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Highways : future increases in tolls unfair to the users !

Once is not custom, the price barriers may increase less quickly than expected between 2019 and 2021 ! These increases ranging from 0.1 to 0.4% per year, in addition to the annual increases in conventional inflation linked, and that had to be imposed to compensate and therefore finance the modernization plan of highways declared by the previous government, are not justified, concluded the Arafer, the independent public authority acting as a regulator on the sector, in a notice explosive made public Monday evening. To make it short, the user does not have to pay as much !

The regulatory Authority of railway operations and road (Arafer) comes to take a beautiful pavé dans la mare. According to her, the increases in rates of tolls, scheduled between 2019 and 2021, to fund the plan, highway investment more than 800 million euros, imposed by the previous congress period, “in excess of the fair level that it would be legitimate to make support to the users”.

Clearly, these future increases “between 0.1 % and 0.4 % per year” are not justified, she let loose Monday evening in a press release. And the new government is invited to review the emergency copy before you sign anything with the motorway concessionaires (SCA) – the Abertis Eiffage and Vinci, who represent more than 90 % of the French motorway network.

As a reminder, this new plan of the great work must be used to finance 57 road targeted, which is primarily the creation of interchanges, in addition to areas of carpooling, écoponts, or noise walls. This plan, approved in September 2016 by the former head of State, François Hollande, should also allow the creation of 5 000 jobs. As for the funding, it should be supported, as usual, mainly by the users, via a toll increase, and also by the taxpayers via grants to territorial communities, to the tune of 220 million euros.

For once, the tolls could increase less quickly than expected !

Only here, the regulator that is the Arafer, which should be “must be consulted, prior to the signature, on any proposed amendment to an existing contract, when it provides for a change in rates of tolls, or of the duration of the concession”, under the law known as the Macron 2015, comes to question everything. And it is possible – once is not custom – rate increases to the tolls planned for 2019, 2020 and 2021, are simply lowered. Never seen before !

The findings of the Arafer are without appeal :

  • 1 – On the overall plan, investigated, and therefore on the 803,5 million euros of investment contemplated, “only” 54 % could be regarded as justified : 430 million euros, of which 352 million financed by the increases in the tolls – are transactions “in which the principle of financing by the user appears justified and demonstrated”. This means that for all the remainder – 46 per cent – it is far from being a given and obvious !

For 23 of the 57 scheduled operations, that is to say, about 34 % of the overall budget, the Arafer feels strongly that this is clearly not warranted to support users “either because the projects correspond to obligations already provided for in the contracts, either because it is not established that they are strictly necessary or useful to the operation of the highway.

  • 2 – only On the perimeter of the operations for which the funding by higher tolls appears justified, the Arafer is estimated that the cost of these operations is overstated – by up to 30 % ! – in the very large majority of cases : 17% of the total amount of investment, the costs are 10% higher to the standards established (…) ; for 24% of the total amount of the investment, the costs are higher 20% to 30% and 41 %, more than 30 %.”

The motorway companies are gaining decidedly too

given the limited risk involved !

The Arafer judge to finish – and this is hardly a surprise – that “the level of remuneration of concession companies should be more in line with risks incurred”. It therefore recommends to reconsider the conditions of financing of this big project, apparently badly put together. It’s simple, “no particular risk factor is not justified”, she said, “this favourable variance to the concession companies”.

It remains to clarify that these rate increases to tolls were not the only ones that need to be supported by the users in the coming years. In addition to the revaluations annual classic related to inflation, it is already expected that users :

– suffer until 2018 the revision of the concession fee, this “rent” that private companies pay to the State for the occupation of the public domain. This increase of taxation is already compensated for by the SCA via increases of up to 0.8% per annum, and,

– from 2019 and until 2023, it is some other compensation that they will also have to be addressed, that of the purported rate freeze enacted in 2015 – in a unilateral way and mostly quite irregular by the government of former Prime minister Manuel Valls… This compensation will be limited, moreover, by no means a simple catch-up “to the euro close”, has revealed the Arafer last December. The SCA’s so-called historical (ASF, Cofiroute, Escota and Vinci, APRR and AREA of the Eiffage group, then Sanef and SAPN group Abertis), the only ones to have been affected by this freeze of 2015, will in fact touch more than what they would have had to recover if their prices at the tolls had been revalued, normally this year. And according to the calculations of the Arafer, it is half a billion euros that they will recover !

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