Australian Infrastructure Plan backs road user charges

‘User pays’ and more spending are central tenets, while document calls for formulation of National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy

Australian Infrastructure Plan backs road user charges
Mark Birrell says a national freight strategy is also needed.


Infrastructure Australia (IA) has released its 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan, focused on road user charging as a funding reform to support road, rail and port spending.

Along with a root-and-branch reform of the federal government’s approach to infrastructure prioritisation, funding and development, Infrastructure Australia reiterates long-held government policy advisory views on road tax and charging.

These views include findings of both the National Transport Commission Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment Reform process and the COAG Road Reform Plan process.

Insisting "reform to heavy vehicle charging and investment is the first logical step", IA admits there will be complexities but expects technology to ease the transition.

"Technology to support heavy vehicle charging has been used in parts of Europe and in New Zealand for some time," the plan document states.

"In Australia, large fleet operators are already using tracking technology to gather data on their vehicles, including data to understand where, when and how their vehicles are being operated on the road network.

Low-cost in-vehicle transponders and satellite tracking are increasingly being used to open up parts of Australia’s road network to suitably-specified trucks.

"Productivity improvements of up to 100 per cent are being realised, and associated reductions in fuel use are cutting emissions.

"By 2014, the technology had already been installed in 25,000 trucks, a 65 per cent increase from two years earlier."

But before that happens, IA wants public and industry consultation.

"There should be a public inquiry into road funding, undertaken by Infrastructure Australia or the Productivity Commission," it says.

"The inquiry would identify a new funding model to replace existing road taxes and charges with a more equitable approach that charges users, not taxpayers.

"Governments should commit to the implementation of a heavy vehicle road charging structure within five years, followed by the extension of road charging across all vehicle types within 10 years."  

The plan comes with an Infrastructure Priority List, based on last year’s Australian Infrastructure Audit, "to guide investment decision".

The list is split between ‘high priority projects’, which have undergone a full business case assessment, and ‘high priority initiatives’, which require further development and assessment.

There are two such ‘projects’, Melbourne’s CityLink-Tullamarine widening and the Perth Freight Link, and 91 ‘initiatives’.

"The Priority List is ultimately a platform for better infrastructure decisions – it provides rigorous, independent advice to governments and the public on the infrastructure investments Australia needs," IA chairman Mark Birrell says.

Along with more spending, AI supports aiming it at "projects and technologies that make better use of existing infrastructure", while underlining the lack of transparency and accounting for whole-of-life maintenance issues.

The plan calls for governments, businesses and communities to develop long-term infrastructure plans for higher growth regions.  

"These plans should identify the types of infrastructure and service delivery levels that will be needed to support growing populations and business in coming decades," the plan states.

"This should be supported by the delivery of a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategywhich would map nationally significant supply chains and their access to supporting infrastructure, and recommend a series of reforms and investments to enable the more efficient movement of freight."

It would take an ‘end to end’ supply chain and whole-of-network approach, to define nationally significant freight corridors and precincts, identify the gaps, and outline a reform and investment pipeline to address the challenges.

This would include removing first and last mile freight constraints to increase network efficiency.

"Targeted programs of investment will also be required to remove the network constraints and gaps identified by the Strategy," IA says.

While an ‘initiative’ rather than a ‘priority’, the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail project is given the thumbs up but AI links it with road infrastructure.

"The Inland Rail initiative needs to be considered in conjunction with other investments in the corridor, including the Newell Highway, to ensure they are complementary," the plan states.

"The projected growth in demand along the corridor, both for end-to-end freight and intermediate journeys, means that rail and road investments are not mutually exclusive – though the timing of required investments may be impacted.

"Delivery of Inland Rail will require decisions in the near term to preserve the corridor and ensure the full route is available when required."

State and territory governments should increase the cost recovery of public transport services and strike a more appropriate balance between user and taxpayer funding.

The full plan can be found here.

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