Truckers say no to higher truck charges

The trucking industry’s peak lobby group has shot down claims that operators should pay higher registration and fuel fees

April 27, 2010

The trucking industry’s peak lobby group has shot down claims that operators should pay higher registration and fuel fees, claiming a new wave of charges will short-change operators.

This follows the Bus Industry Confederation’s (BIC) call last week for the deferral of the National Transport Commission (NTC) proposed increases in charges for buses and coaches should be deferred until a comprehensive road pricing regime can be implemented.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) today rejected a National Transport Commission (NTC) proposal for a 4.2 percent increase to registration fees and the fuel excise due to a 10.7 percent rise in government road expenditure.

If passed, the NTC’s proposal would push the cost of registering a B-double to $15,340 a year and cut the diesel rebate by almost one cent from July 1 this year. The cost of registering a semi-trailer will go from $5310 to $5612.

But ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair says governments will already collect enough money from operators from existing charges.

He has rubbished the NTC’s claim the 4.2 percent will collect the $2.21 billion owed to governments, saying the ATA has forecast it will be $2.98 billion – an extra $776 million.

"We will pay our fair share and no more," St Clair says.

"The NTC reached its recommended figure – a 4.2 percent increase in charges – on the basis of 2005-06 data about vehicle use. But those figures are out of date. The industry will pay much more in registration charges and fuel tax than the NTC has included in its calculations."

"Growth in the vehicle population has tended to be positive, meaning there are more vehicles paying therefore over-recovering the desired amount," the ATA’s submission to the NTC reads.

The NTC was forced to make a "technical amendment" to its cost calculation formula because it originally recommended a 9.7 percent rise in costs.

The system is based on averages, meaning it does not take into account the changing mix of heavy vehicles where there has been a rise in the number of B-doubles on the road.

Registration charges will rise regardless of the 4.2 percent increase due to the final year of a three-year phase-in of higher chargers for some trucks due to under-recovery from past government expenditure.

The increases are also due to end subsidisation of larger combinations by smaller trucks.

The cost of registering a B-double will rise from $12,214 to $14,746 without the extra 4.2 percent.

The ATA has also used its submission to call for changes to trailer registration.

"There is a market inefficiency relating to low use trailers, particularly A trailers that face considerable registration charges but are often underutilised," the ATA’s submission says.

It wants registration reductions for operators who infrequently use their trailers as an initial step towards a more equitable charging system.

The ATA claims reductions will also improve safety. Its submission says existing registration fees on A trailers have encouraged businesses to use unsafe and less productive trailers.

If the NTC’s proposed 4.2 percent rise is accepted, a tri-axle and quad-axle trailer for a B-double will each cost $2,124 to register.

A tandem axle trailer will cost $2,017 while registration for a single axle trailer will be $408.

The Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA) has been pushing for change because smaller regional companies pay the same fee as larger operators but do not use their equipment as often.

"Paying a premium price for something that they aren’t using is starting to drive operators wild," ALTA Executive Director Philip Halton wrote to the group’s members last month.

"As long as the system relies on huge rego charges that are calculated as ‘averages’, they will be too high for 66 percent of operators and too low for the big boys."

The ATA has also called for the introduction of charges to be changed from July 1 to a common date in the last quarter of 2010.

Its submission says governments struggle to implement the charges at short notice, and wants a consistent implementation date for all jurisdictions.

NSW last year broke ranks and deferred the increases for six months, introducing them from January 1 this year.

Unless it defers the charges again, NSW operators face being hit with two rounds of higher fees in six months.

A spokeswoman for the Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport David Borger says a decision on whether to defer the charges again will be made soon.

The ATA’s submission argues the Rudd Government would be breaching its commitment to help companies weather the economic fallout of the global financial crisis if charges are increased.

The submission says many operators are still recovering and are being hindered by late payments from customers and constraints on capital spending.

It goes on to say that many operators struggle to pass on registration costs.

"Unlike the road user charge component of fuel excise, a registration charge is difficult to pass on to consumers, defeating the purpose of the charge," the submission says.

"The effect of this is amplified by the late notice of the annual adjustment rates."

The NTC will today end its month-long consultation process on the proposed increases and will make a final recommendation to governments on April 30.

The Australian Transport Council (ATC), which brings together the nation’s transport ministers, will meet on April 30 to decide whether to implement the recommendation.

However, the ATA has urged greater transparency if the NTC’s proposal is accepted.

The industry is currently denied access to some of the government expenditure figures submitted to the NTC and to the formula used to calculate the charges.

South Australia and NSW were singled out as the culprits, with the ATA demanding charges not rise until the industry receives detailed breakdowns of each state’s figures.

"Industry has a fundamental objection to the lack of transparency caused by the failure to release expenditure data," the ATA’s submission reads.

"Without this data release, past expenditure cannot be verified and industry has no assurance that over-recovery is not occurring."

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