French contractor Vinci, the world’s largest non-Chinese construction group, has revealed the impact of the "yellow vest" insurrection that has gripped France over the past two months.
The gilet jaune movement arose as a response to an increase in fuel tax, and targeted road traffic, with protesters gathering at roundabouts throughout the country. Vinci’s Autoroutes subsidiary operates about half of the French motorway system in return for toll revenue.
Xavier Huillard, the chief executive of Vinci, told newspaper Le Figaro: "The loss of traffic since 17 November has completely wiped out the 1.7% increase in traffic that was recorded during the first 10 months of the year on our network."
On 17 December, Vinci Autoroutes announced that the protests had caused "tens of millions of euros of damage", in addition to the loss of toll revenue, on about 250 sites. In some cases toll booths were set on fire by the demonstrators.
Vinci had considered a plan to record the licence plates of motorists who had driven through toll gates and then send them an invoice, but dropped it after criticism, Reuters reports.
It now has the tricky task of bringing in a 1.8% average increase in tolls, following a 1.6% hike last year. Given the anger among French motorists, the government has asked road operators to look for ways to cushion the impact of this rise, for example by offering discounts to frequent travellers.
Huillard was speaking at a press conference held on the site of the headquarters tower that Vinci is building for Saint-Gobain in the La Défense business district in the west of Paris. It was held ahead of the release of its figures for 2018, which Huillard said would be "very positive" despite "a global climate dominated by uncertainties".
He said Vinci Energies, in particular, had experienced "spectacular" growth, thanks to some 60 acquisitions, and would declare revenue of about €13bn.
Eurovia, Vinci’s road building arm, also benefited from "nice organic growth", and was interested in smart roads.
Image: Mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore: A gilet jaune checkpoint near Belfort (Jean-Paul Corlin/CC BY-SA 4.0)