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Prime Mover Magazine

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Warren Clark

Toll charges on the rise

September 2017

Tolling is a hot topic in the road freight industry. The reason for this is simple; 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 the use tolled roads by banning alternative routes; and
• revenue from tolls funding road improvements, without the industry seeing many of the promised benefits delivered.

As it stands today, it is very difficult to find an explanation on how tolling fees are set. Our members are keen to understand why toll 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 private-sector 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 the road infrastructure and take up a greater proportion of road capacity.

Some sources claim that the wear-and-tear to roads caused by one articulated truck equals that of 6,000 cars and others 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 of the issue. The New South Wales Parliament recently completed an inquiry into tolling arrangements, and on 15 June 2017 the Federal Government launched an inquiry into the operation of existing and proposed toll roads in Australia.

NatRoad has made a number of recommendations in our submission to the Federal Government inquiry, including that an independent pricing regulator should be responsible for monitoring tolling arrangements to protect the public interest against 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 decision to ban trucks from Pennant Hills Road in Sydney once the NorthConnex project is completed, forcing trucks to use the tolled tunnels if they do not have a local destination.

In our view, toll roads should be designed to 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.

Whether it is tolls or something else, consumers never like to hear when the cost of something is going up. You will always have more resistance towards price increases when there is a lack of transparency about how and why the increase has occurred.

NatRoad will continue to work with governments and toll operators to ensure tolling fees are decided with greater consultation and transparency in the future. It’s our mission to ensure the interests of the heavy vehicle industry are being heard on this issue.

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