Wednesday, July 15, 2009


An International freeway sign, found mainly in...Image via Wikipedia

French freeways are anything but free. The route from our place to Llyons, about a two and a half hour drive, costs around $25 each way. Continuing on to Paris costs another $50. And that’s before speeding tickets.

Seriously, you might as well include that as a fixed cost. There are no highway patrols looking for speeders. Instead every car is automatically clocked by a high-tech system of cameras and radar guns. The bill comes in the mail, even if you’re driving a rental car! We discovered this first hand. Fortunately, Mary Ann was the first to be ticketed – a whopping $125 for going 138 km/hr in a 110 zone.

The result of all these fundraisers is an immaculate highway system. The autoroute is largely devoid of potholes. Even at speeds well above the limit, the ride is very smooth – making it all that much more difficult to stay under. Even on a road trip to Switzerland, the highway was in excellent condition. It featured dozens of viaducts and tunnels winding through the French Alps.

I suspect that another motivation for the high fees is to discourage people from driving. The TGV, bullet train, makes the trip from Avignon to Lyons to Paris in less than half the driving time, but apparently people need even more persuasion to take the public transportation. From the standpoint of lowering carbon emissions, it also makes good sense to attach these user fees. In Britain, high polluting cars are taxed at purchase, but I think its more fair to manufacturers and consumers to charge the usage.

Despite the high fees, the French autoroute has nearly the same nostalgic effect as America’s expansive interstate. It takes you where you want to go and provides beautiful scenery along the way.

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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.