A new road tolling system which sees motorists charged based on the length of their journeys may be on the horizon in Ireland, according to a report in yesterday's Business Post (December 4).
Transport Infrastructure Ireland's (TII's) Project Bruce (short for Better Road User Charging Evaluation) is understood to be a plan to examine the implementation of multi-point tolling on the M50 and other motorways throughout Ireland to possibly replace the current system, which sees drivers charged a single fee regardless of their distance travelled.
Under the multi-point tolling plan, motorists could be charged 70c for driving a section of the M50 instead of the single toll of between €2.10 and €3.20 for crossing the Westlink bridge over the Liffey. Similar charges could also be imposed on the access routes to other motorways throughout Ireland, even those on which tolls are not currently applied.
Replace tax lost through electrification
The aim of Project Bruce and an expanded road-tolling system, according to a source quoted in the Business Post, is to find a replacement revenue stream to make up for the loss of taxation income as a result of the gradual increase in the number of electric vehicles in Ireland which, by their nature, do not generate the same level of income for the public coffers as petrol and diesel vehicles because they do not attract fuel taxes. Unless the government finds a way to replace the €5 billion per year in tax generated from excise duty, VRT, motor tax and carbon taxes, it may face a significant budget shortfall in the years ahead.
As part of the project, TII is initially examining the M50 as part of a specific study to gather data on driver journeys there. It is said to be concerned with the continued growth in traffic and emissions on the motorway, which carries around 125,000 vehicles per day.
According to briefing materials supplied to the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee by TII, the new road tolling system as part of Project Bruce could "reduce reliance on exchequer funding" and help the country reach "key government climate policies". The system could also potentially allow for reduced fees for HGVs aimed at encouraging them to remain on motorways as opposed to diverting through towns and villages to avoid tolls.
Create a system fit for purpose, say TDs
"TII are effectively stating that they're using the toll charges as a device to discourage traffic on the M50," said Kieran O'Donnell, Fine Gael TD and the Oireachtas transport committee chair.
"The question is, could they be doing that in a more balanced way in terms of varying rates at different times of the day and encouraging people to drive off-peak?"
Sinn Féin has cautiously welcomed the TII's moves to overhaul the road tolling system, saying that it was important to locate a new taxation income stream in light of the electrification of the national vehicle fleet.
"One of the options is on a kilometres-driven basis," he said. "These types of variable tolls would be consistent with that. It's important work that needs to be done to ensure we have a system that's fit for purpose.
Barra Roantree, an economist with the ESRI who also sat on the government's Commission for Taxation, said that the present system of taxing motorists in Ireland isn't fit for purpose.
"The current system we have overtaxes rural drivers and those who drive off-peak, and it undertaxes those who drive during peak hours in urban areas in particular," he said.
Work ongoing for some time
The government has not confirmed any details about Project Bruce. According to Business Post sources, privately insists that it has not yet made any decisions related to shaking up Ireland's road tolling system.
CompleteCar.ie understands that work on Project Bruce has been ongoing for some time, with TII's 2021 annual report and accounts making several references to it. Representatives from the body have made a presentation to the Road User Charging Conference in Belgium in May on the subject of Project Bruce, looking at the methodology behind the study, the approval process, business cases and future implementation of the plan.
The most recent news of Project Bruce comes following the government's announcement that it would defer for six months (at a cost of €12.5 million to the taxpayer) plans to hike prices on the M50 and other toll roads.