For many motorists, the beep of an electronic tag as they pass under a toll road gantry feels like nails on a chalkboard. Paying to access what is usually a public utility can irk the calmest commuter.
In the transport and logistics sector however, the impact of road tolls goes far beyond mild annoyance. Managing the costs related to road pricing for fleets of vehicles can have a substantial impact on a business’ bottom line and, by extension, the livelihoods of countless Australian families associated with the transport sector.
In the face of increasingly strong comments from the Australian Government’s Transport and Infrastructure Council about the inevitability of sweeping road pricing reforms, legislators should study the examples of privatisation within utilities sectors and apply lessons that will establish a clear path forward as they work towards transforming the provision of heavy vehicle road infrastructure into an economic service.
It is imperative to the national economy that governments clearly articulate their agendas around any reforms to road pricing.
At present, over 75 per cent of non-bulk domestic freight is carried on roads in Australia. Disruptions to either the productivity or viability of the transport and logistics sector will have severe implications on broad swathes of society, and effect our national competitiveness.
Ahead of any discussion about what the transport and logistics sector needs to contribute to the Australian road network, careful consideration needs to be given to how significant the ramifications of policy will be, and how legislative bodies can develop a constructive pathway forward.
User-pays infrastructure pricing is not without merit. It gives road owners a direct incentive to service the needs of road users. As many prominent figures in the freight and logistics sector have already explained, pricing must correlate with the efficiencies it helps create for transport operators.
As well as moving ahead with equitable solutions surrounding road pricing reforms, governments need to also act quickly and develop transparent plans around road pricing, so transport and logistics operators could continue their business activities with confidence.
Rather than a piecemeal approach towards the mammoth issue of road pricing, there needs to be a clearly articulated strategy agreed upon by state and federal governments, so there’s a framework to ensure tomorrow’s road network effectively manages the concerns of all stakeholders, without stifling business operations.
Australian transport operators should not have to worry about uncertainty or fluctuating road usage costs and how these changes are going to affect their business.
A clearly articulated approach to how road pricing changes will be implemented, coupled with transparency around how and when costs will come into effect will be integral in ensuring the heavy vehicle sector can operate with as much certainty as possible.
Uncertainty around any reform will hamper productivity, which is why state and federal governments need to take clear steps to legislate a clearer path forward, so operators in the transport and logistics sector can continue to provide the vital services to which every Australian needs access.
I encourage others within the transport industry to advocate for measured steps towards road pricing reforms.
The more conversation we can facilitate between industry and government, the better chance we have of working towards an equitable, efficient road network that will continue to meet Australia’s growing freight transport needs.
Phil Taylor is the director and chief operating officer Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL).