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Germany Toys With Tolls Targeting Foreign Drivers

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Autobahn, Kamener Kreuz, Rush Hour (photo by Dirk Vorderstraße)

Autobahn, Kamener Kreuz, Rush Hour (photo by Dirk Vorderstraße)

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Germany is known for many things -- some good, some bad. In the former category: beer, soccer, and precision engineering. In the latter: bureaucracy, sock/sandal combos, xenophobia.

As far as that last item goes, a new toll policy being considered by the German government is likely to worsen the country's reputation. According to the New York Times, the tolls would be a not-so-subtle means of targeting foreigners with new fees.

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The problem is, Germany's infrastructure of roads and bridges takes a beating. Transportation minister Alexander Dobrindt says that much of the wear and tear is caused by heavy trucks on domestic routes, but foreigners are also to blame. Some come to Germany for sightseeing and vacations, and some pass through on their way to other places.

To address the problem, Dobrindt has drafted a new policy whereby owners of vehicles registered in other countries would need a special permit to drive on German roads. Passes would to cost around €10 ($13.59) per month. Longer-term passes would be available, costing no more than €100 per year.

Technically speaking, Germans would pay these tolls, too. However, they'd receive a comparable break on the automobile taxes they already pay, meaning that the total amount they pay to the state wouldn't increase.

Officials want the policy to take effect on January 1, 2016 and expect the program to generate around €2.5 billion ($3.4 billion) by 2020. That should be enough to help the country begin significant repairs on its aging infrastructure, which has deteriorated dramatically since reunification two decades ago. The problems are particularly dire in the former West Germany, since much of the country's spending has been focused on bringing the former East Germany up to speed.

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Germans are divided on the proposal. To many, the toll makes it seem as if they're being forced to pay for something they've always gotten for "free". (Yes, they've been paying for roadway usage, but the fees have been hidden in taxes.) Foreigners -- especially those in neighboring countries -- are appalled that Germany would lay such a large chunk of the country's financial burden on their shoulders.

To many Americans, though, this kind of policy probably seems like a no-brainer. We already pay vehicle taxes and use toll roads, so why shouldn't Germans do the same? Given Europe's still-struggling economy, we'd be surprised if Merkel et al. didn't approve a version of this proposal before long.

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