La rémunération du risque, enjeu clef de la régulation économique des concessions autoroutières en France

04 December 2014
By Jeanne Lubek and Stéphane Wakeford

The French rail regulator (ARAF) is about to be granted the supervision of toll roads to address the lack of effective economic regulation pointed out by the French Competition Authority and the State Auditor.

The bill examined in parliament is not specific on the nature of the new powers which will be conferred to the regulator, but whatever the legal arsenal available, the challenge will be to develop a regulatory doctrine accommodating the legislative and contractual legacy (1995 decree and concession contracts in particular), while articulating a balanced view of economic regulation, which protects users without harming operators and which maintains sufficient investment incentives.

This will include formalizing the assessment of the opportunity cost to be taken into account to determine the appropriate return on new investments, while trying to reconcile the diverging regulatory and investment time horizons, any discrepancies resulting ultimately in the perception of a regulatory risk by investors.

The perception of uncertainty regarding the regulatory framework results in a higher cost of capital for both motorway companies and other French regulated asset (airports, etc.). The resulting cost being borne by users through higher tolls/fees but also by the state, through a lower valuation of assets which are to be privatized.

A combined economic and financial approach of these issues is thus necessary to ensure that the endogenous nature of regulation on tariffs is taken into account when setting a price-cap.