PREMIER Jay Weatherill's push to overhaul heavy vehicle fees and trial a new road-user charging system has received support from local transporters.
Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of SA president David Smith, Tumby Bay, welcomed the chance to review the charges, and said the current system was "not working properly" and was "past its use-by date".
"There's some potential and it's pretty worth exploring," Mr Smith said. "I'm pretty keen to see what sort of results the trial can bring."
Mr Weatherill first mooted his concept – which would involve replacing state-based registration and federal-based fuel excise charges with a system calculated using mass, distance and location – during a National Press Club address in Canberra.
He said the proposed charging system reflected "actual use of the road network", and would allow the federal government to reinvest revenue from the charges into "better planned and coordinated road infrastructure".
"It's getting harder for governments to meet the demands of road users from general taxation revenue, and roads remain a sector that relies heavily on taxpayers to fund new projects," he said.
"I don't think Australians care too much who builds our roads. They just want them built in a timely fashion, according to some rational set of priorities and at a reasonable cost."
He said the proposal could deliver big budget savings and potentially reinvigorate the rail transport network.
"My plan has the potential to reduce pressure on government budgets, as the efficient use of revenue from user charges would cut the cost to taxpayers of the construction and maintenance of roads.
"This initiative would also put rail and road on a more even playing field, which would encourage more efficient allocation of the freight effort between road and rail."
Mr Weatherill offered up SA as a potential testing ground, saying the state was willing to trial different elements of the proposal to "fully explore and test this proposition".
Mr Smith said a trial was the best way to test the merits of any proposed changes. He has been asked to join a working group to flesh out the trial's finer points, with four people representing regional and rural carriers likely to join the group, which will meet for the first time later this month.
He said the fixed registration fee imposed at the moment meant there were some inequalities for rural-based transporters, and pointed out that trucks used for seasonal work – like grain carting – travelled fewer kilometres than city-to-city freighters, but attracted the same the registration charge.The proposal has also been welcomed by Roads Australia and the Australasian Railway Association.
"Our current public road funding model simply isn't keeping pace with the demands of of maintaining and renewing the national road freight network," RA president David Stuart-Watt said. "It's time we thought outside the square."
ARA acting chief operating officer Phil Allan said the interstate rail network had already operated with a mass-distance charging scheme for more than a decade.
"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 gods between ports, factories, shops and households." he said.
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