Toll charges ris­ing

Heavy ve­hi­cles are pay­ing up to three times more than mo­torists to use toll roads, and the charges are un­fairly ris­ing ev­ery three months, Warren Clark writes

Owner Driver - - Owner/Driver - WARREN CLARK

THERE HAVE been big in­creases in toll charges for heavy ve­hi­cles across Aus­tralia. These changes can have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact to the bot­tom line of trans­port op­er­a­tors.

NatRoad mem­bers are very vo­cal about their con­cerns when it comes to tolls. Some of the con­cerns our mem­bers raise in­clude:

• The lack of trans­parency and fair­ness in set­ting toll fees

• In­con­sis­tency in fees across the net­work

• Gov­ern­ments forc­ing use of tolled roads by ban­ning al­ter­na­tive routes

• Rev­enue from tolls fund­ing road im­prove­ments with­out the in­dus­try see­ing many of the promised ben­e­fits de­liv­ered. It is dif­fi­cult to find ex­pla­na­tions on how tolling fees are set. Our mem­bers are keen to un­der­stand why in­creases are nec­es­sary on a quar­terly ba­sis. Adding to this, are in­creases above the rate of in­fla­tion fairly jus­ti­fied?

For trans­port op­er­a­tors, less con­gested, safer, well-de­signed roads can equate to time savings, re­li­a­bil­ity and re­duced ve­hi­cle op­er­at­ing costs. There­fore, it has to be said that pri­vate­sec­tor in­vest­ment in road in­fra­struc­ture can make a big dif­fer­ence.

How­ever, with heavy ve­hi­cles pay­ing up to three times more than cars to use some of these roads, are they be­ing un­rea­son­ably dis­crim­i­nated against?

The logic be­hind these charges is based on the ar­gu­ment that heavy ve­hi­cles have a greater im­pact on road in­fra­struc­ture. Some sources claim that the wear-and-tear to roads caused by one ar­tic­u­lated truck equals that of 6,000 cars and an­other claim that a B-dou­ble can cause 20,000 times more dam­age than a car. NatRoad ar­gues that there is presently no re­li­able in­for­ma­tion sup­port­ing these claims.

In any case, heavy ve­hi­cles al­ready pay ad­di­tional fuel taxes and higher reg­is­tra­tion fees than cars; both fac­tors do not seem to be taken into ac­count when set­ting tolls for heavy ve­hi­cles.

Thank­fully, gov­ern­ments are now tak­ing no­tice. The NSW Par­lia­ment re­cently com­pleted an in­quiry into tolling ar­range­ments and on June 15 the Fed­eral Govern­ment launched an in­quiry into the op­er­a­tion of ex­ist­ing and pro­posed toll roads in Aus­tralia.

Rec­om­men­da­tions in NatRoad’s sub­mis­sion to the Fed­eral Govern­ment in­quiry in­clude that an in­de­pen­dent pric­ing reg­u­la­tor should be re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing tolling ar­range­ments to pro­tect the pub­lic from any pric­ing abuses, un­der-main­te­nance of as­sets or un­fair prof­its at pub­lic ex­pense.

We be­lieve tolls should re­flect the cost of build­ing and main­tain­ing the road, in­stead of be­ing based on es­ti­mated time savings of driv­ers. An in­de­pen­dent price reg­u­la­tor could pro­vide greater ac­count­abil­ity in re­la­tion to the set­ting of tolls and con­sider these charges in con­junc­tion with other road user charges.

NatRoad has also writ­ten to the NSW Govern­ment rais­ing con­cerns about its ban on trucks from Pen­nant Hills Road in Syd­ney once the NorthCon­nex pro­ject is com­pleted, forc­ing trucks to use tolled tun­nels if they do not have a lo­cal des­ti­na­tion. In our view, toll roads should pro­vide suf­fi­cient in­cen­tive for heavy ve­hi­cle op­er­a­tors to use the road. There should be no need for gov­ern­ments to im­pose truck bans on al­ter­na­tive un-tolled routes. In­stead of forc­ing their hands, gov­ern­ments could in­tro­duce toll re­duc­tions and multi-user dis­counts for heavy ve­hi­cles to use toll roads where needed.

Con­sumers never like to see cost in­creases. There will al­ways be more re­sis­tance to price hikes if they’re im­posed with a lack of trans­parency. NatRoad will con­tinue to work with gov­ern­ments and toll op­er­a­tors to en­sure tolling fees are de­cided with greater con­sul­ta­tion and trans­parency. It’s our mis­sion to en­sure the heavy ve­hi­cle in­dus­try is be­ing heard on this is­sue.

WARREN CLARK, NatRoad’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, has more than 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence lead­ing and de­vel­op­ing busi­ness for emerg­ing com­pa­nies. Warren has held the po­si­tion of CEO at var­i­ous com­pa­nies and is a cer­ti­fied char­tered ac­coun­tant.

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