Infrastructure Audit calls for HPV and charging solutions

ATA responds that governments need to get their acts together for reform to succeed

Infrastructure Audit calls for HPV and charging solutions
Mark Birrell wants a strategic response.


High productivity vehicles and road charging reform have central roles in modernising land freight transport, Infrastructure Australia finds.

The national infrastructure planning and coordination bureau’s newly released Australian Infrastructure Audit Report calls for action on those issues amongst others that should be part of a 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan.

Infrastructure Australia chairman Mark Birrell says the nation must act now before demand pressures affect our living standards and economic competitiveness.

"Experiences of transport networks failing to keep pace with demand, water quality standards being uneven, energy costs being too high, telecommunication services being outdated, or freight corridors being neglected are now so common that they necessitate a strategic response," Birrell says.

The report pointing to the freight transport sector as being in need of particular political and policy attention.

"Australia’s transport sector makes the greatest contribution to our economy but it also needs the greatest amount of reform," the report finds.

It projects the national land freight task growing 80 per cent between 2011 and 2031, with a large component of this task expected to be handled by road freight vehicles.

" Accommodating this growth will require a focus on policy reform to enable the wider use of higher productivity heavy vehicles (such as B-triples), and selected investment (such as increasing bridge load limits  and targeted safety improvements, aimed at improving the performance of national highway infrastructure)," the report states.

It adds that the national highway network is a prime enabler of freight movements and economic growth," it adds.

"B-triples have improved efficiency on some regional routes, however there is an opportunity to enhance the network and increase its productivity.

"Further improvements to productivity will require a focus on reforms to enable the wider use of such vehicles, and greater investment in bridges and measures to improve road safety."


Rail freight is another area of concern, with demand for freight rail infrastructure is projected to grow, in particular for resource bulk commodity haulage in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales, and both for the movement of goods between ports and inland freight terminals, and for containerised and general freight over longer distances.

Demand for container terminal port infrastructure and bulk terminal infrastructure are both projected to grow faster than GDP.

Traffic through some ports is projected to significantly exceed current capacity by 2031.

"The nation’s larger ports are operated as commercial enterprises, whether they are publicly or privately owned, or leased," the report notes.

"Accordingly, investment requirements for these ports are expected to be met by user charges.

"Given wider funding constraints, governments face challenges in ensuring adequate landside rail and road access to ports."

In welcoming the report and the recommendation that the country needs to consider a broader system of transport pricing, Australian Trucking Association (ATA) CEO Christopher Melham notes that before this can be done, the states and territories need to put in place supply side reforms.

These include:

asset registers so they know what roads and bridges they own and their condition

four year forward road expenditure plans, particularly for road maintenance, which is chronically underfunded in Australia

heavy vehicle road asset service standards, so the infrastructure that industry buys is fit for purpose.

"Governments must also resolve the problems with the existing charging system before attempting to rollout a new one," Melham says.

"The existing system for charging heavy vehicles for their road use – a combination of fuel and registration charges – will overcharge the truck and bus industries by $117 million in 2015-16.

"This is because the charging model underestimates the number of heavy vehicles in Australia. The 2015-16 charges were calculated on the basis that there are 441,000 heavy vehicles in Australia. In reality, there are about 493,000.

"In considering direct pricing, governments must finally ensure that the exercise will be revenue neutral, as recommended by the competition policy review. It must improve decision making and must not add to the industry’s compliance costs.

"The vast majority of Australia’s 49,000 trucking businesses are small businesses.

"They do not want to spend $1,000 per truck to fit the special purpose GPS tracking devices that would be needed. "

"They do not want to have to check and query endless invoices about where their trucks went, how far they travelled and how much they weighed.

"Keeping red tape and compliance costs down needs to be a priority in any new road pricing system."

The full report can be found here.

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