ATA to push for short and long-term fixes on truck charges

ATA will use involvement at the upcoming Tax Forum to argue for short and long-term changes to truck registration charges

Brad Gardner | August 29, 2011

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) will use its involvement in the upcoming Tax Forum to push for short and long-term changes to heavy vehicle charges.

ATA Chairman David Simon, who last week was named as one of the 184 guests to take part in the forum, plans to argue for subsidies to be re-introduced to cut annual B-double registration fees.

The ATA earlier this month asked the National Transport Commission (NTC) to consider a plan to charge owners of pig, dog, semi, converter dolly and low loader dolly trailers extra to fund a $4,242 decrease in A-trailer registration charges. Doing so will slash the cost of registering a nine-axle B-double from $15,708 to $10,602.

"The solution in the short term is to rebalance registration charges to remove the disadvantage faced by operators using B-doubles," Simon says.
"As a longer term measure, the ATA has proposed moving to fuel based charging."

Simon says the existing charging system causes cashflow problems for small operators, while fixed charges do no not account for how far trucks travel. The ATA wants a flat $400 registration fee for trucks and trailers and a two-tier fuel-based charging system.

"The effective fuel tax, or road user charge, would be increased to compensate for the reduction and would be levied on trucks at two separate rates, depending on their size," he says.

"There would be a special fund so local councils and other road asset managers could upgrade their roads to handle safer trucks with greater capacity."

The ATA opposes a proposal from the Council of Australian Governments Road Reform Plan (CRRP) to establish a mass-distance-location scheme.

Under this method, trucks will be fitted with monitoring technology and individually charged based on their mass, the distance they travel and the roads they use.

While work is still continuing on road pricing reform, Simon claims mass-distance-location pricing will increase freight costs and "be a compliance nightmare".

In its preliminary findings released in July, the CRRP dismissed fuel-based charging as a viable option.

Unlike a monitoring system using GPS, the CRRP says fuel charging will not provide information on road use and where funds should be directed.

It says monitoring the actual distance of a truck rather than using fuel as a proxy will provide direct information on vehicle road use, which in turn can be used for infrastructure planning and investment.

Furthermore, the CRRP adds that monitoring a truck’s distance will provide a direct signal to operators about the cost of using a road.

"In short, measuring actual distance more directly resembles a user charge as compared to paying via fuel costs and so is more likely to provide an effective and transparent signal about road use costs. It is more akin to a service charge used to price other utilities," it says in its findings.

Professor David Hensher from the University of Sydney referred to the industry concerns as "the fear of the unknown".

He says the industry will adapt once the scheme is in the place and find that it will not be as complex or expensive as it thinks.

Hensher says monitoring truck movements can provide important information to government and industry, such as how many kilometres vehicles are travelling and the roads they are using.

The Tax Forum will bring together representatives from business, academia, the community, unions and government on October 4 to discuss possible reforms to Australia’s tax system.

This includes congestion charging and changes to the company tax rate, stamp duties, insurance taxes and payroll tax.

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