ARTC push to penalise unsafe heavy vehicles

Trucks that don’t reach safety benchmark should face penalty or more regulation to limit their use, ARTC says

ARTC push to penalise unsafe heavy vehicles
ARTC push to penalise unsafe heavy vehicles

By Brad Gardner | February 14, 2012

Trucks that fail to reach a safety benchmark would be penalised or face restrictive regulations limiting their use under a proposal from the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

The government-owned body responsible for managing large sections of the nation’s rail network has suggested a new approach toward heavy vehicle charging that would significantly tilt the scales in favour of companies with modern fleets.

It has written to the National Transport Commission, which is currently looking at heavy vehicle charges, rejecting trucking’s argument B-double charges should be reduced to encourage operators to use the configuration on the basis it improves safety.

The ARTC says manipulating fees to create an incentive to use safer vehicles is difficult to justify from an economic perspective.

"To the extent that a vehicle is less safe than a given benchmark, it is more appropriate to apply a penalty to that vehicle reflecting the negative externalities it imposes on society, with the safest vehicle continuing to make its appropriate contribution," it writes.

"Alternatively, it may be appropriate to intervene through the regulatory system to constrain the use of relatively less safe vehicle combinations. Distorting pricing structures is an inefficient solution to this issue."

The ARTC says heavy vehicle charges also need to factor in externalities, which include congestion, pollution and safety hazards, to ensure the full economic cost of trucking is recovered.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) will soon finalise its charges recommendation, which is designed to address industry concerns over the high cost of registering A-trailers.

Australian Trucking Association (ATA) CEO Stuart St Clair claims the registration fee – which has risen from $1065 in 2007 to $6525 in 2011 for a tri-axle A-trailer – has prompted trucking operators to stop using B-doubles.

"If this continues, the result will be an increased number of accidents and lower productivity, because B-doubles are safer and carry more than conventional semi-trailers," St Clair says.

"Our modelling shows that a 25 percent decline in the use of B-doubles would increase the number of semi-trailers on the road by 40 percent. As a result, the national road toll would increase by about 18 fatalities per year."

In a discussion paper released late last year, the NTC recommended reducing the prices of A-trailers in return for higher charges elsewhere, particularly on rigid varieties.

It also listed alternative approaches such as collecting more revenue from fuel and introducing a standard trailer axle charge.

The ATA wants A-trailers priced at the current cost of registering a semi-trailer – $1472. St Clair says the reduction means the price of registering a nine-axle B-double will drop from $15,708 to $10,995.

He claims the NTC’s preferred method, which involves using a new cost model to determine charges, or the alternatives will not resolve the industry’s gripes with A-trailer fees.

"There is a large risk that the NTC options will cause more pain for stakeholders than relief," he says.

Under the NTC’s approach, the cost of registering a nine-axle B-double will decrease to $13,404, with B-triples dropping from $22,233 to $16,883.

New heavy vehicle charges are due to take effect on July 1 to account for government investment in infrastructure.

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