Industry fumes over higher charges process

Industry to be whacked with higher charges this year, but ATA raises concerns operators may pay too much

Industry fumes over higher charges process
Industry fumes over higher charges process
By Brad Gardner | March 25, 2010

New charges to be imposed on the trucking industry this year may rip-off operators, according to the peak lobby group.

As the National Transport Commission (NTC) prepares to release its proposal for new fees, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has raised concerns of over-recovery by governments.

New charges are due to take effect on July 1 and are designed to account for government expenditure on the road network.

Newly-crowned ATA Chairman David Simon says the industry agrees it needs to pay its way on the roads, but there are questions about the process.

"We were concerned, though, that the formula used to calculate the charges could lead to a much higher increase than is needed because of some of the technical assumptions in the model," Simon says.

Following its annual general meeting yesterday, Simon says the ATA has approached the Rudd Government about its concerns and will wait until the NTC releases its figures tomorrow before deciding what to do.

"At that point, we’ll be able to see how this potential over-recovery problem has been dealt with," he says.

ATN understands the ATA will once again ask to see the formula—which industry is currently denied access to—used by the NTC to determine if higher charges are justified.

The ATA will also ask for states and territories to make public their data, which is used by the NTC to help determine charges.

A source says it’s hard to verify the increases because industry cannot see the information and that the figures are based on averages.

"The NTC hasn’t shown a single spreadsheet to industry," the source says.

Operators face a triple whammy this year. Registration fees will rise due to the final phase of a three-year plan to recoup money from past road expenditure.

Rego costs and the fuel excise will also be indexed to account for current road expenditure.

B-double operators will be the worst hit, with fees to rise from $11,839 to $14,340 for each vehicle. A tandem axle B-double lead trailer will jump from $1140 to $1900 and from $1190 to $2000 for a tri axle lead trailer. None of these charges include indexation.

Registration fees were indexed 3.2 percent last year, while the excise went from 21 cents to 21.7 cents per litre.

Another industry insider agreed with Simon by saying operators are not trying to dodge responsibility for paying their way; they simply want a transparent process.

"The ATA is essentially calling for a fair go," the source says.

ATN understands ATA members also want a deferral of the charges because the NTC has left its proposal too late to give the industry enough time to adjust.

"They have basically fallen asleep on the job," one industry source says.

"They haven’t actually come out and told industry [of the charges]."

Representative groups were critical of the process last year because a rise in the fuel excise was not announced until late May, meaning many operators did not have enough to time to include the changes in their budgets.

In a press release last year, the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) called for all adjustments to be finalised in February each year and a decision made by March.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese told industry more would be done to make a decision earlier on charges to ensure it had time to adjust.

"There is a common view that the NTC has let government down, it has let ministers down and it has let industry down," a source says.

The current charging process has left many in the industry fed up and calling for a switch to a user pays system.

Industry representatives say the current registration scheme is too hard on smaller operators which, unlike heavyweights Toll and Linfox, may not use their equipment as much but need to pay the same rate.

In his weekly newsletter to members of the Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA), Executive Director Philip Halton says regional operators have B-doubles but only get partial use from their A-trailers.

"Paying a premium price for something that they aren’t using is starting to drive operators wild," Halton writes.

He also used the newsletter to raise concerns over the charging process.

"As long as the system relies on huge rego charges that are calculated as ‘averages’, they will be too high for 66 percent of operators on the road and too low for the big boys," Halton writes.

"One of our industry’s proudest claims is that we always pay our own way. But it would be a lot easier to meet our commitment if we weren’t only told what figures will be in the bill at the very last minute."

ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair last year accused the states of compromising the credibility of the NTC’s calculations because they concealed road expenditure figures from the industry.

"Of the data made available, there is unexplained variability in expenditure and growth trends differ between states," St Clair said at the time.

"The spending of public money should be openly accounted for, and without this transparency the industry and regulators cannot ensure accurate cost recovery."

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