One of the most active and intense debates in America right now involves the expansion of toll roads. But the United States is hardly the only nation to grapple with the idea of using tolls to pay for the construction and maintenance of roadways.
In fact, Australia is dealing with the same issue right now. In an effort to learn more about road tolls, Australia’s federal government recently commissioned a report examining the advantages and disadvantages of implementing such a plan. The report’s ultimate finding: tolls must be embraced as a way to pay for the country’s skyrocketing road costs.
The report, which is more than three hundred pages long, calls for roads in Australia to be tolled, with drivers paying a fee based on what kind of vehicle they drive, when they drive, and where they drive.
The recommendation comes as technology — like automotive telematics — capable of tracking driver location rapidly expands. “We now have the capacity to charge people for their use of the road system according to time of day, size of the vehicle and whereabouts they happen to be,” noted Ian Harper, a University of Melbourne economics professor who contributed to the report.
Harper insists that people already pay for roads, but in a different way — in part, through taxes, such as those placed on fuel. But a “road-user charging model” would be more accurate and effective, says Australian Automobile Association executive director Andrew McKellar. “[It] should be on the agenda over the medium-term,” McKellar says. “But you’ve got to ensure that motorists don’t end up paying more.”
The hope is that tolls change how people drive, including their route and the time they travel. It might also encourage more people to use public transit, alleviating traffic congestion and reducing harm to the environment.