The boss of $39 billion toll giant Transurban says Australia must start making plans to charge motorists for every kilometre they drive to pay for roads as the take-up of electrical vehicles erodes fuels excise revenue.

Scott Charlton’s view is backed up by Infrastructure Australia in the independent infrastructure advisor’s five-yearly infrastructure plan, to be published on Friday, which calls for a national distance-based “road user charge” for all vehicles within 15 years.

Australia’s 43.3¢ per litre fuel excise is the largest single source of funding for building and maintaining the country’s roads. But the gradual adoption of electric vehicles will make that unsustainable, Mr Charlton said, meaning state and federal government governments have to plan for an alternative now.

“I drive an electric car, so I don’t pay anything to use the roads and I don’t think people would find that very fair,” he said in an interview ahead of the Infrastructure Australia report’s release.

“Mass introduction is still probably a decade away, but it’s how you transition to that over time which seems to make sense – 10 to 15 years – as more and more fleet becomes more and more efficient.”

Victoria has already put a road-user charging system in place for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles; South Australia and New South Wales have announced similar schemes.

Infrastructure Australia’s report calls for a national distance-based road user charging regime to be developed within the next five years, to be operational within 10 years and to cover all vehicles within 15 years.

What we see is the need for coordination, to make sure there’s no technological difference between the way the mechanism is introduced at a state level,” said Infrastructure Australia’s chief of policy and research Peter Colacino.

Transurban is currently taking part in the largest trial of road user charging on America’s east coast. The trial involves Transurban signing up 400 customers who use its toll roads in the Great Washington Area, monitoring how much they drive, and then sending them monthly sample “invoices” that simulate charges based on distance driven, as well as usage at peak times and in congested locations.

Mr Charlton said whether or not Transurban – which owns toll roads in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – would want to run a potentially lucrative local user-pays system here in Australia would depend on “how it develops”.

“Whether we can play a role or not in relation to our customers and help support a system, we would have to see,” he said. “The main thing is… we don’t want to see our major cities slide into a congested environment, which means it’s not great for our assets.”

A recent survey of 3000 Transurban customers found that only 14 per cent could accurately identify how much they paid in excise each time they filled up their car, with more than 40 per cent believing it was less than 20¢ per litre.

Half of the respondents said they would prefer a road user charge over the current excise and other road-related taxes, according to Transurban.

Mr Colacino said governments needed to start the shift to road user charging in a way that was fair, equitable, and transparent with an approach that protected individuals who were financially or geographically disadvantaged.

Infrastructure Australia’s report says the national per-kilometre charge should be supplemented by congestion pricing to discourage travel during peak periods and to fund public transport alternatives.

All revenue raised under the new regime should be reserved for use on transport spending, the report says.

Extracted in full from: Transurban says shift to per-kilometre charging on Australian roads should start now (