Pollution from HGVs ‘costs Europe nearly £40 billion’

Road charges should be higher for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in certain European countries because they cause greater levels of air pollution, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has said.

According to a report published by the EEA on its website today (February 28), road charges for lorries and HGVs should reflect the varied health effects of traffic pollution in different European countries, which means charges should be much higher in some countries compared to others.

HGVs should pay higher road charges in some European countries as they cause more air pollution, according to the EEA

HGVs should pay higher road charges in some European countries as they cause more air pollution, according to the EEA

The EEA report, ‘Road user charges for heavy goods vehicles’, looks at the complexity of different geographical influences on air pollution across Europe. It explains that there are differences in cost between countries because pollutants cause more harm where there are high population densities, or in landlocked regions and mountainous areas where pollution cannot disperse so easily.

Places noted in the report as having high costs of pollution from HGVs include Germany, Italy and Switzerland. As a result, the report recommends charging haulage companies for the external costs of air pollution in order to incentivise cleaner technologies. Such a scheme would also create a level playing field, the report claims, by internalising the costs that road freight currently imposes on the rest of society.

The report estimates that air pollution from HGVs costs the 32 EEA member countries – including 27 EU member states such as the UK – €43-46 billion (£37-39 billion) per year. This makes up almost half of the approximate €100 billion (£86.6 billion) cost of air pollution from all transport.

The report also states that HGVs are a major factor in air pollution in Europe, as most run on diesel which causes more air pollution per kilometre than other fuels such as petrol. According to the EEA, HGVs are responsible for 40-50% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from road transport in EEA member countries.

The EU’s HGV charging Directive (2011/76/EU) outlines how member states could incorporate the health costs from air pollution into charging structures for large roads and motorways. It states that the revenue from such schemes should be invested in sustainable transport, but the adoption of road user charges depends is down to individual countries.

Member states must report to the Commission by October 2013 on how they will implement road charging, if at all, and the figures in the EEA report are intended to help member states decide on individual schemes.

Estimated costs

The EEA report includes the average costs of pollution for 66 separate classes of vehicles, with the cost of each estimated on three different types of road (suburban, interurban and highways) in 30 countries and 108 cities. Estimates of cost per kilometre (km), depending on the vehicle and its surroundings, range from almost nothing to more than 26 eurocents per km for a non-Euroclass lorry more than 20 years old.

The cost of air pollution from HGVs is up to 16 times higher in some European countries compared to others, the report notes. The average cost of pollution from a 12-14 tonne Euroclass III lorry is highest in Switzerland, at almost 10 pence per kilometre. Costs are also high in Luxemburg, Germany, Romania, Italy and Austria, at around 6.9 pence per km.

At the other end of the scale, the report found that the same lorry driving in Cyprus, Malta and Finland causes damage of around half 0.4 pence per km.

In some regions the report found that the cost is also much higher than in others. Zurich in Switzerland, Bucarest in Romania, Milan in Italy, the Ruhr Valley in Germany and Barcelona in Spain had some of the highest health costs compared to other large urban zones.

According to EEA calculations, newer lorries would have a reduced impact, and therefore a lower cost. Euroclass IV lorries, which are up to six years old, or Euroclass V, up to three years old, would cause 40-60% less external costs on the same transport corridors.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA executive director, said: “European economies rely on transporting goods long distances. But there is also a hidden cost, paid in years of reduced health and lost life. This cost is especially high for those living close to Europe’s major transport routes. By incorporating these costs into the price of goods, we can encourage healthier transport methods and cleaner technologies.”

The report on HGV road charges is available on the EEA website.