Local roads a premium under charges reform

Trucking operators can expect to pay a premium price to access local roads under charges reforms being considered

Local roads a premium under charges reform
Local roads a premium under charges reform
Brad Gardner | May 26, 2011

Trucking operators can expect to pay a premium price to access local roads if heavy vehicle charging reforms currently being considered are introduced.

A new National Transport Commission (NTC) report on the marginal cost of trucks to the road network has found local roads cost more to maintain because freeways and arterial routes are built to a stronger standard.

The report has been released as part of COAG Road Reform plan, which is investigating alternative charging regimes such as mass-distance-location. Under this model, operators will be billed on a truck’s weight, the distance it travels and roads it uses.

"Freeways and arterial roads are built at relatively higher strength standards to withstand greater traffic volumes and loads. Consequently, the rate of road wear (and the accompanying road wear cost) over time due to additional traffic load would be lower for such road classes compared to local roads," the report says.

The marginal cost – in the context of the report – refers to the additional expenditure needed to maintain a road used by a heavy vehicle.

According to the NTC, strengthening an urban arterial road beyond its original design to accommodate heavier loads is 1.24 times the cost of maintaining it at its existing standard. However, the figure jumps to 2.68 times the cost for local roads.

The report says this is due to the fact that some local roads need to be dug up to increase the depth of the pavement so the surface still aligns with the curb.

"While freeways are generally likely to have higher construction costs, they are likely to have lower marginal costs of road wear. Alternatively, local and collector roads are likely to have higher marginal costs. These road types are designed to accommodate lower heavy vehicle traffic and so are built to a lower strength standard," the report says.

It outlines a formula for charging trucks and says a nine-axle B-double travelling on a rural freeway could be charged 6 cents per km for the marginal cost of road wear and 15 cents per km for the total road use price.

The report says using a marginal cost formula is insufficient because it will not recover the total cost of providing and maintaining roads. It goes on to say the COAG Road Reform plan is focused on recovering the total road costs from trucks under any new charging system.

"These include administrative, overhead and capacity costs that are not included in the marginal cost of road wear," the report says.

"The marginal cost estimates derived from the model should not be interpreted as prices that might be charged for heavy vehicle use of the roads."

NTC Deputy Chairman Ian Johnston says marginal costs are likely to vary between regions due to differences in maintenance practices, pavement age and road usage.

While pointing out the marginal cost model estimates are preliminary, Johnston says they will be an input into the development of a new pricing structure.

A feasibility study into the possible charging options is currently underway and is due to be completed later this year. COAG is also considering four other potential charging schemes: fuel-based, distance-only, mass-distance and distance-location.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) wants a fuel-based charging system introduced so operators who use their vehicles frequently pay more in the form of higher fuel bills.

The NTC report says governments spent about $17 billion on road construction and maintenance in 2009-2010, with $2.4 billion allocated to heavy vehicles.

"The stress that heavy vehicles put on pavements causes roads to deteriorate more rapidly than they would if only automobiles and light commercial vehicles used the roads."

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