Thursday 7 June 2018

Australia's National Heavy Vehicle Charging Pilot: The National Pilot Program Stage Two

The Stage One report of the National Pilot should essentially be a set of three groups of work:
  1. Strategic, technical design and implementation advice on progressing with on-road pilots of heavy vehicle road charging.
  2. Results of desktop simulation modelling, which should indicate the financial impacts on different groups of heavy vehicle users, based on a series of charging structure scenarios.  This will provide an indication of the distributional effects (excluding behaviour change) of existing heavy vehicle road users changing how they pay for roads, and so help to inform possible transitional and longer term pricing scenarios for pilots and implementation of heavy vehicle charging.
  3. Input from the heavy vehicle road user sector, but also road managers and other relevant government and private sector stakeholders of their views and understanding of heavy vehicle charging.
Stage Two will be the delivery of an on-road heavy vehicle road charging pilot, with actual road users "paying" a simulated road user charge with their own accounts, and invoicing, as a demonstration of what heavy vehicle road charging could mean for the day-to-day operations of heavy vehicle users, state/territory and local road managers, federal, state/territory treasuries and the providers of road charging services.   It should not primarily be about technology, but about how services are delivered, with the possibility of testing a range of solutions for identifying, measuring and reporting distance travelled (GNSS based ones, application of existing telematics systems both built into vehicles and commercial sservices, and the use of odometers and hubodometers), and options for different elements of charging to be included in both pricing and charging products available to users.   In practice, all participants in the pilot will continue to pay registration and fuel excise through the current PAYGO system (as well as tolls where relevant), but it will show what it would mean to have road charging operating in real life.

Part of the Stage Two pilot will be about testing policy and operational options for proceeding further, with issues such as the treatment of mass and location, the complexity of vehicle configurations (for charging purposes) and exploring the identification of fraud and evasion issues.  One of the biggest benefits of this pilot will be feedback from road users about their user experiences including what information is of use to them.  It changes road user charging from being theory (and occasional discussion of what happens overseas) to being what it might look like in practice.  Furthermore, it also presents an opportunity for the often ignored issue of what charging means from a government perspective to be explored.

It ought to mean establishment of notional hypothecated road fund accounts (although the question of how many there any, whether by geography or jurisdiction is a moot point), and the management of the data that is collected to enable sufficient assurance to be carried out about individual vehicles having valid accounts that are paid.  

The Stage Two pilot should be designed to test the critical elements that would allow for road charging to be able to replace the PAYGO system. Careshould be taken as to how much complexity will be mandated for the Stage Two pilot, bearing in mind that it wont be actually collecting revenue, and the key dimension iy must test is sufficient assurance to enable the Stage Three pilot to proceed (which actually does collect revenue, and offset this with refunds or supplementary payments to offset road charges).

Most of the pilots that have operated in the United States to date have been simulated charging pilots, so there should not be difficulty in developing a pilot for heavy vehicles, across Australia, that replicates the best elements of those, but also tests policy and governance elements that are relevant to Heavy Vehicle Road Reform.

Assuming Stage Two can be successful, then the programme can move onto Stage Three - a real money pilot, where heavy vehicle users can opt into paying by road charging instead of the PAYGO system.  That is when the real leap forward will happen.

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