Vienna road toll on the agenda again

The Vienna Greens are risking a coalition-internal conflict by calling for a city toll.

Rüdiger Maresch, the leftist party’s traffic spokesman, said such a fee “is unavoidable on the long term”. Maresch underlined the city government’s ambition to slash fine dust levels, the volume of toxic emissions by cars and noise caused by traffic in the coming years.

Maresch’s faction is reportedly studying other European cities’ traffic taxation systems to determine which model suits the Austrian capital the most. A majority of 74.85 per cent of residents of Vienna said no to a city street toll in a referendum in February 2010. Almost 36 per cent of Viennese citizens eligible to participate in the referendum did so.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ) – who started cooperating with the Greens after losing an absolute majority in city parliament seats in the election of October 2010 – rejected the latest appeals to set up a city road toll. The party claimed that wealthy people would benefit. Experts think that the city of Graz – the unofficial smog capital of Austria – will introduce a road toll system before the discussion in Vienna comes to an end.

First polls show that most Viennese people’s point of view regarding city road toll mechanisms has not changed since the referendum. Representatives of the provincial government of Lower Austria dismissed city road toll ideas as well. They call for better park and ride infrastructure on the outskirts of Vienna to convince commuters of a switch to public transport.

Lower Austria – the country’s largest province – encircles Vienna. The region is governed by the People’s Party (ÖVP). The Viennese section of the conservative party has been in serious difficulties for years before suffering an all-time low of 13.99 per cent in the most recent city vote. It is currently headed by Manfred Juraczka. The Hernals district councillor recently launched a campaign for reasonable alternatives for motorists instead an exaggerated focus on how they could be “punished”.

Austria’s leading drivers’ associations branded city road toll plans as “expensive and pointless”. They made aware of soaring petrol prices – and warned from burdening drivers in any additional way. One litre of diesel fuel cost around 0.7 Euros in Austria in 2002. The price shot up to twice this amount within the past 10 years.

Maresch caused controversy already last year when he publicly supported the introduction of environment zones in Vienna. The Vienna Green Party official said cars lacking eco-friendly engines should be banned from entering the city as of 2013. The German capital Berlin has a similar system. More than 230,000 drivers head for Vienna each day. Many of them are commuters who reside on the countryside. Statistics show that most of the vehicles are occupied by just one person.

Meanwhile, Viennese SPÖ Environment Councillor Ulli Sima announced that her party wanted to expand the ban on old trucks. Drivers of trucks built before 1992 are not allowed to use Vienna’s roads. Sima – whose party won 44.34 per cent in the past city parliament ballot (2005: 49.1 per cent) – said the law should affect all lorries registered before 1996.