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User charges could pay for roads
Infrastructure Australia calls for inquiry into introduction of road-user charging
17 Feb 2016
By IAN PORTER
INFRASTRUCTURE Australia has become the latest body to call on the government to institute an inquiry into the introduction of road-user charges to pay for road building and maintenance.
It has also called for the full implementation of road-user charging for heavy vehicles within five years and within 10 years for light vehicles.
The independent statutory authority has echoed the calls from the Productivity Commission, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Intelligent Transport Systems-Australia to replace the current piece-meal system of road funding.
In a wide-ranging report that examines many areas of the economy where infrastructure is required, Infrastructure Australia chairman Mark Birrell said the funding of roads needed to be reformed so that users carried a fairer share of the burden.
“The Australian Government should initiate a public inquiry, to be led by a body like the Productivity Commission or Infrastructure Australia, into the existing funding framework for roads and development of a road user charging reform pathway,” Mr Birrell says in the Australian Infrastructure Plan released on Wednesday.
The inquiry would look at the fairness, financial sustainability and economic efficiency of road funding.
Mr Birrell said it should also consider what would be the optimal system of charging for road use, what the impacts would be of changing from the current system and what a detailed reform pathway would look like.
He said that, while heavy vehicles have been paying for road use since 1992 through the PayGo system, new technology was making it easier to calculate the full impact trucks have on the road network.
“Technology to support heavy vehicle charging has been used in parts of Europe and in New Zealand for some time,” Mr Birrell says.
“Low-cost in-vehicle transponders and satellite tracking are increasingly being used to open up parts of Australia’s road network to suitably-specified trucks.
Productivity improvements of up to 100 per cent are being realised, and associated reductions in fuel use are cutting emissions.
“By 2014, the technology had already been installed in 25,000 trucks, a 65 per cent increase from two years earlier.”
The call for a closer examination of road user charging was applauded by the nation’s motoring clubs through the Australian Automobile Association, and also by the Rail Manufacturing Co-operative Research centre.
“The AAA strongly supports Infrastructure Australia’s call for a public enquiry into road funding reform and how we can replace current taxes with a fairer road user pricing mechanism,” said AAA chief executive Michael Bradley.
“Australian motorists currently pay close to $28 billion in taxes and charges every year, however the allocation of funding into road, rail and public transport infrastructure needed across Australia remains ad hoc, unfair and lacking in transparency,” Mr Bradley said.
The Rail Manufacturing Co-operative Research Centre pointed out that the Infrastructure Australia Plan highlighted the fact that funding reform of the transport sector was the most significant infrastructure challenge facing the country.
RMCRC chief executive Stuart Thompson backed the call to commit to the implementation of a heavy vehicle road charging system within five years.
“Such a move would not only level the playing field between road and rail, but it would also be a source of much-needed funding to meet Australia’s urgent infrastructure challenges,” Mr Thompson said.
“Australia’s current system of cost recovery in the transport sector has stymied the rail industry for decades.
“With the current renaissance in urban light rail projects and a strong pipeline of rolling stock orders either being delivered or awaiting tender outcomes, with the right policy settings the rail manufacturing industry in Australia has the potential to grow to meet the challenges of Australia’s future transport needs.”
Mr Thompson said under-recovery of road maintenance and building costs from heavy transport meant that trucks were receiving an advantage over rail, which received no hidden subsidies.
He said the forecast 80 per cent growth in the national freight task between 2011 and 2031 meant that much more needed to be done to achieve competitive neutrality between road and rail.
He said it was in the national interest to replace some truck haulage with rail.
“One freight train can carry 280 heavy vehicles and the average passenger train can take 525 cars off the road.
“Rail is also the safest form of land transport and, with the high growth in the projected number of heavy vehicles on our roads, this is an important consideration.” Mr Thompson said.
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