The Transport and Infrastructure Ministry has banned all trucks from auxiliary highways and old national road networks in a move it says is intended to increase safety and improve policing but which critics claim is aimed at raising revenues by forcing heavy goods vehicles to use toll roads.
The ban includes all trucks and vans with a gross weight of 3.5 tons or more, and forbids them from using extensive parts of the road network, particularly in and around the Greek capital and other major cities, when they are not carrying cargo or cannot prove they are traveling to or from a delivery.
The decision is expected to bring a marked improvement to the quality of life in areas with busy roads used by truckers and motorists, and those who live near or use the auxiliary and old national highway networks also stand to benefit from the decrease in heavy vehicle traffic.
Professionals in sectors that are dependent on truck transportation, however, are reacting to the measure, saying that it not only restricts their movement but also significantly increases transportation costs.
“To begin with, this blanket ban goes against the principle of free movement for goods and people, and for this reason we will be taking recourse to the Council of State,” Vassilis Tzimorangas, the head of the union representing truckers in Thessaly, Central Greece and Western Macedonia, tells Kathimerini, referring to the country’s highest administrative court.
“Furthermore, it is impractical and cannot be implemented, as the decision does not include any monitoring processes or any exceptions, but is a blanket ban,” he adds. “If, for example, a driver has completed a delivery in a town and is stopped by authorities while heading back, how can he prove that he’s going home, or to visit a friend or relative in a nearby district? Furthermore, a manifest is not enough, because a driver may get an order while en route and add a destination to the list.”
The union chief also stresses that the ban extends to smaller trucks that supply small towns and villages that are not on or even near a national highway, meaning their drivers are at risk of arrest when using regional roads after dropping off deliveries.
He goes on to argue that the cost of tolls – which comes to an average of 200 euros for most trucks traveling between Athens and Thessaloniki, for example – will have to be covered by the driver, who is additionally being forced by the ban to fill up at gas stations and take meal breaks at rest stops on the national highway that may be more expensive than other options.
Panayiotis Tzounis, the owner of a rest stop on the old national highway in Stylida, central Greece, says that the ban benefits consortiums managing toll highways and will kill businesses like his own, which relies on truck traffic. “When the Stylida bypass was built, we turned to professional drivers and offered specialized services. The tavernas in Karavomylos, gas stations and other businesses did the same,” he says. “For businesses like this, the decision is a death sentence.”
If the decision were not designed to bring more revenues to highway management firms, “then it would have been restricted to byroads only, which is something we all agree with,” argues Tzounis. “In this area, the ban is a pretext intended at closing us down to the benefit of the highway rest stops that have low revenues.”