THE CABINET TO IMPOSE ROAD TOLLS
For already a year the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works and the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications have been trying to impose some kind of road tolls on the Bulgarian highways. The most common example is the situation in the developed countries where everyone pays for everything without complaints. But it turns out that the Bulgarian driver actually pays not one, but three times, at that for one and the same thing - maintenance of road infrastructure. On the first hand, fees are paid on oil and gas. Under the Roads Act these fees are to be used exactly for road maintenance, but they are usually returned to the State budget and disappear in an unknown direction. Part of the road tax goes for maintenance of the fourth-class roads which are municipal property. In the end, taxpayers pay property tax for owning a vehicle.The European requirements are actually quite clear - uniform standards for all countries on the continent. People pay two kinds of taxes - on property, and road tolls. The same should be applied for Bulgaria as a candidate-member of the European Union (EU). Brussels is not interested in the domestic distribution of funds which, however, turns out to be the main problem of Bulgarian governments. Built-up highways are still short - nearing 350 km in all. The idea that some of the existing road taxes can be substituted by road toll put the Ministry of Finance on the alert. In this way revenues will be lowered and that's the reason why the Ministry offered a mixed system to be applied. According to European standards, only 40% of the highways have been rehabilitated and they are ready to take 11.5 tons of axis pressure. Their road surface is able to take no more than 10 tons of axis pressure which leaves it outside the general requirements. At first sight road tolls seem quite logical. People imagine them as a barrier which lets you in only after you pay.In the normal world, however, people tend to be interested in what they pay for and usually stipulate that in documents. There are the European Directive and the International Roads Convention, which list all paid roads. Apart from the obligatory road surface technical parametres, there is also the requirement for paid highways to be provided with alternative, free from charge access, which in good condition, though not that direct. In EU countries this role is taken by the first-class roads. Deputy Minister of Transport Zlatolina Mukova announced that first-class roads' tolls have also been considered. The reason is the country's undeveloped highway network and the lack of funds for its completion. If tolls are imposed on the functioning highways only, then real revenues will be very low. Ivan Saev, Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, supported the idea of the Ministry of Transport. In that case the part of alternative access will be taken by any road in close proximity to the paid one.The Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works is intending a full overview of the country's road infrastructure to be made, which is expected to be ready by end-March, 2003. Only then a decision will be taken on the mechanism for road tolls, to be applied in beginning of 2004. If it is decided that first-class roads will also be paid for, then the Government should pay for putting them into proper condition. The European requirements exact turn-offs and parking lots at a certain distance. And the Government's problems do not end here. Apart from full rehabilitation of the functioning highways, a number of other legislation amendments are to be made by end-2003. Road tolls can only be changed if amendments are passed to the Local Fees and Taxes Act (by December 31, 2002), to the Roads Act (by June 30, 2003) and to a number of legislative acts.