There are a number of issues which are affecting the trucking industry this year which shows where the industry could be going over the issue of who pays for the roads? There are certainly some changes ahead and the industry needs to make sure it has a justifiable and united position when the latest developments come to a head.
This week saw the announcement of the opening on September 8 of the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing. Luckily, this mouthful of a name for a road is going to be changed, when it opens, to the shorter but also boring title, the Toowoomba Bypass.
There has been a lot of heated debate in the lead up to this announcement as fears grew that the road owners would be allowed to charge higher toll rates on this new road than are charged elsewhere. This was simply because the new road will make it much easier for trucking operators to utilise fully their higher productivity vehicles.
There are a lot of A-doubles travelling on the Warrego Highway and the new bypass, by removing a large number of traffic lights and an exceedingly steep climb up to the city of Toowoomba, productivity will increase even more after the road opens.
The road operators were expecting to be able to charge a high toll, set at a level which would charge the operators above the amount they would save by using the new road. They would have to use the new road as the current route will be weight restricted after the new road opens.
At the same time, there is a trial taking place, which is expected to expand further in the next couple of years. These are the first in a series of trials which will test out the efficacy of a Road User Charge based on telematics recording mass, distance and location of the trucks involved in the trial.
The trucking operator will be charged according to the distances the truck travelled, as well as the masses it was carrying and also the quality of the road which it was using. This is going to make a radical change to the way trucking operators are going to be charged.
There are going to be winners and there are going to be losers. It can be assumed that trucks running at high masses on good quality national highways over long distances will be being charged more than smaller trucks, which are loaded for a lower percentage of the time and running on badly maintained rural rule roads.
Essentially, the trucking industry will be being charged every time it goes anywhere. It will not matter whether the truck is using a publicly owned road or a toll road, it will be charged for the amount of use of roads.
Not only is this going to force the trucking industry to think very differently about where it goes, what it carries and how much it will need to charge for its transport services. It will also have to think carefully about the kind of work it chooses to do.
The way that the road user charge is calculated is a very complex algorithm already. Even though all it has to do is equate the amount of road repair and road development needed to cope with the trucking freight task, it still gets it wrong and industries and over charged for the last four years.
The problem is the lack of transparency in the process, not of developing the system, but of setting the pricing. Trucking operators know will know that some form of mass, distance, location charging is coming, but they will not be able to calculate how it will affect their overall costs in relation to each part of their freight task.
This is the type of lack of knowledge with which trucking operators in South-East Queensland have been coping in the last year or so. They knew the new toll road would open and it was going to cost them money. What they didn’t know was how much was going to cost. Anyone tendering for a job in the last 12 months would have had have had difficulty costing the job in the light of a lack of clarity on toll levels.
As it happens the toll levels which have been chosen are around 60 per cent below the possible tolls which have been mooted in the past. Let’s hope the trucking industry gets a similar result from the proposed RUC which will be implemented sometime in the next few years. Then the question how much is it and who pays for the roads?