Mike Stevens | Aug 24, 2009

Updated 24/08/09: Australian Automotive Association responds to Government Paper recommendations.

AUSTRALIAN AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION (AAA) Chief Executive, Mike Harris, has joined the chorus of opposition to a proposed 'kilometres tax' on motorists, which recommends taxing them on how far they drive, and conjestion charges on vehicles in urban areas, similar to London's congestion charge.

The proposal, as reported on TMR last week, is contained in a paper commissioned by Federal Treasury Secretary Ken Henry.

Mr Harris however described the paper's recommendations as "nothing more than a revenue-raising exercise, using the private motorists as a cash cow to generate tax revenue".

"To make matters worse, this "Ivory Tower" report then suggests that motorists should be charged again on the basis of their use of the road network," Mr Harris said.

"Motorists already pay more than their fair share of taxes and charges, including excise which sees only one third going back into the road network – and two thirds going to pay for other government services.

"AAA supports a proper user-pays approach to paying for our road networks, similar to that used for other utilities such as electricity and water – but the underlying prerequisite is the abolition of the fuel excise."

The paper also recommends that truck drivers should be charged at a higher rate to reflect the wear and tear on roads caused by heavy commercial vehicles.

LaTrobe University's Professor Henry Clarke, one of the paper's authors, says the main proposals are to levy congestion charges on vehicles in urban areas.

"[The aim is] generally to try to get to the point where we're charging people for the actual damage and costs of using roads - rather than fixed charges that are independent of the way they use roads," Professor Clarke told the ABC.

"The technology exists now; telemetric devices, or essentially boxes that are inserted in vehicles.

"These can provide information for commercial trucking fleet operation, or they can provide information to regulators."

The technology would also give the Government the ability to track a vehicle's specific route, but Professor Clarke believes motorists need not be concerned about privacy issues.

"That information would only accrue to the device and the user of the device would possess the information, but essentially the Government would be able to work out the charges that were associated with different types of use of roads," he said.

Professor Clarke also said that current charges are not reflecting the full social cost of trucks on low-durability roads. He contends that a system that imposes a higher rate on trucking companies would encourage heavy vehicle drivers to use the roads sensibly and to choose routes along more durable roads.

David Purchase, Executive Director of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC), said last week that the recommendation for a congestion charge "tops the list of ridiculous road traffic proposals".

“Motorists are not irresponsible, gas-guzzling, eco-vandals. Motorists are people commuting to work, delivering and collecting vital goods and services, parents taking the kids to school or visiting elderly relatives," Mr Purchase said.

“This is yet another blatant money-making exercise targeting the motorist. If vehicle owners were assured the income raised from tracking devices was to be ploughed back into road safety and enhancement initiatives it might be a different matter. But we all know that this will not be the case."

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