ECOLOGY Minister Ségolène Royal has proposed that motorways be made toll-free at weekends as part of plans to target the profits of motorway companies.
She put forward the plan plus a suggestion of a 10% levy as ways to raise money from motorway operators to compensate for the huge losses to be incurred after she scrapped the controversial écotaxe on lorries, which was due to raise funds to repair roads and finance sustainable transport projects.
Saying motorway operators earn 20% too much, she added: “When a motorway charges €100, they pocket €20”.
Her plans would recuperate money from the operators without the cost being passed on to consumers and include reducing motorway tolls by 10%, abolishing them at weekends and taking another 10% of the profit from tolls to “finance infrastructure investment funds”.
The hugely-profitable motorways have distributed €15bn of dividends to shareholders since they were privatised eight years ago but have reneged on contractual commitments to reduce prices as they built the motorways, she said.
“The French have paid twice, during the construction and when the Rafarin-Villepin government privatised the motorways. The motorways must give back this money so we can work on infrastructures.”
The operators’ contracts allow them to pass tax increases on to road users and are threatening to abandon €3.6bn of planned works agreed last year with Prime Minister Manuel Valls in talks with them to get work moving.
He said Ms Royal’s plan to remove tolls at the weekend was “difficult to envisage”.
The opposition UMP mocked the plan with Christian Jacob, leader of its group at the National Assembly, saying: “It’s nonsense. Why not make patisserie free on Sundays too?”
Greens have denounced the proposal that would encourage road travel as “anti-écolo” and suggest free train travel be offered instead.
Twitter users have started using a new hashtag, #gratuitleweekend, with a wave of alternative suggestions from free fruit and vegetables to combat obesity to free cigarettes to cinema tickets, designer handbags and nightclub entry.