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Dutch road tax inflames debate in neighboring Germany

In Germany, a debate has broken out over a controversial Dutch per-kilometer driving tax. Germany's Green party has spoken out in favor of adopting a similar plan, while others remain opposed.

Cars driving on a highway

The new Dutch rules aim to keep traffic flowing

Under a plan recently agreed by the Dutch government, current road-taxes and a 25 percent car-sales tax will be abandoned by 2012 in favor of a pro-rated distance tax.

Drivers will be charged an average 3 euro cents per kilometer (7.5 US cents per mile) in an attempt to reduce traffic jams, accidents and carbon emissions.

Differentiating among driving styles

The tax will increase every year until 2018, when it will cost an average 6.7 cents per kilometer to drive in Holland. The rate can be adjusted if it fails to change driving habits in the country.

GPS navigation system in a car

A GPS system will keep track of Dutch drivers

According to the plan, higher charges will be levied during rush hour and for traveling on congested roads. Trucks, commercial vehicles and bigger cars emitting more carbon dioxide will be assessed at a higher rate, while smaller cars will pay less.

GPS devices installed in cars will track the time and location of each car's movements and will send the data to a central billing agency which will then deduct money from drivers' accounts.

According to the proposed law, the information will not be stored, due to data-protection concerns.

In Germany, Green party chief Cem Oezdemir said he supported the plan.

"The Dutch model is going in the right direction," Oezdemir told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.

Environmentalists are praising the proposal, and top German automotive expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer also said Germany should "take the progressive (Dutch) model as an example."

Germany 's system is a "monster"

Compared with the Dutch system, Dudenhoeffer said, Germany's car taxes are "a monster." They fail to "steer" policy, they are too complicated, and they don't take actual road usage into account, he noted.

"You pay the same in taxes for a car that drives 100 kilometers per year as you do for the same car that drives 100,000 kilometers," Dudenhoeffer said.

Tulip field in Holland with windmill in the background

Opponents in Germany say Holland's small size makes the plan workable

But a representative from the Free Democrats (FDP) - the pro-business, pro-civil-liberties party that currently governs Germany together with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) - came out opposed to the plan.

For one thing, the spokesman for the FDP in the parliamentary Transportation Committee Patrick Doering said, the system would be technically unworkable in Germany, which is much larger than Holland.

A spokesperson for Germany's Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer dismissed the Dutch system as a form of automobile toll, saying: "An automobile toll, under any form, is not on our agenda."

In Holland, the government claimed that the new tax would benefit 6 out of 10 drivers, with those driving the most and at peak hours bearing the greatest burden. Moreover, proponents - like Dutch Transportation Minister Camiel Eurlings - say the plan would cut carbon emissions in half.

Plan met with criticism

The Dutch government said it expects the number of cars on the roads to decrease by 15 percent, as more people would switch to public transport and cycling. As a side effect, the number of deadly car accidents would also be reduced.

However, even within the country's borders, the Dutch system has met with strong resistance. Opponents were concerned the system would be too heavy a burden on business drivers and could cost the government more than 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) a year in tax income.

Others critics said it was wrong to assume the plan will necessarily cut the number of cars on the road. Still others complained that the reforms didn't go far enough.

jen/AP/dpa
Editor: Michael Lawton

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