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Opinion

Opinion: Don't get too upset about tolls on the German autobahn

Germany is set to charge motorists to use its famous highways, but resistance is probably futile. DW's Jefferson Chase has some advice: Just be happy you don't have to drive up and down I-95 in the United States.

The news that Germany plans to charge motorists to use its highways has raised a lot of eyebrows - and a few hackles - abroad. Germany? The land of the autobahn? Is not the right to air out your BMW or Merc for free on the highway enshrined both in the German constitution and within the very German soul?

The devil is in the details. Although the toll applies to everyone, Germans won't be losing any money because the government plans to lower the motor vehicle tax for residents of Germany to balance out the new autobahn fees. What the toll does is to force non-Germans to contribute to the maintenance of the country's high-speed road network. That made it an attractive proposition for German politicians in this election year.

Needless to say, Germany's neighbors aren't terribly keen on chipping in. Austria, for instance, is planning to challenge the toll in European courts, saying that it discriminates against foreigners and is thus inadmissible. No one likes to pay for something they used to get for free. Ask the music industry.

Germans might accuse their southern neighbors of hypocrisy since Austria itself has a toll for using its highways, while the Austrians might counter that they pay far more in motor vehicle taxes. There's unlikely to be any quick resolution to the debates over whether the autobahn toll is fair or not. And there's no reason to get exercised about what is a very first-world problem.

Highway horror stories from the US 

Chase Jefferson Kommentarbild App

DW's Jefferson Chase

Foreigners who resent being charged to fly down the A9 between Berlin and Munich or crawl from Oberhausen to Cologne along the permanently congested A3 can take heart that, because we are talking about Germany, the toll will at least be well-organized.

As someone who grew up on the east coast of the United States and spent considerable time driving between Washington DC and Boston, I have highway horror stories that would curl your tolls…er, toes. If I'd been into audio books, I could have listened to War and Peace, Ulysses and the complete works of Charles Dickens with all the time I spent waiting around in New Jersey to toss quarters into baskets every twenty miles or so.

Turnpikes is what we call road tolls where I'm originally from. The word comes from the fact that in pre-automotive days you used to hand cash over to a fellow who would rotate a turnstile to grant you access to certain roads. That system was probably just as convenient as dealing with the wildly varying rules and fees imposed by each individual US state.

So take heart, neighbors. Germany will no doubt impose a quick and efficient way of collecting your money. And for the time being at least, once you've paid up, you'll still get to experience the thrill of driving as fast as you want. 

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