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Monday, 19 September 2016

Cough up motorists - French motorways need more money

That’s more or less the message the French government sent out this past weekend.

Now, let’s get this straight.

On the whole, drivers have to pay to use motorways in France (the main exception is in Brittany). That’s right, the network of autoroutes consist, for the most part, of toll roads.

And they’re operated and maintained by a number of private companies: the largest being Vinci, which controls around 4,380 kms of motorway.

This being France, of course, the motorways are actually owned by the state and the companies run them along concessionary lines…making a healthy profit along the way, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth their while as private companies are not in business for altruistic or philanthropic reasons.

But when it comes for repairs or upgrades to be made, who do you think coughs up?

The state? Ha ha. It wants to cut back on spending as much as possible.

Those private companies? Not on your proverbial “nelly” as that would eat into their profits and shareholder dividends. And besides, they’ve apparently already invested heavily.

So who’s left?

Think about it - the answer, if you’re reading this and have ever been behind the wheel of a car - is looking right at the screen.

Yep - drivers!

At the weekend the junior minister in charge of transport minister, Alain Vidalies (who? you might well ask) announced that, to finance the necessary roadworks on 30 stretches of motorway dotted up and down the country, the government was going to call on local authorities to foot part of the bill.





Alain Vidalies (screenshot Europe 1 radio interview, June 2016)

And the rest…the rest…will be met by the motorist as the toll charges are set to increase from 0.3% and 0.4% annually during the period 2018-2020.

Great timing - and handy for whichever government might be in power at the time to enforce.

Yes, there might well be good economic arguments for the price hike (and passing it on the consumer or motorist) such as the likely increase in employment building works will necessarily provide, and the government wanted to avoid getting into lengthy and protracted negotiations with the companies that “run” the motorways.

But the timing is pretty crass and, what’s hidden behind what seems at first a reasonable increase, is the fact that it will be in addition to whatever rise in toll prices there might be over the same time period. In other words, it’s an hike on hike yet to be agreed.

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