Environment and Sustainability, Freight Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation

SA could trial usage-based road charges

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill. Photo: Creative Commons / Bilby

The industry has welcomed South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill’s push for a national scheme of usage-based road charges, saying such a scheme will help level the playing field between long distance road and rail freight.

Weatherill told the National Press Club this week that South Australia would be willing to trial such a scheme – as a guinea pig for the nation – in order to address a significant need for more infrastructure funding.

“I don’t think Australians care too much who builds our roads,” Weatherill said.

“They just want them built in a timely fashion, according to some rational set of priorities and at a reasonable cost.”

But it’s not that simple, the premier conceded; general taxation revenue is not enough for governments to cover the rising cost of infrastructure.

“Roads remain a sector that relies heavily on taxpayers to fund new projects,” he continued.

“Under [the proposed] plan, state-based registration and federal-based fuel excise charges are replaced by a charging system based on mass, distance and location, a system that reflects actual use of the road network.”

Weatherill said South Australia would be willing to trial different options for usage-based road-user charging, and would collect data across the state with the view of guiding a national scheme in the future.

Australasian Railway Association acting chief executive Phil Allan praised the premier’s comments, saying all rail freight operators have long been calling for such a scheme, which will provide “a strong incentive for freight businesses to improve the efficiency of their freight supply chains”.

“The interstate rail network has already operated with a similar regime of mass-distance charging for over a decade,” Allan said.

“The rail industry welcomes proposals for road-user charging as a way to level the playing field, meaning many types of freight will become more contestable between road and rail, ultimately lowering costs of transport for getting essential goods between ports, factories, shops and households.”

If it’s implemented in a timely and appropriate manner, the ARA believes Weatherill’s plan can reduce urban congestion, improve efficiency, and drive productivity growth.

“The ARA congratulates Mr Weatherill on his proposal,” Allan concluded. “Introducing heavy vehicle road-user charging is at the forefront of the next wave of economic reform in Australia.”