ARA wants rego cuts for trucking shot down

Rail lobby seethes over proposal to cut A-trailer registration fees, claiming it will jeopardise safety and favour trucking over rail

ARA wants rego cuts for trucking shot down
ARA wants rego cuts for trucking shot down

By Brad Gardner | January 25, 2012

The rail lobby is seething over a proposal to cut A-trailer registration fees, claiming it will jeopardise safety and tilt the playing field in favour of the trucking industry.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has penned a critical submission to the National Transport Commission, expressing "absolute disappointment" at its recommendation to slice thousands of dollars off the annual price of tri-axle and tandem axle A-trailers.

If accepted, the NTC’s proposal will reduce a tri-axle unit by $3045, with a tandem-axle trailer falling $3033 from July 1. It means the annual registration fee for a B-double will fall to $13,404, with B-triples dropping to $16,883.

The recommendation is in response to complaints from the trucking industry about the high cost of registering A-trailers, but the ARA has derided the NTC’s plan as a road freight subsidy that will lead to the deterioration of the rail sector.

"Policies, subsidies and exemptions provided to road freight such as this severely restrict rail’s ability to compete in the freight market," ARA CEO Bryan Nye says.

"If the NTC proposal is given the green light, Australians will be sharing their roads with more and more large trucks.

"The NTC’s push to encourage more freight onto our roads will increase the risk of fatal and serious injury collisions when putting more freight onto our rail network is the safer option."

Nye’s comments fly in the face of accepted wisdom on B-doubles and B-triples, with both combinations seen among industry representatives and policy makers as a safer and more productive option than other configurations.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA), which along with other industry groups has campaigned heavily for reductions in A-trailer fees, took aim at the ARA for claiming the NTC’s proposal would lead to more deaths.

"The facts show that increasing the use of longer, safer trucks helps keep the accident rate down, because they are safer by design and have the latest safety features," ATA Government Relations and Communications Manager Bill McKinley says.

"In addition, the drivers of multi-combination vehicles like B-doubles are licensed to a higher standard than other truck drivers."

McKinley says B-doubles currently carry 46 percent of the articulated road freight task but only account for 26 percent of the accidents.

"Instead of issuing media releases about truck charges, the rail association should focus on fixing its dirty secret: Australia’s polluting locomotive fleet," he says.

"Australia’s freight locomotives are, on average, 36 years old and some use diesel engines up to 40 years old. Railway locomotives are not subject to emission controls. As a result, a typical locomotive emits more pollution than 140 new trucks."

The ATA’s claims about rail’s environmental credentials have drawn the ire of the ARA in the past, with Nye previously accusing the ATA of playing loose with statistics.

He last year challenged ATA CEO Stuart St Clair to a debate on the environmental and social impacts of transport, saying most Australian locomotives meet most European and North American standards on air quality and emissions.

Despite groups such as the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) arguing otherwise, the ARA says existing registration charges are not adversely affecting trucking operators and the NTC is addressing a "perceived concern".

It cites the NTC’s discussion paper on heavy vehicle charges that states: "NTC concluded that whilst there was not strong empirical evidence that there was a significant impact on B-doubles, there was anecdotal evidence of an impact for B-doubles and of a more significant impact on B-triples."

"This anecdotal evidence was gathered during industry workshops with heavy vehicle operators, who presumably would have a vested interest in reduced registration charges, regardless of any real impact on the use of such heavy vehicles," the ARA submission says.

Under the NTC’s proposal, registration costs will rise in other areas to offset the drop in A-trailer fees.

Charges for a standard trailer axle, road train dolly trailer and a semi-trailer tri-axle will all rise by more than $100 each if transport ministers sign up to the NTC’s recommendation.

It means a semi-trailer combination will cost $6,301, but most of the changes will affect rigid trucks over 12 tonnes.

Depending on the type of configuration, costs will increase between $350 to just under $2000. Double and triple road train operators won’t be spared either, with rates jumping $1280 and $1819 respectively.

The NTC has also pointed out alternatives to its proposal, including a standard trailer axle charge or increasing the fuel excise in return for lower registration charges.

The NTC is currently receiving feedback and will make a final recommendation to transport ministers in February.

Unless ministers agree to one of the recommendations, the NTC has suggested a 5.4 percent increase across the board on registration fees and the road user charge to account for government expenditure on road infrastructure.

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