Wimmera leaders slam proposal to charge motorists distance-based fees

A Rolls Royce speedometer. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

A Rolls Royce speedometer. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

WIMMERA leaders have slammed a proposal to charge motorists distance-based fees.

Both Member for Mallee Andrew Broad and Rural Councils Victoria chairman and Hindmarsh Mayor Rob Gersch have questioned the idea. 

Cr Gersch said the proposal would burden rural Australians.

“If the rules were the same right across the country, rural people would be disadvantaged,” he said.

Trialling a ‘direct user charge’ was among suggestions in the Productivity Commission’s final report into infrastructure, released on Monday.

The proposed trial would use vehicle telematics to log the distance and location of cars and other light vehicles.

It would be aimed at ‘informing future consideration for a shift to direct road user charging’.

Money raised would be spent on roads.

The Productivity Commission suggested the Federal Government engage state and territory governments to run the pilot studies.

Studies in the US state of Oregon have inspired the proposal.

“It has experimented with pilot studies in which participating motorists paid distance-based charges as an alternative to fuel taxes,” the report said.

“In light of the results, Oregon has legislated for such a scheme to be implemented from 2015. 

“However, participation will be limited to 5000 volunteers because it was not possible to persuade legislators to back a mandatory scheme.”

Participants will be charged 1.5 cents a mile instead of the state fuel tax of 30 cents a gallon.

“This is not legislation, it is just a discussion.” - Member for Mallee Andrew Broad

The Productivity Commission does not specify a charge for an Australian model.

But it does say the initiative should be revenue-neutral. 

Cr Gersch questioned how a user-pays system would work.

He said the study would also need to consider influences other than light vehicle traffic on the nation’s roads.

“The majority of the damage done to our roads is by heavy vehicles, not light vehicles,” he said.

“More work and investment would need to be done on public transport, including freight on rail and passenger rail.

“Investment in rail would be imperative.”

Mr Broad said he did not think the proposal would become a reality.

“This is not legislation, it is just a discussion,” he said.

“I don’t know how it would be workable.”

He said there was no disputing the need to invest in roads, especially those in regional Australia.

“Those country roads are the arterials of shifting high-value product that all Australians benefit from,” he said.

But he said the Federal Budget had already accounted for spending on roads with the fuel excise.

The government had also pledged to double its Roads to Recovery funding in the 2015-16 financial year.

“I think if it was a per kilometre charge country people would be worse off, and if it was on fuel country people would be better off,” Mr Broad said.

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