International truck operators have been left in limbo after the French government announced a further – this time indefinite - suspension of its Ecotax road user charging scheme.

The scheme, which has been delayed twice already, was due to apply from 1 January 2014 to goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes GVW on around 15,000km of French roads not currently covered by existing tolls.

After widespread protests in north-west France about the scheme – which reports have suggested would net around €1bn (£846m) a year for the government – French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said last week he had decided to suspend it to make time for further review.

The decision has been welcomed by international truck operators, who would otherwise have begun paying up to 18.5 eurocents/km from January when travelling in France.

But the scheme’s dependence on telematics units in each vehicle has also left a number of operators with on-board units (OBUs) they do not now need. Others are now uncertain as to whether to press ahead with OBU fitment for when the scheme is reintroduced, assuming it is.

Long delay likely

FTA international manager Don Armour told MT he thought it could now be up to two years before the Ecotax came into force. Operators who haven’t had an OBU fitted yet should “sit tight until we get better guidance” he suggested, admitting that those who had already paid for equipment to be fitted were “clearly between a rock and a hard place”.

Around 800,000 vehicle operators were estimated to be affected by the scheme, 200,000 of which are outside France, said Armour.

RHA head of international affairs Peter Cullum described the stalled introduction of the French scheme as “a bit of a dog’s dinner”.

“There have been a lot of confused messages coming out over the last year and a half and I think it probably is time for a pause for reflection – but in the meantime, everybody’s up in the air,” he said.

“We advise people to keep registering but if it involves them in commercial commitment, then obviously, that’s a decision for them to make,” Cullum added.