Councils propose new road charging scheme

<b><font color=red> ROAD CHARGES DEBATE</font></b>: ALGA proposes alternative to mass-distance charging by giving local governments a portion of the fuel excise

Councils propose new road charging scheme
Councils propose new road charging scheme
By Brad Gardner | November 12, 2009

Councils should be given access to the fuel excise if mass-distance charging is not introduced, the Australian Local Government Association says.

ALGA used its 2009 Roads and Transport Congress to propose a new method for councils to receive enough funds to maintain their road network.

Under ALGA’s plan, current funding practices will be altered so councils receive a fixed portion of the excise based on hypothecation.

"Local government receives no direct funding for the use of local roads by heavy vehicles," the communiqué from the Congress says of current practices.

If the plan is accepted, councils will be responsible for developing data to prove how much funds are needed.

ALGA President Geoff Lake says councils are responsible for 80 percent of Australia’s roads but maintaining them is becoming harder because of a lack of funding.

Lake says the actions of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and Treasury Secretary Ken Henry "suggest that there may be some fundamental changes in how we go about funding roads…"

COAG has agreed to push ahead with reforms to heavy vehicle charging, while Henry has supported changes to road user charges as part of his review of Australia’s tax system.

The Business Council of Australia last month weighed into the debate, calling for an accelerated introduction of mass-distance charging.

Under the scheme, the BCA says trucks will be tracked by GPS and charges will be determined by how far they travel.

Although the BCA does not propose a start date for the change, it wants an "accelerated introduction of the mass-distance and location charging for trucks, starting initially with incremental pricing and followed soon by full locational charging…"

ALGA says the Rudd Government must keep councils informed of any decision to move to a new charging system.

"Local government must be consulted through the ALGA prior to the adoption of any proposed roads user charging system that applies to local roads," the communiqué says.

"Any road user charging arrangement must result in appropriate funding for local roads."

The Congress also agreed that the Roads to Recovery program should be made permanent and indexed in line with cost increases of roads and bridges.

Lake says it is important governments get road funding and asset management issues right because of the projected growth in the population levels and the freight task in the coming decades.

The communiqué also urged governments to take a whole-of-network approach to transport, including any plans to introduce a congestion charge.

ALGA also used the Congress to look at ways of meeting the needs of the trucking industry, including increasing access to local roads.

The communiqué says councils are committed to working with operators to meet future challenges and ALGA has sought the help of the National Transport Commission (NTC) to develop standard policies for higher mass limits (HML).

However, ALGA also says other levels of government and the trucking industry need to recognise constraints on councils asked to grant increased road access.

"Many councils face financial constraints which make it difficult for them to finance road upgrading to meet the needs of freight efficient vehicles," the communiqué reads.

ALGA also asked the industry and governments to recognise that councils need to take into account more than just economic concerns, such as community expectations, safety and amenity.

The 2009 National Local Roads and Transport Congress also endorsed the recent outcomes of the Australian Transport Council (ATC) Meeting.

The ATC last week agreed to push ahead with national transport regulations for the trucking and rail industries.

Under the agreement, a single regulator will be established in a host state and will be responsible for harmonising cross-border inconsistencies in enforcement and regulation.

The Business Council of Australia last month called on government to fast-track the introduction of mass-distance charging.

It claims the current fuel excise scheme can not be continued because it only relies on the type of vehicle and when and where it is driven rather than how far it travels and how much fuel it consumes.

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