Friday, January 21

Highways. Rising toll prices: what can the state do?

Freezing tariffs, a short-term solution

At the start of 2019, in the midst of the “yellow vests” challenge, the government asked for and obtained after “intense discussions” with the motorway companies a 30% reduction in prices for regular drivers, in the absence of a reduction for all .

The government had ruled out the idea of ​​freezing toll prices, as the former Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal had decided in 2015, because it would have had to be caught up later.

In fact, in 2015, the motorway companies had only accepted this freeze in exchange for compensation by a price increase between 2019 and 2023. According to the Transport Authority, the consequences of this freeze were quantified. to 500 million euros in additional compensation tolls for drivers. In 2021, this factor accounted for about half of the increase, which had been 0.44%.

Renationalize, as some candidates propose? Not that easy

While a price freeze is therefore not necessarily desirable, some presidential candidates are positioning themselves in favor of the renationalization of motorway networks, which is supposed to make it possible to avoid these price increases. Marine Le Pen (RN), but also Fabien Roussel (PCF), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI), Arnaud Montebourg or Nicolas Dupont Aignan are for, for different reasons. A bill was even tabled on November 30 by rebellious deputies to demand nationalization, judging that the motorway companies have “already recovered nearly three times the purchase price” of 2006.

The French Association of Motorway Companies has already defended itself in 2016 in a document which shows that toll prices have increased a little less since the privatizations (ceded in 2005 under the Villepin government): 2.06% on average between 2000 and 2006 and 1.81% after privatization between 2007 and 2014.

However, the high toll prices continue to be the subject of criticism, from the Court of Auditors in a report published in 2008 which castigates “inconsistent tariffs” and increases above inflation, but also more recently in a report. of the Senate. At the end of 2020, the Motorway Concessions Inquiry Commission estimated the loss of state revenue resulting from privatization at 6.5 billion. It also considers that the duration of the concessions should no longer be extended.

But is nationalization an easy solution to implement and a gain for citizens? A renationalization involves the termination of concession contracts, which end at the earliest in 2031, and run until 2070 for some.

The State should therefore pay compensation for breach of contract. According to Bruno Le Maire, interviewed in September by LCI, the cost for the State would be around 40 billion euros, “whereas if we wait 10 or 15 years (…) we can recover these highways for 0 euros.”

In 2014, a parliamentary report by Socialist deputy Jean-Paul Chanteguet estimated this cost between 15 and 20 billion – more or less what the state gained by privatizing. The report of the senatorial commission of inquiry on the motorway concessions published at the end of 2020, very critical of the management of the State and which calls for the end of the extension of the concessions, nevertheless underlined that “if such is the case. operation can be considered justified for a reason of general interest, it seems difficult to envisage such an expenditure having regard to the situation of public finances “.

This probably explains why the governments in place have so far rather wanted to wait until 2031, the year from which the first motorway concessions will end.

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