ATA 2015: Lack of action on road pricing leaves Australia facing a ‘looming crisis'

By: Brad Gardner


NTC CEO insists urgent action is needed to ensure there is enough money to fund road projects.

 

Australia faces a "looming crisis" unless policy makers act urgently to reform the existing road pricing regime, the head of the National Transport Commission (NTC) has warned.

Paul Retter says the gap between money available for new road infrastructure and the backlog of projects that need funding is growing larger, prompting him to declare the existing system used for raising and spending funds is not good enough.

He highlighted his concerns during a speech at this year’s Trucking Australia conference, where he pointed to significant problems for the community if nothing changes at a time when the freight task is rapidly growing.

"[There is] less money combined with an increased backlog of infrastructure projects that need to be funded. The current regime is unsustainable," Retter says.

"The reality is we’re going to have a bit of a problem. We’re going to have not enough money being invested in maintaining and building new roads, we’re going to have increasing congestion and difficulties maintaining roads at current standards, let alone our projected and desired future standards."

Governments have toyed with the idea of reform through the establishment of the now defunct Heavy Vehicle and Charging Investment (HVCI) group and COAG Road Reform Plan (CRRP), but eventually opted to make minimal changes to the status quo.

The HVCI put forward a proposal to charge trucks individually based on the mass they carried, the distance they travelled and the roads they used, but governments would not back it and the trucking industry does not want it.

However, Retter says it is possible to reform road pricing without installing tracking devices in trucks to run a mass-distance-location charging scheme.

"You could do road reform by charging no more for heavy vehicles using the roads than now, but there are some big issues that need to be addressed," he says.

"How do we address those roads that are non-economic? How do we establish road funds so that we’ve got transparency about the money that is being poured into those being used for the purpose of which its intended?

"All of these are major policy issues that need to be addressed. NTC is of the view that there is a looming crisis if we don’t address them and we need to tackle this as a matter of urgency."

Retter is due to meet the heads of government road agencies this week to discuss the issue, and he says the NTC should be put in charge of developing a road pricing reform plan.  

Former HVCI board member Norm McIlfatrick last year blamed poor economic conditions and a government aversion to "big bang reform" for the lack of progress on road pricing.

Transport ministers opted to go slowly by only adopting recommendations to improve data collection and transparency on road expenditure.

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