Toll war revs up: Sydney drivers face congestion tax or road user-pay system
Jim O’Rourke, 12 July 2015
DRIVERS could be slugged 1.5 cents a kilometre every trip or pay a $10 congestion tax to drive into the city to help raise cash to improve the state’s roads.
Revenue from fuel excise, car regos, licences and motorway tolls that has been used to pay for the upkeep of the road network and fund infrastructure has fallen dramatically as cars become more fuel-efficient and motorists restrict travel time to save money.
Now transport planners, motoring groups, toll road owners, academics and even government agencies are calling for measures to make the price of driving fairer.
Infrastructure expert and senior lecturer in political science at Canberra University Michael de Percy said drivers on lower incomes are unfairly contributing more in fuel taxes because they tend to drive older cars which chew through petrol more quickly.
He said a fairer system would mean the introduction of a per kilometre fee and congestion charging.
“It’s not about charging people more for roads, but charging them for the use of the roads,” he said.
“At the moment we pay a fuel excise and registration fees which are, in effect, an access fee to the road network.”
The Australian Automobile Association has called for the fuel excise, now at 38.6c per litre on unleaded, to be phased out and replaced by a straight road user charge.
AA chief executive Michael Bradley said just 47 per cent of the $15 billion fuel excise collected each year is returned to road building anyway.
“An honest conversation about how to fund our future road infrastructure needs is overdue,” he said.
The federal government’s Productivity Commission has recommended a pilot study be held into a pay-as-you-go system and that road tolls be extended across existing road networks.
Toll road operator Transurban, which operates the M2, the Lane Cove and Cross City tunnels, and part owns the Eastern Distributor, M7 and M5 South West, is also urging user-pays reform to help pay for road infrastructure.
In September it will test a range of user-pays pricing models using volunteer drivers across Melbourne, including a distance-based per kilometre charge, annual fixed costs per kilometre based on expected usage, and a price per trip.
Transurban CEO Scott Charlton said it would also look at a charge for entering the CBD.
“We’ll compare the impact of these models on existing funding sources of fuel excise and registration, and gauge drivers’ preferences to the schemes,” he said.
The results of the trials will be handed to the federal Department of Infrastructure.
The national tax review, chaired by economist and former Treasury boss Ken Henry recommended governments examine the use of variable congestion charges in an effort to keep people off busy roads.
“In practice, this means a variable tax that rises at peak periods, falls away as usage falls, and is zero when there is no congestion,” Dr Henry’s report said.
“The purpose of this tax is to … provide incentives for some people to avoid the tax by changing their travel behaviour.”
In the US, a voluntary “pay-by-the-mile” scheme has been launched in Oregon. Instead of paying the state-based fuel tax of 30 cents per gallon, the drivers are charged 1.5c for every mile they drive. About 5000 drivers have signed up.
Roads Minister Duncan Gay said: “There are no current plans for such schemes.”
Federal Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs has said all types of road pricing need to be discussed.
“In today’s world we generally accept that you pay for the service you receive. Road pricing remains the exception,” he told an infrastructure conference in Sydney.
Jarrod Polley works in the family locksmith business and travels an average 70km a day in a Toyota Hiace van on call-outs around the Sydney metropolitan area.
The 22-year-old is against any type of a per-kilometre road user fee.
“We go all over Sydney,” he said
“It’s not fair if we end up having to pay more to do our jobs just because someone wants to get more cars off the road.
“Even with some sort of rebate on our petrol, it wouldn’t be worth it. I’d be out of pocket.
“Just leave the system as it is. We need our vans. I can’t catch a cab to a job and bring all my tools and stock with me.”
ROAD USER CHARGE OPTIONS
— Flat road user charge: 1.5 cents per kilometre offset by decrease in payment of fuel tax
— GPS tracking: Road user charged based on distance travelled, location, time and type of vehicle
— Congestion charge: pay flat daily fee to access traffic congestion black spots such as CBDs or congested highways
— Dynamic tolling: Toll amount on designated toll road express lane varies depending on how heavy the traffic is
— High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes: pay more to drive faster in designated express lane on toll roads
— Distance-based tolling: Pay a fee for every section of toll road used.
— Time of day tolling: Cheaper toll for travelling outside peak periods
Extracted in full from the Sunday Telegraph.