Road and rail competitive neutrality: some core issues


Multi-combination trucks: the B-Double



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Multi-combination trucks: the B-Double
We mentioned above that, in aggregate, the road trucking industry is fully cost recovered and the publicly owned rail sector falls far short of that commercial goal. However, a more finely grained argument made on some occasions by commercial rail interests is that while trucking pays its way a particular type of truck – the "B-Double" which competes with rail especially on capital city routes – is cross-subsidised as a result of averaging in the charging system. This criticism reflects the fact that the existing pricing mechanisms rely entirely on a fuel charge and an annual truck registration charge. (The same arguments are also made on occasion about some other classes of intensively worked multi-combination truck.)
The National Transport Commission has also produced estimates that B-Doubles recover some 90% of properly attributed costs. Our first point would be that this cost recovery level – even if taken as accurate – far exceeds the equivalent rail figure. Secondly, the National Transport Commission estimates themselves reflect pressure from rail interests to produce such a result – the principal method used to over attribute costs to B-doubles has been to overestimate the road wear impacts of this truck type.
However, it is also the case that the averaging process over attributes costs to trucks travelling on inter-capital city routes. This happens because the capital city routes tend to be Australia's best constructed roads and these roads would be the least affected by the passage of a truck. For example the extensive sections of road on the Hume Highway which are constructed with concrete appear to show very little road wear from the passage of a truck.
The other significant area of competition between road and rail arises in the use of regional branch rail lines where rail is even more differentially subsidised than elsewhere. In addition, the roads used to transport grain are most often travelled during Australia's typically hot dry summers. Dry roads generally incur far less road wear than roads where the ground is either wet or moist.



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