Is Croatia set for a change in its motorway financing approach?
With the new Croatian government expected to be confirmed on Friday, there are more and more policy initiatives being launched by members of the new parliamentary majority, including those who might quite possibly become ministers in the new government. One of them is Oleg Butković, a high-ranking member of HDZ and a likely candidate for Transport Minister. If he is indeed confirmed as the new minister, one of the most difficult issues for him will be what to do with Croatian Motorways public company, which is heavily indebted due to loans taken out while the motorways were being built more than a decade ago, reports Autostart.hr on January 17, 2016.
During the election campaign, Butković was very clear: “Vignettes are the only real solution.” He advocates a completely different approach to Croatian motorways and traffic safety. According to him, the motorways should not have been built if the only intention is to sell them now. “Such an approach to solving Croatian financial problems might be appropriate for financiers and bankers, but not for those of us who know how to make money from the road infrastructure”, said Butković, who is absolutely against the sale of motorways.
“They are our national treasure which has not been well-managed and they should not be sold for next to nothing just to lower the Croatian public debt. On the contrary, we can make money, and vignettes are one of the central issues. We will do everything to introduce them as soon as possible. We will be better in managing the motorway system. It is nice to see our motorways during the summer when they are full of vehicles, but as soon as the tourist season ends they are eerily empty. Why did we build them at all”, asked Butković.
He is quite right when he warns about the underutilization of motorways. With an average daily traffic of just 12,000 vehicles, it is difficult to make them profitable, since the lower limit of viability is 16,000 vehicles a day, and only the motorway between Zagreb and Lipovac manages to achieve that level of traffic. For Butković, the main task is to provide citizens with the possibility to use the motorways cheaply and to force trucks away from other state and local roads.
“It would be good to double the traffic, to further increase the income from heavy trucks who now use other major state roads. We have this absurd situation where, due to high prices, truckers are bypassing motorways”, added Butković. Trucks are precisely the kind of vehicles on which the Slovenian motorways make the largest profits. Slovenia has forced them to use the motorways and pay for them. Other countries which have a vignette system for toll payment have achieved similar results.
There are many other reasons for the vignette system to be introduced, instead of the current tollbooth payment collection system. Even the simplest financial calculations show that vignettes would be more profitable for Croatia. According to preliminary estimates, the price of a one-year vignette should be around 130 euros. Today, that is the price of just two journeys from Varaždin to Ploče and back.