Erkrath, Germany, 2016-05-01 – For thousands of years, the Brenner Pass has been one of the most important transport and trading routes between Northern and Southern Europe. Again and again, the pass through the Alps has been a major tipping point for political and economic development. And it is set to become one once again, as Austria prepares to reintroduce border controls on their Italian border at the end of May.
Building began on the 12th of April 2016, with the disassembly of the guard rails located at the border between Austria and Italy. Since 1998, the Schengen Agreement has guaranteed freedom of movement and barrier free border crossings within Europe. But no longer: by the end of the month, a roofed control point will be built, intended to deter refugees and prevent them from entering Austria.
Traffic jams and economic consequences are a real concern
Due to low toll and fuel costs in Austria as compared to those in Switzerland, transport companies usually prefer to take the Brenner highway. In 2015 alone, 2.1 million HGVs crossed the Alps on the four lane highway, which works out to approximately 5,800 vehicles per day. As Austria plans to introduce a speed limit of 30km/h around the border control point, both, companies and drivers must be prepared for traffic jams and long waits - even though there will be two truck lanes. One lane is for sight checks, and the other will serve for random checks on personal data for drivers and passengers.
Either way: lost time and high standing costs will be a real problem when Italy's number 1 transport route is closed. The South Tyrol Chamber of Commerce is worried that the extra costs will be passed on to the client, that is the shipper, meaning they will cause a rise in costs for the consumer.
Solutions are being discussed
Possible solutions for the problems expected at the pass include everything from increasing rail traffic, to official seals on trucks, to flexible driving and resting periods for HGV drivers during the border controls.
In order to increase rail traffic, the timetable would have to be redone completely, with the goal of creating an alternative to the highway that is just as efficient, time-wise. Official seals, that, left intact, show that the truck has not been opened after loading would have to be organised and implemented by the private sector. As yet, no decisions have been made regarding these suggestions.
However, loosening driving and resting periods for truck drivers is not considered practical. The safety risk is considered far too high, even if the rules were only partially lifted by introducing an exception for the Brenner Pass.
Realisable solutions: Calculating additional time
Astag (the Swiss commercial vehicle association) is not expecting
any extra traffic on the Gotthard or San Bernardino routes. After all, taking these alternative routes will save neither time nor money. The fact that toll and petrol prices are much higher in Switzerland than in Italy and Austria is a major factor.
In the end, provided no other realisable solution is found, the only option is to expect journeys to take more time and prepare for increases to standing costs. Of course, it is the consumer that will pay in the end, not to mention the drivers, whose pay will have to cover the duration of the longer trip. However, we can remain hopeful that the border controls are a mere threat from Austria in Brussels' direction, designed to speed up decisions regarding the treatment and handling of refugees in Europe.