CONCERNS: Trucking groups say primary producers could feel the brunt of a rural usage slug.
CONCERNS: Trucking groups say primary producers could feel the brunt of a rural usage slug. travellinglight

Trucks face rural usage cost increase

ROAD freight operators fear they could be slugged more to use rural roads as part of a national overhaul of heavy vehicle fees.

Trucking industry bodies say if a "user charges” scheme is implemented, freight companies that use local rural roads would be "unfairly” charged more than those whose businesses largely relied on arterial roads because of the additional road wear and tear.

Australian Livestock and Rural Transport Association executive director Mathew Munro said "it would be problematic” if a user charges model such as a mass- distance-location scheme was introduced, which is based on a truck's weight, distance travelled and roads used, without consideration for local country roads. He said mandatory community service obligations for rural roads that connected primary producers to the arterial road network, not to mention their communities, was vital.

Mr Munro said roads that gave access to remote farms must be provided on a subsidised basis, "Because in many cases they won't be economically (viable) in their own right, but they provide a vital service.” He said the association would rather a fuel-based charging mechanism. The goal of the Heavy Vehicle Road Reform - currently being undertaken by the Transport Infrastructure Council - is to shift to a system where heavy vehicle infrastructure is provided as an economic service.

Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria president Graham Howell warned that without a strong community service obligation framework, the higher charges for trucking companies that used rural roads under an MDL scheme could be passed on to primary producers.

"That's our concern, and if we're getting charged more then we've got to put it back on the producer to cover our costs, so in the long run it's going to make primary producer freight a lot dearer,” Mr Howell said. National Farmers' Federation's economic and farm business committee chairman Wayne Dunford said a user-pays model was not appropriate for rural roads as the volume of traffic was not enough to fund their maintenance.

"If the Government wants an agriculture industry, the entire road network has to be maintained, and that starts with the little shire lanes that lead to the saleyards, the ports ... a user pays model will never maintain them so it has to be funded in other ways,” Mr Dunford said.

Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester said the Government was considering an independent price regulator to set heavy vehicle charges.