German outrage at autobahn tolls plan

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The Independent Online

In a land plastered from one end to another with " Verboten" signs, German motorways offer a haven of freedom. Driving on full throttle down an unrestricted autobahn is regarded as a German's constitutional right; the state's only role is to remove the wreckage.

In a land plastered from one end to another with " Verboten" signs, German motorways offer a haven of freedom. Driving on full throttle down an unrestricted autobahn is regarded as a German's constitutional right; the state's only role is to remove the wreckage.

So a government-appointed panel's proposal yesterday that Germans should be made to pay for the privilege was provocative. The group of experts entrusted with the task of solving congestion shocked the country by calling for the introduction of motorway tolls within three years.

The boos were led by motoring organisations, but arose from some unlikely quarters too. The Greens' experts have concluded that pricing cars off the autobahn would increase pollution in towns. But even the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, a former board member of Volkswagen, knows that something must be done, because the national dream is rapidly fading as the highways clog up.

Inevitably, the German solution is to lay more Tarmac, but someone must pick up the tab. This time, the experts felt, it was the motorists' turn.

No way. Confronted with a chorus of outrage, the government was forced to back down within minutes of the report's appearance. The tolls will affect lorries only, the Transport Minister announced soothingly. Haulage companies will be bankrupted by the punitive tolls so cars may go faster.

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