The Politics of Road Reform: The challenges ahead for road pricing and provision

Our book, De Percy, M. and Wanna, J. (2018). Road Pricing and Provision: Changed Traffic Conditions Ahead. Canberra: ANU Press, was officially launched by Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Australia (CILTA) Fellow and Director-General of Transport Canberra and City Services Emma Thomas at a CILTA event held in Canberra today.

At the launch, I gave a presentation on the politics of road reform, looking at the challenges ahead for a road pricing regime that will hopefully replace the existing motor vehicle registration charges and fuel excise. Such changes are viewed as inevitable in the developed world, where fuel efficiency and the advent of electric and autonomous vehicles are impacting upon road-related revenues and where traditional approaches to road use and provision are unsustainable.

My view is that a road pricing system in Australia will need to be introduced in conjunction with GST reform to replace the existing state-based revenue streams. This is necessary from a variety of perspectives, including broad revenue reform, to reduce congestion, and to reflect more accurately motorists' use of the road network.

An objective look at the facts and figures will lead the independent observer to the view that a 'do-nothing' approach will impact upon productivity and ultimately the standard of living. An integrated transport pricing system will remove the existing cross-subsidisation and create a more transparent, market-based system. But leadership from the federal government will be a major factor in any reform initiative.

It is not about if, but when we should act. While commuter attitudes are one hurdle, anyone who has driven in peak hour traffic in Sydney or Melbourne will know that the present system is unsustainable. But the broader issue of GST reform will be challenging. Any system change will require bipartisanship and a broad federal-state mandate for action.

Who will act first? Any road reform initiative will provide numerous opportunities for political scare campaigns. But can we afford another 'GST birthday cake'? It is worth reflecting upon this the next time you are stuck in traffic.

The University of Canberra's press release on the event is available here.

Photo by Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (Sydney City Traffic) [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia.