NTC to consult industry on A-trailer fees

Following an uproar from trucking operators over rising A-trailer fees, the NTC will hold consultation sessions to reach a solution

By Brad Gardner | May 6, 2011

Policy makers will consult the trucking industry on A-trailer registration fees after complaints that the current charging system is eating away bottom lines and disadvantaging operators.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has responded to an industry-led campaign to reform annual A-trailer charges, which are currently $6,372 and will rise by another 2.4 percent from July 1.

It says it has received complaints that charges are affecting cash flow, while others have contacted the NTC asking why safer combinations using A-trailers – such as BAB and ABB quads – are charged more than traditional road trains.

"In the coming weeks the NTC intends to engage with a wider range of industry stakeholders to develop a more detailed understanding of the issues and possible solutions," the NTC says in a statement.

"Heavy vehicle charging is a complex issue and whilst we envisage that we may identify some solutions that can be quickly and easily actioned, some of the more complex issues may need to be addressed as an additional piece of work."

The Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA) argues many rural businesses do not get enough use out of A-trailers to make a return on their investment.

It has proposed options to assist operators, including seasonal registration, discounts for low mileage use and specialised classifications for stock crates and grain tippers, which ALTA Executive Director Philip Halton says spend a lot of time running empty.

Stockmaster General Manager Jim Marshall says up to 20 percent of the company’s fleet of 40 A-trailers can be parked in the livestock transporter’s yard at any one time.

"In the livestock transport industry there is a reasonable amount of time when A-trailers sit in the yard here and we just use the B-trailers," he says.

Marshall says he cannot simply deregister them because Stockmaster needs to be prepared when customers call to book a B-double load.

He says rural operators are also disadvantaged by the lack of approved access routes in council areas for B-doubles.

"There’s not enough areas open to B-doubles to be able to use them everywhere you want to go".

In a fact sheet uploaded to its website, the NTC says A-trailer fees are a consequence of the heavy vehicle charges scheme introduced in 2007.

The scheme removed the subsidy on B-doubles, which was introduced to encourage operators to use the configuration. The NTC estimates the subsidy led to a cost-recovery shortfall of about $16,000 per vehicle.

"The decision to remove the subsidy previously granted to B-doubles resulted in a significant increase in registration charges to B-double vehicles," it says.

The 2007 charging model also shifted the registration burden on to trailers in an attempt to address industry concerns over the need for flexibility.

In its fact sheet, the NTC says it originally proposed a system structured around different charges for different vehicle configurations. The proposal was revised after the trucking industry complained the scheme would reduce its ability to use prime movers interchangeably in different configurations.

"In order to maintain vehicle flexibility, the charges were developed to allow the trailer to be used in any configuration whilst still ensuring cost recovery was achieved," the NTC says.

The Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association is also pushing for assistance. LBCA President Barney Hayes recently met with NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay to raise the issue.

Hayes says the group is advocating a one-month registration model to allow trucking companies to register A-trailers when needed.

Operators can currently register an A-trailer for six months, but the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) argues that the extra paperwork and costs involved negates any benefit.

Furthermore, the ATA says trucking companies struggle to pass on higher registration fees to customers.

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