Head of new association: Car owners have been squeezed for long enough

Traffic in Estonia.
Traffic in Estonia. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Simmo Saar, member of the board of the Estonian Car Owners Association, an organization created in May, says in an interview that there are plenty of topics where vehicle owners can have a say. Saar suggests that owners of vehicles have been under pressure for a while and someone needs to represent their rights.

What is the purpose of NGO Estonian Car Owners Association and what kinds of problems does it aim to solve?

The main purpose of the association is to be there for the owners, bring together different vehicle owners and represent members' interests.

Talking about problems, they run the gamut. But the first thing is the government's plans for a car tax.

However, there are many others matters where owners should have a voice, whether highway and street planning, amendments to the Traffic Ac, penal policy, traffic education etc.

Should municipal decisions lead to more vehicle-centric cities?

I do not really subscribe to this concept of vehicle-centrism. A city must first and foremost consider the needs of citizens. This means that there is no such thing as vehicle-centric city. There is city planning and situations where people might have no alternatives to using a car.

Every [public] space needs to consider people's needs, including everyone who participates in traffic. We cannot create a situation where one needs a car to access a certain area without it offering parking opportunities. If there is no alternative, how are people supposed to get around?

So, no public space should be vehicle-centric. But it needs to be people-centric, consider different needs and create alternative ways of getting from A to B.

Do you support general traffic lanes being turned into bus lanes and bicycle paths in city centers?

Yes, absolutely. It is a question of balance and making sure there's room for everyone in the city. Let us not forget that pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and public transport vehicles all participate in traffic the same.

Naturally, the Estonian Car Owners Association does not aim to combat public transport. Public transport has a place in cities and it is only natural it enjoys certain advantages.

How many members do you presently have?

Our membership is in constant flux. We have over 140 active members today.

Was the association created as a reaction to car tax plans?

The history is a bit longer than that as such associations have been around for a while in other countries. The best-known of these is ADAC in Germany that has millions of members. Pressure on car owners has been mounting for some time in Estonia. And we got the idea of organizing our efforts of representing owners' interests at one point.

Talking about the car tax, sides with their own interests include vehicle dealers, chop shops, the Transport Administration and the government. But in a situation where all of them stand to benefit, there has to be someone who stands to lose, and that is the owner of the vehicle today.

We want to make sure owners would not automatically be the losing side in such discussions.

Would a car tax be useful?

We believe a car tax would not be beneficial. We are not talking about whether to tax driving in the first place, whether we have a car tax or not. What we're really talking about is an additional car tax.

Estonia already has a car tax in the motor fuel excise duty as we pay almost half of the price of a liter of fuel in state taxes. There was a social contract once according to which drivers pay the excise duty that is then used to build and maintain roads.

Fuel excise duty receipt for this year is forecast at €510 million. But only €232 million of it will be used to build and maintain roads. This again suggests we already have a car tax as we pay a lot more than reaches our road infrastructure.

There are no valid arguments for an additional car tax today. The only thing we hear is that the state budget needs more money.

But every tax must both be fair and appear fair, and our position today is that it is not fair to levy this additional tax on drivers.

Do you also have a bigger goal, in terms of amending legislation perhaps?

There are quite a few topics. We have discussed various issues with members, ranging from motor insurance to registration of different types of vehicles. There are many areas where we can get involved.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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