Parties unveil transport plans

Rest areas, roads, safety, regulation and higher productivity vehicles – the political parties unveil their plans for the industry

Parties unveil transport plans
Parties unveil transport plans
By Brad Gardner | August 18, 2010

The Coalition, Labor and the Greens have responded to an industry request on their plans for the trucking industry, outlining their approach on issues such as rest areas, roads and regulation.

The parties have answered a questionnaire released by the Australian Trucking Association, which issued the document to inform the industry of what each party offers. Voters will go to the polls on August 21.

The Coalition reiterated its pledge to spend $300 million over 10 years to build 500 rest areas and to spend $300 million upgrading regional bridges.

It is banking on the states and local governments to match the bridge funding to bring it to $600 million.

While the office of opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss has confirmed the Coalition will cover the entire $1.75 billion cost of the Toowoomba Bypass, the Coalition writes that $700 million will be spent on the project.

Despite not announcing any funding, the Coalition says it is committed to the Black Spot program which is used to upgrade dangerous sections of the road network.

It made a similar response to a question on higher productivity vehicles by not committing itself on the issue.

"The Coalition will consider further measures to encourage use of more fuel efficient trucks on Australia’s roads," the party wrote to the ATA.

It also promised to continue the move to national transport regulations at an unspecified date. Work is currently underway on reforms, which are due to be introduced in 2013.

"A new Coalition government will continue to pursue regulatory harmonisation to build a truly national and seamless national road freight sector," the party says.

But while debate goes on about the future of heavy vehicle registration, the Coalition says any reform will not happen without widespread consultation.

It also committed to retaining the fuel tax credits system, which has gradually declined recently due to an increase in heavy vehicle charges.

In its response, Labor listed the funding it currently delivering under the Nation Building Program, which expires in 2014.

It says more than $27 billion over six years between 2008 and 2014 will be invested in transport infrastructure.

"We are using this much larger budget to build and better maintain the nation’s highways and major arterial roads, which over time will cut travel times and lower transport costs," Labor says.

"We are investing a record $1.75 billion in the Roads to Recovery Program between 2009 and 2014."

Another $150 million has been allocated to the Black Spot program, with another $150 million allocated to installing boom gates at dangerous level crossings.

But when asked for its plans on rest areas, Labor did not mention what it will commit once its current $70 million heavy vehicle productivity scheme expires.

The money is being used on rest areas, parking bays and road projects.

The remaining $40 million under the program is currently being allocated. The program expires in 2012.

However, it reiterated its promise to mandate front underrun protection for trucks by November next year and support "a reasonable, staged approach to increasing the use of high productivity freight vehicles on appropriate roads".

Labor says it will ensure access decisions are made based on "informed, transparent and consistent principles".

And despite some road agencies pushing for mandatory GPS tracking to boost heavy vehicle compliance, Labor says it supports a voluntary telematics scheme which could be used for electronic work diaries.

It gave no pledge to retain the fuel tax credits scheme, but says it will continue to work with governments to introduce national regulations that retain local productivity arrangements.

While the ATA opposes mass-distance-location pricing, Labor left its options open by saying thorough consideration must be given to all proposals.

A sub-group of the Council of Australian Governments (COGA) is currently looking at the feasibility of mass-distance-location pricing and will report its findings in November next year.

The ATA wants a fuel-based method with a flat $400 registration fee for trucks and trailers.

The proposal is a two-tier model that will charge two-axle rigids differently to articulated trucks and three-axle rigids to ensure heavy vehicles pay more to reflect their impact on the road.

The fuel tax credit will be reduced to offset the blanket registration fee.

While its response was not as detailed as the major parties, the Greens support a comprehensive safety assessment of all roads rather than the current system which focuses on major highways.

It wants all regional roads to achieve a four-star safety rating by 2020 and for major highways to be designed to achieve five stars.

The Greens also used their response to reiterate support for greater investment in rail.

"While investing in rail may at first seem contrary to the interests of the trucking association, we note projections estimate that the amount of freight carried on the roads will probably double within about 20 years," the party says.

"Even if some freight is shifted onto rail the trucking industry will still experience strong growth."

The Greens, however, did not include comments by Greens Senate candidate Lee Rhiannon, who has suggested B-double registration fees should be $23,000.

"Even considering the very latest B-double registration charges, it’s clear that current fees are lower than they should be and that the trucking industry is by no means paying its way," Rhiannon says.

She also used the launch of the Greens Sustainable Transport Plan to oppose new motorways and a decline in road funding.

According to Rhiannon, upgrades to Sydney’s M5 motorway and linking the F3 to the M2 must not go ahead.

ATA CEO Stuart St Clair thanked the parties for responding to the questionnaire.

"The ATA has done our job and provided the 246,000 people in the trucking industry with the facts about where the parties stand. It’s now up to all of us to decide how to vote when Australia goes to the polls on Saturday," St Clair says.

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