The idea of charging vehicles for the distance they travel, the the time they use the road and the mass they carry has long been the desired outcome for the bureaucrats who control our road systems. Every time a review of vehicle registration and road funding comes around the mandarins in Canberra add in the option of going down the mass/distance/time charging model.
Now, the infrastructure owners are getting on board as well. This makes it more likely something will get up in the future and not wither and die like the last heavy vehicle charging project, which got caught up in a number of issues and couldn’t find a way out.
The latest player in the game is Transurban, owner of a sizeable chunk of the toll roads in Australia, and a couple more in the US. The company is getting into, what it calls a ‘major road pricing study in Melbourne to explore options for a more sustainable road funding model for Australia’.
People in the Transurban customer base will be asked to trial a number of scenarios, including distance based charging, annual kilometre estimates and price per trip tolling. Other parameters will be included, like time of day and charging to enter busy CBD areas.
The word from the Transurban CEO, Scott Charlton is, traditional funding models for road infrastructure is outdated, unsustainable and unfair. He reckons the current model will not be able to sustain funding to cope with the infrastructure underfunding already in existence.
A recent survey carried out by EY Sweeney, for Transurban, came up with a figure of 60 per cent ofall city motorists wanting a user pays road system, as opposed to 15 per cent who do not.
Talking about the ideas being broached, Charlton talks about equity being at the core of the possible reforms. This is probably going to be a word which could come back to haunt the trucking industry.
When these people are talking about equity, they are not talking about equity for all road users, they are talking about equity for all car drivers, for all voters. This is an important distinction and one we need to be aware of, going forward.
The trucking industry already pays a disproportionately high percentage of the contributions, through both vehicle registration and fuel duty, when compared to the wear and tear it creates on the roads of Australia. This new reform process may make this inequity even more acute, if we are not engaged at the heart of the process dragging us towards reform.
This is another issue where the trucking industry, and its institutions, need to stand together to make sure we are paying our fair share, and no more. There will be some winners and losers if and when mass/distance/time charging does eventuate. We just have to make sure the whole of trucking is not the loser and the molly-coddled car driving voter does’t get all of the benefit.