October 24, 2012

Horse 1388 - Pay By The Kilometre, or, Let's Tax The Oiks More

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions"
- Old Proverb
"It is? Why doesn't it have a toll on it yet?"
- The Current NSW State Government


To reduce congestion, imagine the government charged by the kilometre
- By Professor David Hensher. First published in The Conversation. 12 October 2012

Professor David Hensher, the founding director of the Institute of Transport and Logistic Studies at Sydney University, has again submitted his scheme to Infrastructure NSW, to charge motorists 5c/km rather than the existing registration system because he believes it will cut the amount of traffic congestion. I think that this is a top idea and will do its part in smashing oiks, which I can only assume is the point of the plan.

A pay-as-you drive scheme sounds perfectly reasonable on the basis that if you use the roads more, then you should pay more. It's then important to realise who the actual burden of paying such a tax if it were to be implemented would happen to fall on though.

The people who need to drive the furthest distances are obviously those people who live the furthest away from where they need to go. If you need to drive to work, then the people who tend to live the furthest away from work are those people who tend to earn less in the first place.
If you earn less, you tend to be living somewhere where house prices and rents are cheaper. Moreover, the less well to do areas tend to be on the fringes of the city where services aren't as developed and where rents are cheaper. Market forces with are such that properties which are able to command higher prices (or if you happen to be stupid enough to rent, presumably because you were pathetic enough not to be able to buy property in the first place), are properties which are closer to existing infrastructure like schools, shops and buses and railways, which by virtue of living further away from you'd also be charged more to get to.
This is just if you happen to live on the fringes of Sydney. If you live outside of the Sydney metro reason where distances can be massive (because most of Australia is just mind-numbing miles of nothingness) then you'll be asked to pay a tax for something which you don't even cause.
If there are exemptions for living outside of the Sydney metro, then I have no choice to assume that this is a tax designed to specifically burden poorer people. I don't have a problem with that but let's call it for precisely what it is, an attack by an evil government. This is Mr O'Farrell trying to exact tribute without service.

Never mind the fact that there already is an effective pay-as-you-drive system, with excises and GST being charged on petrol and diesel. This also explains why people out in the west and south-west are more likely to drive smaller cars than the luxo-barges and baby-carrying-tanks which I see near where I work.

The irony behind all of this is that the people who actually need to travel the least amount by road, also happen to be the best connected by public transport. It is my experience that the people living closer to the city and who would be paying the least amount of tax because of it, are also the people who could most afford to pay it. It is a strange irony that three of the four richest suburbs of Sydney also happen to have both a railway line and several bus routes running right through them; yet the people who live in those suburbs are less likely to use them for fear of accidentally getting the smell of oik on them.

You'd think that the solution to traffic congestion would be something like improving public transport, say, installing a train line. A peak hour train removes 2000 cars from the road. You'd also think that the self-appointed Minister FOR Western Sydney would have listened to the people of Western Sydney, especially those the the north west who have more or less given up trying to ask the Government (of both colours) to listen because it really is like bashing you're head against a brick wall.
When originally asked what sort of infrastructure the people of Western Sydney wanted, one survey said that they most wanted heavy rail. Instead they were given the M2, then the road was tolled, they then got a second motorway to nowhere in the M7 which was also tolled, despite the survey saying that they would have preferred a railway line in the first place.

There are a few other things which specifically make this proposal a tax on oiks. It mentions that the tax would only apply during the peak. It has the dual effect of specifically taxing oiks who want to go to work but also lets people drive for pleasure untaxed, how very delightful. Someone in a can-kicking oiky job will pay for the privilege of having the gall to drive to work, whereas some man in a suit in an office is allowed to take a lovely jaunt on the weekend, maybe through wine country, without paying the tax.
There is a neat little peculiarity in income taxation laws which allows motor expenses to be claimed as a tax deduction but the costs of getting to work are not an allowable deduction. Every accountant knows that 95% of car usage by most businessmen actually has nothing to do with generating an income or is simply the cost of driving to work but the ATO isn't seriously going to audit everyone because the costs of doing so would be hideous. As far as the NSW State Government is concerned, that would entirely be a Federal issue and not even remotely their concern at all.

I reckon that it's even odds or better that Professor Hensher lives in a postcode with a number less than 2100, and perhaps also likely that he lives in a postcode with a number less than 2050. This means that he personally lives in an area which would be nicely connected to either a railway line or a very nice bus network.
He also happens to work at Sydney University which is only a short walk from the second most connected railway station in NSW, as well as being serviced by buses which run down Broadway down one side and City Road down the other.
With such a cosseted existence, it would be easy to make the mistake that everywhere in Sydney is as well connected to public transport, without bothering to do proper research. Also being from Sydney University, he probably doesn't get very many oiks lectures because the really properly oiky students either went to UWS if they could afford to go to university at all.

So in future as I sit in another drain of a motorway doing a paltry 7km/h, which was built because Infrastructure NSW didn't build a railway line again, I'll pay my oiky tax as a penalty for having the cheek to live further away from work; meanwhile I'll take pride in the fact that at the weekend a better class of people will be able to go on oh so lovely and pretty drives in the country tax free.

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