Ben Smee, 19 April 2016

GOVERNMENTS must ditch funding formulas that favour big cities and build key infrastructure in regional Australia, experts have warned.

And the regions should back a radical new plan to scrap road user taxes — like the fuel excise and car registration fees — and instead charge motorists for the kilometres they log each year.

Jack Archer, the chief executive of independent think tank the Regional Australia Institute, argues that regional areas would benefit from the implementation of “road user charges”.

Under the system money would be allocated to the roads people use.

“This has to be better than the current situation where excise and other road taxes flow into general revenue and are available to be spent anywhere in the network, or not on roads at all,” he said.

Mr Archer said there would need to be a mechanism to recognise the value of more remote areas which had low traffic volumes but where road-building had broader economic benefits.

Federal funding formulas mean government money follows people — and their votes — to big cities.

Transport spending is prioritised by criteria that includes traffic volumes and travel time savings.

The result is a kilometre of road in Western Sydney is more likely to be funded than a kilometre in a regional city. Remote roads are even more often overlooked.

Mr Archer said politicians need to push for fundamental reform and not settle for the vote-buying that occurs around election time.

“Some regions do quite well because of different political events,’’ Mr Archer said.

“But I think the system we have makes it hard to make the case for (infrastructure projects in regional areas).”

He said it was important the Federal Government’s focus on cities extended to each of the 31 Australian centres with a population of more than 50,000 and not simply the big capitals.

“If you get them right, small cities can have all the benefits of bigger cities without the downsides like congestion or crime.”

Extracted in full from the Geelong Advertiser.