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Time to get busy on road pricing, Carr tells transport lobby

Former NSW premier puts the onus on a coalition of transport groups to push hard for road pricing reform

By Brad Gardner | July 7, 2011

A Coalition of transport groups is being challenged to marshal its resources in support of a radical overhaul of existing road user charges.

Former NSW Premier Bob Carr put the onus on public and active transport groups to champion the debate on convincing governments to do away with the fuel excise in favour of a user-pays scheme proposed by former Treasury boss Ken Henry.

In his wide-ranging taxation review last year, Henry proposed variable congestion charging and a road pricing model to reflect the congestion, road-wear and environmental cost of a vehicle. Henry also called for trucks to be tracked by GPS and billed based on their mass, distance and location.

Carr told the Emerging Crises Summit, organised by groups from the rail, bus, cycling and environmental sector, the technology is in place to track heavy vehicle movements and to implement variable charging.

“Here is the challenge. The Henry report is out there as we’re looking at a phenomenal growth in pressure on our road system from a growth in road freight,” Carr told the Emerging Crises Summit.

“Is it possible for advocates of public and active transport to begin constructing arguments to push this debate? To get motorists to change their position, to have motorists not resisting distance pricing but motorists actually saying to government, ‘We think there might be less congestion and for many of us we will be paying less’.”

Carr raised the possibility of using case studies to convince motorists of the benefits of a user-pays system, such as an end to registration fees and a fuel tax. He says advocates must also address “crucial” questions.

“If this were to come in do we hypothecate the revenue raised for public and active transport?” Carr says.

“Are there ways of protecting low-income groups and is there an argument that the public will accept?”

According to a new poll unveiled at the summit, only 35 percent of respondents supported a user-pays system compared to 36 percent who opposed it. The survey of more than 1,500 people found 43 percent supported congestion charging, while 37 percent opposed it.

The summit brought together seven associations under the banner of developing policy solutions to congested cities, an ageing population, climate change and energy challenges.

The coalition includes the Australasian Railway Association, the Bus Industry Confederation and the Australian Local Government Association, along with the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Heart Foundation, the Cycling Promotion Fund and the International Public Transport Association.

BIC Executive Director Michael Apps says the level of support for a user-pays system is “massive” considering there has been no debate on the issue or any attempt from government to educate the public.

Apps says it is time the Federal Government took a leadership role on road pricing reform by advancing the recommendations outlined in Henry’s taxation review. He believes a debate focused on educating the public will deliver strong support for change.

ARA CEO Bryan Nye says the task is before the coalition in light of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to exempt households, tradespeople and small businesses with light commercial vehicles from paying a carbon tax on fuel.

“When are we going to get a brave government that is going to start looking at road pricing if we can’t even include petrol pricing in a carbon tax? And that’s going to be the challenge that I think we are going to face,” he says.

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