Road traffic taxation in Germany: the present system, its problems and a proposal for reform

Fritz Söllner


This article examines the taxation of road traffic in Germany and makes a proposal for its reform. The policy-oriented approach used here is inspired by the tradition of economists like Richard A. Musgrave in the United States or Günter Schmölders in Germany who always sought to integrate fiscal theory and fiscal practice. Thus, our considerations are guided by three basic principles of taxation which are well-founded theoretically and, at the same time, flexible enough to deal with issues of policy: fairness, efficiency and practicability. They are used, at first, to show what a systematic taxation of road traffic would look like. Then, actual road traffic taxation in Germany is described and measured against this standard. It turns out that none of the different road traffic taxes or fees in Germany conform to the principles of taxation. Therefore, finally, a proposal for reform is made which is discussed not only in terms of fairness and efficiency but also in terms of political acceptability and of compatibility with European law. It is found that the reform proposed complies with the principles of taxation and European law, but that, at present, it may be difficult to win public acceptance for one of its parts


1. It is argued that road traffic taxation, like taxation in general, ought to follow certain basic principles, such as fairness, efficiency or practicability. According to these principles, taxes on road traffic can only be justified in the form of fees paid by road users and in the form of steering taxes in order to combat air pollution and congestion

2. Since road traffic taxation in Germany does not comply with the principles of taxation, a proposal for reform is put forward. As a first step, the motor vehicle tax is to be abolished and the energy tax is to be transformed into a tax on CO2 emissions; as a second step, the truck toll and the infrastructure charge are to be merged into a comprehensive toll

3. A European approach to the reform of road traffic taxation is needed, because any unilateral reform may possibly cause competitive disadvantages for German transport companies and obstacles to the flow of traffic in Europe

For citation

Söllner F. Road traffic taxation in Germany: the present system, its problems and a proposal for reform. Journal of Tax Reform, 2018, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 57–72. DOI: 10.15826/jtr.2018.4.1.045

Article info

Received February 22, 2018; accepted March 29, 2018


Road traffic taxation, principles of taxation, user fees, tolls, steering taxes, emission taxes, CO2 taxes


Anon. Der Dieselskandal setzt Angela Merkel unter Druck. Rheinische Post online, 12.8.2017. Available at:
2. Dudenhöffer F. Verfahrene Regulierungspolitik und CO2-Strafzahlungsrisiken für Autobauer. ifo Schnelldienst, 2017, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 23–27.
3. Statistisches Bundesamt. Energiesteuerstatistik. Fachserie 14, Reihe 9.3. Wiesbaden, 2008–2017. (In German).
4. Statistisches Bundesamt. Finanzen und Steuern — Steuerhaushalt 2. Vierteljahr 2017. Fachserie 14, Reihe 4. Wiesbaden, 2017.
5. Bundesfinanzministerium. Geschäftsstatistik Kraftfahrzeugsteuer. Berlin, 2013. Available at:
6. Jaenichen S. Verkehrswegegebühren und Ausländerdiskriminierung. Wirtschaftsdienst, 2015, vol. 95, no. 1, pp. 32–38. (In German).
7. Hyman D. N. Public Finance. South-Western. Mason, 2005.
8. Musgrave R. A., Peggy B. Musgrave. Public Finance in Theory and Practice. 4th ed. McGraw-Hill. New York, 1984.
9. Homburg S. Allgemeine Steuerlehre. 7th ed. Vahlen. München, 2015.
10. Baumol W. J., Oates W. E. The Use of Standards and Prices for Protection of the Environment. Swedish Journal of Economics, 1971, vol. 73, no. 1, pp. 42–54.
11. Leontyeva Yu. V., Mayburov I. A. Theoretical framework for building optimal transport taxation system. Journal of Tax Reform, 2016, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 193–207.
12. Parry I.W.H., Walls M. Harrington W. Automobile Externalities and Policies. Journal of Economic Literature, 2007, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 373–399.
13. Baumol W. J., Oates W. E. The Theory of Environmental Policy. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 1998.
14. Perman R., et al. Natural Resource and Environmental Economics. 4th ed. Pearson. Harlow, 2011.
15. Endres A. Umweltökonomie. 4th ed. Kohlhammer. Stuttgart, 2013.
16. Heywood J. B. Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals. 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill. New York, 2018.
17. Schreiner K. Verbrennungsmotoren. In Böge A., Wolfgang B. (eds), Handbuch Maschinenbau, 23rd ed., Springer Vieweg. Wiesbaden, 2017, pp. 1133–1197.
18. Adolf J. Mineralölsteuer — Stütze unseres Steuersystems oder Auslaufmodell. Wirtschaftsdienst, 2003, vol. 83, no. 7, pp. 460–468.
19. Schobert H. H. Chemistry of Fossil Fuels and Biofuels. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 2013.
20. Umweltbundesamt. CO2-Emissionsfaktoren für fossile Brennstoffe. Dessau, 2016.
21. Dudenhöffer F. Diesel-PKW sind weniger umweltfreundlich als behauptet. ifo Schnelldienst, 2017, vol. 70, no. 10, pp. 27–29.
22. Shell Deutschland Oil GmbH. Shell LKW-Studie. Hamburg, 2010.
>23. Boysen-Hogrefe J. Der Einfluss des Erdölpreises auf die Energiesteuerprognose. ifw Working Paper 1849. Kiel, 2013.
24. Rappen H. Die Kfz-Steuer — ein Relikt? Wirtschaftsdienst, 2006, vol. 86, no. 6, pp. 382–290.
25. Bjertnæs G.H.M. The Efficient Combination of Taxes on Fuel and Vehicles. CESifo Working Paper 6789. Munich, 2017.
26. Fullerton D., West S. E. Tax and subsidy combinations for the control of car pollution. B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, 2010, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 1–33.
27. European Environmental Agency. Transport Fuel Prices and Taxes. Brussels, 2017. Available at:
28. European Commission. Road Charging. Brussels, 2018. Available at:


Copyright (c) 2018 Fritz Fritz Söllner

eLibrary logoeLibrary logo  DOAJ logo ERIH PLUS logo 

© Journal of Tax Reform : ISSN 2414-9497 (online), ISSN 2412-8872 (print)