Victoria embraces user pays road charging reform

Victorian Infrastructure Plan backs user-pays in principle and many other freight measures

Victoria embraces user pays road charging reform
An image from the response paper

In principle Victorian Government support has been given officially to user-pays road charging but there were other responses of note in the Infrastructure Victoria’s plan beyond that crucial item.

The idea suggested in the organisation’s August Victoria’s infrastructure strategy 2021-2051 report was to replace fixed road user charges with variable distance-based and congestion charges over the next 10 years, by gradually expanding and reforming the existing electric vehicle charge.

It would also ensure user pays charging reflects the relative costs of road use, encouraging people to adopt beneficial travel behaviour.

The intent was supported but the state government – in its response, entitled Victorian Infrastructure Plan 2021 – pointed to complicating aspects, including national reform to charging for vehicles above 4.5 tonnes.

It also wanted to gauge the effect on government revenue.

"The Government will continue to work with the Commonwealth Government on heavy vehicle road reform to develop a future model that is fair for all users of the transport network while funding maintenance and development of infrastructure and services that provide the best value to Victorians," the response stated.

"The Government will continue to monitor the policy settings associated with road charges."

A long-term advocate of uniformity of regulations between the states and territories, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) welcomed the decision to move towards distance based road user charging for all classes of vehicle in the state, including electric vehicles (EV).

ALC supports the development of a national road user charging scheme that is coordinated through National Cabinet, with electric vehicle charging to be used as the pilot.

As recognised by Infrastructure Victoria in its August 2021 report, all road users, regardless of their vehicle type, need to pay road user charges necessary to constructing and maintaining, it added.

"Electric vehicles are a good starting point for road-user reform," ALC CEO Brad Williams says.

"We need to capitalise on the learnings from the Victorian approach and develop principles that can be applied to road pricing across the country.

"We can use the findings to inform the heavy vehicle road reform process, particularly how telematics and GPS data, already captured by the freight and logistics operators, can be used to determine distances travelled.

"It is time for change but it’s worth remembering the current system has worked well to date because it is nationally consistent, meaning that national supply chain organisations can optimise their operations efficiently and keep costs lower for consumers."

Meanwhile, also supported in principle was transitioning government fleet and freight vehicles to zero emissions technologies within the next five years, require all new government fleet vehicles to be zero emissions vehicles where available.

This would be through incentivising uptake of zero emissions freight vehicles through reviewing restrictions on zero emissions freight movements on freight routes.

"There are many reasons for restrictions on freight vehicle movements including safety, amenity, noise, emissions, mass and size," the government responded.

"While ZEV freight vehicles will not mitigate the full range of issues for which restrictions are imposed, the Government may consider how it might be suitable to exempt ZEV freight vehicles from certain restrictions on freight routes on a case-by-case basis. Any potential changes would receive appropriate community and industry consultation."

Though still somewhat over the horizon, in principle support was also given to a next-year start on updating transport regulations to allow automated vehicle operation on the road network over 10 years.

Other items gaining in-principle support included:

  • Optimise capacity at the Port of Melbourne
  • Act now to protect the future Bay West Port option
  • Deliver a new intermodal freight terminal for Inland Rail, with the government’s preference being for it to be in Truganina in Melbourne’s west
  • Construct an outer metropolitan road and rail corridor, over 30 years , including a freight rail link to coincide with the opening of the Western Intermodal Freight Terminal.

Read about Infrastructure Victoria’s congestion warning and plan, here

Not supported was the appointment of an independent body to advise on and monitor transport prices over the next 30 years.

The National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) has advocated for this sort of oversight in most states, to keep watch on tolls roads and an their increasing cost to use

However, the state government felt current legislation and procedures provide sufficient scope to review and set transport pricing to ensure positive community outcomes.

Nor did it support congestion-based peak and off-peak tolling to all new metropolitan freeways, including the North East Link, to better manage traffic flow and impacts on nearby local roads.

This was seen as running against government policy.

"Each new tolling project in Victoria currently requires its own project-specific legislation to establish a legal basis to facilitate the operation and tolling powers involved in the project," it pointed out.

"These tolls are set at rates that aim to achieve balance for a number of movement, revenue and contractual objectives. The North East Link motorway will be tolled, but rates have not yet been set.

"This legislative requirement means that significant lead time is required for each new tolling project to ensure that it has the required rights and powers to charge tolls and enforce their collection."

Supported without quibble was progressively introducing, over five years, road network demand-management technologies across the state and integrating management systems for different road-based transport modes.

They would be combined with a road infrastructure upgrade program to optimise the benefits of technologies, such as by providing extra clearways and introducing dedicated lanes for bus routes.

"The Government supports this recommendation and is making a significant investment through its Smarter Roads program and other initiatives," it stated.

"Smarter Roads is a technology-based investment to unlock system-wide benefits through implementation of monitoring, management and technology upgrades focused on improving the movement of passenger and freight vehicles, reducing congestion and journey times and improving productivity."

The full response can be found here.

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