TORONTO, Ont. — Although the railways often argue trucks are not paying their share of road repair cost, Canada’s preeminent transportation economist, Fred Nix, begs to differ.
Nix, who is an occasional freelance writer for both Truck News and Motortruck, insists trucks already pay far more in fuel taxes than the costs they impose on the pavements of a main highway.
Over the years, there have been various calls for the imposition of a weight-distance tax on trucks. Such a tax was most recently discussed earlier this year in the final report of the Canadian Transportation Act Review Panel. (A weight-distance tax takes into consideration both the distance driven and the weight, either of the truck or its axles).
However, in a study prepared for the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) and the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), Nix argues, “in every case (where a weight-distance tax has been recommended for Canada) these recommendations have been based on ideas, taxes, or cost-allocation work from the U.S.”
He adds, “no one has yet examined whether there is technical justification for such a tax in Canada. It also overlooks the fact that there are already a number of taxes, permit fees and tolls that result in heavy vehicles paying more for the use of a road than light vehicles.”
Recently, OTA reviewed the 2001 Ontario budget papers and extrapolated that the trucking industry was paying about $600 million a year in fuel taxes and about $400 million in registration fees. The entire capital and operating budget of the Ministry of Transportation Provincial Highway Management Program is $1.07 billion.
At the same time, the federal government takes about $2 billion a year from Canadian truckers and puts next to nothing into highways.
“The evidence,” says Nix, “suggests that on high class pavements, the relationship between axle loads and pavement deterioration in Canada is relatively weak. This appears to be a consequence of several conditions that are different than those in the U.S.: harsher climates (particularly the freeze-thaw cycle) and lower traffic volumes. It may also be a consequence of the underlying soil conditions in parts of Canada.”
“Whatever the precise reason, main highways are built with relatively strong pavements. And, with a relatively strong pavement, the passage of an individual truck axle load is not too important in terms of how that pavement deteriorates over time.”
The study does acknowledge that other pavements, particularly in more rural areas of the country may be more susceptible to damage from axle loads, but they do not account for much truck traffic anyway.
“The major highways are among the largest cash cows the provincial and federal governments have,” says David Bradley, chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and OTA president. “Perhaps some of the lesser travelled highways and roads to more rural areas are not paying for themselves, but what should we do? Make it more expensive for those communities to ship or receive goods? Stop shipping to those communities?”
He adds, “The Nix research is clear — there is no technical justification for weight-distance taxes in Canada and more U.S. States have abandoned this form of taxation than have weight-distances taxes in recent years.”
In total 22 U.S. States have had weight-distance taxes at one time or another. Currently, there are only four remaining — New York, Kentucky, Oregon and New Mexico.
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