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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Government opens the door to urban tolls and discards them on highways in the reissued Sustainable Mobility Law

The Government maintains its plan agreed with Brussels of do not set tolls for the use of highways in exchange for enhancing the rail freight transport, but it opens the door for mayors who wish to raise them within their citiesto restrict traffic or reduce access to areas larger than those covered by low-emission zones (ZBE) that those with the greatest number of inhabitants are obliged to delimit. This absence and this presence is included in the project of Sustainable Mobility Law, which has once again obtained the approval of the Council of Ministers, after its parliamentary processing declined last year due to the calling of the general elections on July 23.

As expected, the bill that once again comes out of the Council of Ministers is exactly the same as the one that declined last year, in an attempt to gather the support between groups parliamentarians who then was “glimpsed” in Congress to approve a rule that is one of the ‘milestones’ agreed between the Government and the European Commission in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan and on which, therefore, it depends on whether Brussels continues disbursing new tranches of European funds. The Government’s objective is for it to come into force throughout this year.

The Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, Oscar Puentes, has explained that the bill that will be sent back to Congress does not include no mention of pay-as-you-go road scheme because this possibility was already ruled out last year in negotiations with the European Commission. “It was removed when we referred the rule to Parliament (last year) and, since exactly the same thing is referred, “it’s outside the law”said the minister who added that at this time the only way to “carry it out” would be through “another mechanism” or the “introduction of amendments” to this rule during the parliamentary process that is now beginning again.

Urban tolls

Apart from interurban roads, what the future law also continues to contemplate is the possibility that cities charge for access by car to certain areas, creating “urban tolls” particularly the center, with “rates” to transfer a perimeter that is greater than that of the areas in which there are already restrictions established by the ZBE.

“The law is a framework that allows municipalities to establish tolls in their municipal areas,” said Puente regarding a lawsuit that he stated that mayors had been transferring to the Government, which was competent to provide “legal coverage” for such a measure. “Enables, not forces”, the minister pointed out. “It will be the municipalities that decide whether or not to implement a toll system.”

Specifically, the bill contemplates a “legal authorization” so that “municipalities that so wish can introduce a circulation fee of vehicles that exceed the limits or maximum categories of free circulation stipulated in low-emission zones”, which Puente has once again emphasized this Tuesday that they are not being created to the extent required by the Climate Change Law and that, on the contrary, , there is cities that are turning back and, for example, “destroying” bike lanes to restore them to traffic. Specifically, he has cited Valencia, Elche, Logroño or Valladolidthe city of which he was mayor until last year and which like the previous ones is now governed by a PP-Vox coalition.

Puente observes “with a serious displeasure” a “certain rebellion by some municipalities” that go one step further in the general “reluctance” throughout the EU to reduce traffic to expand cycle lanes or pedestrian streets, which consists of “going backwards”, which “does not happen anywhere in the EU” more than in Spain. In this regard, Puente announced a few months ago that there would be “penalties“for the town councils that, being obliged by law, still do not have ZBE or that deactivate them without fining. For the moment, they will not appear in the Sustainable Mobility Law that traces last year’s attempt. “We are working on it,” they have said. limited to saying this Tuesday sources from the Ministry of Transport.

Goods by train and burials

As he has said on other occasions, Puente considers that the debate about whether the Highways must be paid for with everyone’s taxes or by those who use themas happens in other countries, must be opened in the future but is now ruled out and the Government’s position is to “liberalize”, that is, let concessions expire. Along these lines, the Sustainable Mobility Law does not include highway tolls that last year the Government did contemplate in its negotiations with the European Commission to receive European funds but that finally were discardedin exchange for another element that is also contemplated by the Sustainable Mobility Lawenhance freight transport by rail to reduce it by road.

Although the law does not set an objective of “Move the goods on the train more and take them off the road.”a”, Puente has indicated that the Government’s objective is for Spain to stop being at the bottom of rail freight transport, with barely 4% of the total, and to be “at least” within the European average of 10%.

