country,” note officials.