Take road pricing to the people, NTC says

Highlighting lack of awareness of, but interest in, road pricing, the NTC calls for serious engagement on the issue

Take road pricing to the people, NTC says
Take road pricing to the people, NTC says
By Brad Gardner | September 20, 2011

The National Transport Commission is urging government to begin serious engagement with the community on road pricing reform to weigh up support for change.

Its new discussion paper on possible transport reforms to address growing threats such as population growth, congestion, energy security and climate change has identified a willingness from the public to discuss road pricing options.

Highlighting a lack of awareness of the issue among the community, the NTC wants to take a lead role in presenting the potential costs and benefits of moving away from fixed registration charges and the fuel excise.

Produced in the wake of community forums and a survey of 1000 people, the discussion paper says many participants were not aware of international examples of road pricing such as the London congestion charge.

"The engagement process with the community about congestion charging and the potential benefits and costs has not taken place in any meaningful way. As might be expected, the community forums and survey showed that the understanding about this reform is low," the NTC says.

"There is the need for a broader engagement process about road pricing reforms with the Australian community."

The NTC says community consultation is "a critical element" that could build greater understanding of road pricing and lead to more informed discussion about possible options.

"Therefore, there is potential for NTC to lead community engagement and information exchange work about road pricing over a two-to three-year period," it says.

Work is currently underway through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Road Reform Plan (CRRP) on developing a new heavy vehicle charging scheme. CRRP earlier this year recommended mass-distance-location pricing for trucks but the Australian Trucking Association favours fuel-based charging.

Former Treasury boss Ken Henry last year recommended a variable congestion charge for Australian cities. The NTC says road pricing has the potential to improve transport reliability, reduce congestion and increase public transport use, in turn creating flow-on environmental benefits.

However, the discussion paper also notes that while survey and forum participants aired concerns about the state of transport, most were not willing to pay more for improvements.

"Many indicated that they had not really thought about how transport infrastructure was funded and simply hoped that this was a matter of governments reallocating funding from elsewhere," the NTC says.

Furthermore, most only thought of public transport when the phrase ‘the transport system’ was used during forum discussions.

The discussion paper listed declining productivity, increased demand for transport, growth in the freight task and a "major backlog" of infrastructure as challenges facing transport.

The paper also lists other changes beyond road pricing that are capable of improving productivity, including ramp metering on freeways, dedicated bus and bicycle lanes, the use of higher productivity vehicles and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

"There are other ways to lift the performance of transport through producitivity and efficiency measures," it says.

The NTC has opened the discussion paper to public feedback until October 14 and says it will use the consultation phase to engage with interested stakeholders.

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