To this end, in exchange for not introducing tolls on the highways, it was agreed with Brussels to encourage this through the development of rail highways where there is business demand, subsidizing freight transport by train for at least five years and supporting and incentivizing the modal change of road and to the railway, an aspect included in the Sustainable Mobility Law and on which Puente has assured that work is already being done even before its processing is completed and it comes into force. For example, with the investment that it announced a few days ago to develop the connection from the port of Algeciras to Zaragoza already in execution, with the connection to the train that the three terminals of the port of Valencia will have after his extension or with the construction of the Mediterranean and Atlantic corridorsfor which Puente has once again claimed this Tuesday the collaboration of the Government of France so that Spanish goods can continue their journey through Europe, which in recent weeks has also been requested by its ambassador in Madrid and by the European Commission.



A high-speed train of the French company SNCF at the Saint Lazare station in Paris.

“We need to improve cross-border connections, especially with France, a key country for our goods because to reach northern Europe with them we need a much better connection with France,” said Puente, who has once again “appealed for the collaboration of the French Government so that we accelerate the connections of this infrastructure and have goods traffic that responds to a basic pillar of the EU Treaty”, he added, referring to the free movement of people and also goods.

Also in relation to the train, the Sustainable Mobility Law clarifies the distribution of costs between different administrations of the burials of lines as they pass through urban areas, an issue that confronts city councils with the Ministry that “this law finally bravely addresses,” said Puente.

According to the legislative project that has come out of the Council of Ministers, Adifas infrastructure manager, will “fully” finance the platform, road and facilities and a maximum of 30% of the cost to remove pillars, walls and slabs but “will not assume the financing of urbanization works, local or territorial connections with the city or surrounding territory” that is not within its competence and it will be necessary to create a agreement with the other competent administrationss for the maintenance of the slab and the correct operation of the new tunnel resulting from the railway burial generated. Administrators of infrastructure and other urban planning obligations for which they may be asked to assume 30% of the cost.

Bike and walks in cities and company routes

In general terms, Puente has defended the future Urban Mobility Law as a norm that for the first time recognizes the “right to mobility” of citizens, of having sustainable means or public transport to go to work, for leisure or, simply, to reduce the pollution generated by a sector that, he recalled, is responsible for 27% of the greenhouse emissions emitted by transport.

The Mobility accounts for 13% of household spendingcreates nearly 800,000 jobs, contributes to nearly 5% of GDP and generates 5,000 million trips in public transport per year, Puente said about a law that has social, sustainability and economic reasons and that, according to the bill means putting the person “at the center”, promoting bicycle transportation or urban transportation and that it will be important for cars to occupy as little public space as possible. To do this, it will set guidelines not only within the cities but also also for large companies and public entities and industrial estates.

In the cities, municipalities with between 20,000 and 50,000 inhabitants -from those who are obliged by the Climate Change Law to create ZBE- will have one year from the entry into force of this law to develop sustainable mobility plans that must include elements such as low emission zones, urban distribution of goods, park and rideThese are routes for “safe circulation” by bicycle or cycle. The autonomous communities may decide that municipalities outside this category or associations that group smaller localities also design it.

They must “particularly prioritizing mobility on foote”, including people with disabilities on authorized devices and on bicycles or cycles and, in the case of private vehicles, those with technologies that involve fewer polluting emissions and “vehicles that involve less occupation of public space.”

In the private sector, the standard also contemplates that big enterprises -of more than 500 employees or shifts of 250- also prepare sustainable mobility plans that they must negotiate with their works councils to implement “sustainable mobility solutions” such as collective transportation, zero emissions, shared transportationoy collaborative o “telecommuting in cases where possible.” These solutions must be available to workers and also to visitors or suppliers.

For larger workplaces, with more than 1,000 employees and that are in municipalities or metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 inhabitants, companies must also include measures toto reduce mobility during peak hours and to promote the use of low or zero emission means of transport.

Far from being a detriment to these companies, Puente has defended that the inclusion of these measures in the standard does nothing more than put into law something that many already do and for which they already obtain considerable tax benefits for promoting the sustainable mobility of their workers. . “These plans acquire legal status but it is not new, lCompanies are already making mobility plans sustainable for a long time, also for economic convenience. The obligations that are introduced in the law are very reasonable and textremely beneficial for companies,” said Puente.

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