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


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