Italy's Atlantia open to talks on motorway tariff cuts - sources

by Reuters
Wednesday, 15 January 2020 13:10 GMT

(Adds source quote, details, shares)

By Francesca Landini and Stephen Jewkes

MILAN, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Benetton-led Atlantia is ready to reopen talks with the government on motorway toll cuts, two sources said, as Italy's biggest infrastructure group seeks to resolve a bitter dispute over its concessions.

Atlantia, which controls highway operator Autostrade per l'Italia, is facing increasing political pressure over a bridge collapse in 2018 that killed 43 people.

Leading members of the ruling 5-Star Movement insist that Autostrade should be stripped of its concession, which generates a third of Atlantia's core profits and is a main pillar of its business.

But some in the government have resisted the call and have argued instead that the terms of the concession should be renegotiated.

According to media reports, the government has asked Autostrade to cut motorway tariffs by 5% and offer a significant compensation payment to resolve the standoff.

Earlier this month Transport Minister Paola De Micheli called a reported offer by Autostrade to cut its toll fees by 700 million euros "insufficient".

Sources with knowledge of the matter say Autostrade and the government had held formal talks over motorway tariffs and investments in highway maintenance until November when they were broken off.

Earlier on Wednesday, daily Il Messaggero cited the chairman of the Benetton family holding company Edizione, controlling shareholder of Atlantia, as saying that Atlantia was willing to talk with government-backed infrastructure fund F2i about joining forces on infrastructure management.

"Atlantia is ready to discuss the idea of cutting motorway tariffs," a financial source familiar with the matter told Reuters, adding this was a signal to the government to end the year-and-a-half long dispute.

Atlantia officials were not immediately available for comment.

Atlantia, which in 2018 completed the acquisition of Spain's Abertis to create the world's biggest motorway operator, says it has shaken up management and taken measures to improve controls on its more than 3,000 kms (1,864 miles) of network in Italy.

This week it appointed Carlo Bertazzo, from Edizione, as its chief executive. (editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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