City road tolls flagged

A CONGESTION tax to discourage motorists from driving at peak times could be introduced under a controversial plan flagged by the federal government’s chief infrastructure adviser.
Nanjing Night Net

Infrastructure Australia chairman Sir Rod Eddington said it was time for ”mature and dispassionate” discussion over a new system of road charges to cut congestion and help pay for major transport projects.

”Transport shortfalls across the freight and passenger networks are imposing substantial productivity constraints on our nation,” Sir Rod told the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia conference. ”Here in Melbourne, road congestion will probably shred something like $4 billion from this state’s economy this year.”

He said roads were often treated as free goods because the ”current opaque charging structure” clouded the actual cost of using them. ”The current approach does not and cannot adequately reflect the time and location of road use,” he said.

Only a handful of cities, including London, Singapore and Stockholm, impose so-called congestion taxes. The application varies, but in theory tolls are raised or lowered depending on the time of day, location and congestion.

Sir Rod said governments had historically responded to congestion by building more roads. Although this would remain an ”ongoing requirement,” he said there were limits, with efforts also needed to manage demand. ”Australia’s major cities are facing a situation where they can no longer only seek to build their way out of trouble,” he said.

”Policymakers must begin to face up to the challenges and opportunities that are posed by road network congestion.”

He said introducing the new charging regime would be politically difficult. A new system for trucks that reflected the true cost they impose on roads would be a good first step.

”Now, with congestion hurting … businesses and the amenity of households, it is time to bring a mature, dispassionate debate.”

Transurban chief executive Scott Charlton backed the proposal, saying the introduction of road network pricing was ”inevitable”. Mr Charlton urged governments to ”use every lever possible”, including road user charges, tolled express lanes and time-of-day pricing. He said that although the public was accustomed to peak and off-peak pricing for utilities, road pricing remained a political sensitive issue.

Meanwhile, Premier Ted Baillieu blamed a culture of construction union militancy for pushing up the cost of major infrastructure projects. ”This culture is contributing to escalating construction costs in this state and this country, and it’s pricing us out of infrastructure in the future,” he said. ”We

call again on federal Labor to show some leadership and immediately introduce legislation to address what most people in the business and wider community realise is an unacceptable situation.”

Mr Baillieu also stepped up demands for federal cash, saying he wanted money for six big projects, including an east-west freeway, a rail tunnel between South Kensington and South Yarra, the expansion of the Port of Hastings and an upgrade of the M80.

Mr Baillieu suggested the Commonwealth should go further into debt to fund such projects. ”Unlike the states, the Commonwealth has the borrowing capacity at its disposal that would not compromise a triple-A credit rating,” he said.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said Mr Baillieu wasn’t the only state leader asking the Commonwealth for money, and dismissed suggestions it should borrow to provide the funds. ”Ted Baillieu needs to get the support of his own party for such a proposition before he comes to us as a state leader and puts such a proposition,” Mr Albanese said. ”He’s not the only state leader who says, I want to build a particular project and I want someone else to pay for it.”

State opposition infrastructure spokesman Tim Pallas said the government was spending $100 million planning for projects, with no sign they would be built. ”Planning is important … not confusing pipelines for pipe dreams, is critically important,” he said.

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