Monday, 29 July 2019

Australia's National Heavy Vehicle Charging Pilot : Small-scale on-road trial of heavy vehicle charging is launched

Last Thursday (25 July 2019), Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development, The Hon. Michael McCormack along with The Hon Scott Buchholz MP, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport formally launched Australia's first nationwide on-road trial of heavy vehicle road user charging.

The press release is here, with more details on the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development ("the Department") website here.

In short, it involves:
  • Up to eleven heavy vehicle operators (truck and bus) using on-board telematics systems that they were already using in their vehicles (commercial telematic systems used for fleet management purposes);
  • Up to 111 vehicles will be included (so an average of a maximum of ten vehicles per fleet);
  • A trial of six months duration;
  • Operators to use existing systems to report vehicle configuration;
  • Each operator will receive mock invoices generated by measurement of road use using the telematics systems on each participating vehicle, which will enable comparison of hypothetical charges with current charges
The trial will assess the experience of heavy vehicle users in receiving mock invoices to compare what they might pay under distance/mass/configuration based charging compared to the current mix of annual registration fees and fuel tax.  The idea being that charging by distance could replace such charges.  The diagram below from the Department indicates its plan to follow the small-scale trial with a large-scale trial next year on a much bigger scale and complexity. 

Australia's heavy vehicle charging trial programme
The small scale trial will use only one technology - existing telematics systems (which by necessity are all GNSS based On-Board Units (OBUs). The large scale trial could also include manual options to report distance, and an option to report actual mass.  However, further details of the large scale trial will be developed in the coming months, and is likely to be informed by the progress and evaluation of the small scale trial, and engagement with stakeholders (including heavy vehicle user representative organisations).

The operators participating in the small-scale trial are:
This is quite a range including local and national operators, with operators based in several states.  Telematics providers supporting the trial (providing the systems used by those operators) are:
The trials are part of a wider programme of reform of the provision of roads for heavy vehicles in Australia called Heavy Vehicle Road Reform.  The first phase of this is set out here, and involves improving transparency about spending, asset management and the levels of service provided to heavy vehicle road users. 

Other reforms as part of this include consideration of independent price regulation of the setting of heavy vehicle charges (including existing registration fees and the fuel-based charge), and measures to more closely link revenue collected from heavy vehicles to road managers for investment in their networks.

It is clear that it is early days and no decision has been made by the Australian Government to change how heavy vehicles are charged in Australia, and any decision to do so is likely to be some years away. 

It will be interesting to watch the small scale trial with interest, particularly what the responses of participants are and the lessons that the Department will learn from the trial to develop the larger scale trial and inform wider reforms. 

Disclosure:  D'Artagnan has been providing technical advice to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development on heavy vehicle charging trials.

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