Warning of a 'crisis', industry changes tack on A-trailers

Trucking lobby lines up behind fuel charging for A-trailer charges amid warnings of a "crisis" at NTC over the issue

Warning of a 'crisis', industry changes tack on A-trailers
Warning of a "crisis", industry changes tack on A-trailers

By Brad Gardner | December 7, 2011

The trucking lobby is changing tack on A-trailer charges, calling for a fuel-based system amid warnings of a "crisis" at the National Transport Commission over the issue.

Industry groups have lined up to spruik fuel-charging to bring down the high cost of annual A-trailer fees, with the proposal centring on a significant hike in the diesel excise to compensate for a drop in registration prices.

The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) says the fuel option will meet government cost recovery demands and lead to a fairer system by linking charges to mileage.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has previously pushed for a return to cross-subsidisation, saying charges on a range of heavy vehicles should be increased to fund a drastic reduction in A-trailer fees.

While he considers fuel charging as an effective solution, ALRTA Executive Director Philip Halton warns the proposal risks being mired in politics.

He says the states will need to give the Federal Government responsibility for collecting the revenue and then handing it back with no strings attached, while industry will need to lobby as one to convince politicians of all stripes to support a higher diesel excise.

"Does the industry have the lobbying strength to stop that happening? Every minister – state and federal – would need to believe that we have what it takes to deliver, before they endorsed a plan that involves fuel. That’s the challenge before us," Halton says.

But he is more concerned of what could happen if the NTC sticks by its original proposal for addressing A-trailer fees. Transport ministers rejected the plan last month, but Halton believes the NTC is still trying to pump life into it.

"Having been turned away on 4 November, it seems the NTC is planning to simply run straight back, head first, into a brick wall," he says.

Halton fears transport ministers may jettison a national approach to charges and start developing their own plans unless the NTC delivers an agreeable solution by February next year.

A decision by the states to fly solo would undermine the role of the government body, whose key role is managing a system of national registration charges.

"In my view, this is now one of the most serious crises that the NTC has faced for many years," Halton says.

"From the ALRTA, we’ve expressed our concern to the highest level in the NTC and within government that, if the NTC simply re-submits the proposals which ministers found disagreeable, it could lead to a breakdown in the national charging system."

Halton says the trucking industry would suffer, citing a return to the pre-NTC era where states undercut each other on registration charges and NSW imposed severely restrictive policies to try and claw back revenue.

"If the states start setting registration charges on their own, even though they will be doing this to help us out, there is no guarantee that they will stop. And there is no guarantee that they will set charges at the same level as each other," he says.

"When there are no rules to control how charges are set, ultimately industry risks being the big loser."

Despite advocating fuel charging, Halton believes governments are leaning towards a per-axle charging model. He says it will be simple to implement but will impose extra costs on operators not running A-trailers and expose the industry to criticism that B-doubles are not paying their way.

In its proposal handed to transport ministers last month, the NTC flagged an implementation date for its plan in the second half of next year. Annual A-trailer registration costs have gone beyond $6,500, pushing the cost of a B-double combination to $15,708.

Discussions between the NTC and industry on A-trailer fees are ongoing as part of a working group set up earlier this year focused on the issue.

The ALRTA says the high cost of A-trailers is particularly hard on bush operators because they only use them sporadically.

The ATA has suggested charging the owners of pig, dog, semi, converter dolly and low loader dolly trailers more to fund a $4,242 reduction in A-trailers. The group called for a $106 increase in tandem axle trailers, with the price rising to $159 for tri-axle units and $212 for quad axle and above.

Related stories:
NTC sent back to the drawing board
NTC pushed direct charging to fix high fees
Subsidies needed to keep A-trailers viable: ATA
Working group set up to tackle A-trailer fees

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