Australians would forgo traditional road tolls and instead fork out every time they use their car in busy areas under a new proposal put forth at the AFR National Infrastructure Summit in Sydney this week.
The plan, introduced by Infrastructure Australia (IA) chair Julieanne Alroe, is similar to the system already in place in London, where drivers pay a direct fee depending on which roads they use. The system was introduced in the British capital 15 years ago in an effort to reduce congestion in the tourist mecca and free up space for cyclists and public transport.
Alroe suggested Australia follow a similar route as a way of raising money for the government and syphoning money from electric car drivers, who are able to avoid paying the fuel excise by charging their cars at power stations instead.
“Currently, funding to build and maintain our road infrastructure is sourced from a mix of fuel excise and vehicle registration charges,” she said. “We will see a substantial reduction in revenue as uptake of electric vehicles and alternative fuels increases.”
Currently, every time a motorist fills up their car a portion of the cost goes to the government as part of the fuel excise levy. As cars have become more fuel-efficient in recent years, and electric cars hit the market, the amount raised from that levy has fallen.
Alroe claims charging drivers directly for using the road every time they hop into their car would be a fairer and more economically viable option for the government to raise money and keep infrastructure well funded across the country.
The proposal was also laid out in IA’s Making Reform Happen report, which claimed that “transitioning to a user-pays system of road funding could increase GDP by $21 billion per annum in 2031 and $36 billion in 2047”.
However, Nicole Badstuber, a researcher in urban transport governance at University College London, wrote in The Conversation in March that the pay-as-you-use system in London wasn’t all its cracked up to be.
While traffic in the London’s city centre has dropped by 25 per cent since the tolls were introduced, the daily charge for entering the 21km² area in London between 7am and 6pm on a weekday, has risen gradually from £5 (AU$8.80) in 2003 to £11.50 today – making it unaffordable for some commuters.
An increase in people using hire cars, taxis and ride-sharing cars, such as Uber, has also contributed to increased congestion in the city, which in turn has seen people ditch the bus on their morning commute to avoid blocked up roads.
Currently, Aussies are able to avoid most road tolls if they wish, but if the IA plan goes ahead, a quick trip to the city will cost a whole lot more. It appears the government is already on board with the idea of changing the way our roads work, with Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, telling news.com.au that Australia needed to “look at new way of doing things” on the road.
“We are looking at pricing at the moment,” he said.