An inquiry commission on the issue in the French Senate, whose report was presented today (Friday September 18) aims to “get [motorways] back on track”, and make them fairer for users and the state.
The report also discusses plans for the anticipated end of motorway ownership by private companies which currently include groups such as Vinci Autoroutes and Eiffage.
The report states: “[Companies] should “share future profits more fairly with the state and users”, and questions the privatisation of the motorways overall.
It says: "The transfer of motorway concession companies to the private sector was not preceded either by a revision of concession contracts, or by a definition of the economic and financial balance of the companies, or by a revision of the relationship with the state.”
Most motorways were privatised in France in 2006, but these concessions are set to end from 2031-2036, with the government due to decide what happens then. The report recommends re-nationalisation.
It claims that motorway companies are “generally seen as too profitable”, and should make changes in the meantime to ensure that motorway use is fairer to users.
One idea it recommends is that more eco-friendly vehicles should be charged less, whether goods trucks or lighter vehicles.
Senators recommend “the fast-tracking of a subscription offer without fees for home-to-work journeys that guarantee payment reductions of 30-50%”.
Commission reporter Vincent Delahaye said: “We can amend the fees according to vehicles, and daily home-to-work journeys also need to be among the subjects discussed. [There should also be] more attractive prices for a certain number of practices that we might define as ‘virtuous’.”
The report also recommends that motorways need to “get back on track” and be “reset”; and says that there needed to be “a motorway summit” organised to “finally define the financial and economic balance of concession companies”, to “prepare for the end of concessions” and to “anticipate the future management of motorways”.
‘Motorways belong to the state’
Senator Mr Delahaye said: "The end of the contracts is in 2031 and 2036. That is far enough away that we should stop extending it today, and [make sure we are] ready at the end of these contracts. Motorways must return to being State managed. They belong to the State.”
The report added that “several motorway management models” exist, including different kinds of partnership between companies and state.
Mr Delahaye said: “The profitability expected by motorway companies is 8%...That is high compared to all other companies. What other investments do we see that return 8% per year? It is rare. These levels of profitability over the full duration of the contract will be reached in 2022 or so.”
This is 10 years before the contracts are set to end, and 16 years after privatisation first began - especially for the companies Vinci Autoroutes and Eiffage.
By 2022, motorway dividends are expected to reach €40billion, of which €32billion will be shared among Vinci and Eiffage.