It may hurt to hear, but most of the road network wasn't really made for you

Revenue from rego wouldn't even maintain the roads we have, let alone build new ones. Photo: Shutterstock.
Revenue from rego wouldn't even maintain the roads we have, let alone build new ones. Photo: Shutterstock.

If you subscribe to the notion that paying motor vehicle registration (or rego) gives you more of a right to the road than non-powered vehicles like bicycles and horses, then I'm afraid your logic is deeply flawed.

Looking at it in terms of the oft'-heard financial argument of paying rego bestowing upon motorists a greater level of entitlement, this would actually result in something of a might-is-right hierarchy.

First off, businesses pay more for rego than private users, and with many weight-based systems in place, heavier vehicles pay more than lighter ones, so you'd better be jumping out of the way of everything wearing a business logo or bigger than you because they've paid more than you.

You don't do that though, do you? None of us do.

More significant though, rego payments are only a small part of what motorists pay towards the roads, and an analysis by the Public Transport Users Association (Victoria) first done in 2004 said there was a $15 billion annual shortfall in revenue collected from Australian motorists (fuel excise, tolls, rego, and even the GST on vehicle purchase) compared with the cost of the nation's road network.

They've updated their numbers several times since, and the latest version says there's an annual $23.8 billion shortfall.

That brings us to another important point. Rego fees go to the states and territories, and yet the most local level of government is responsible for the roads on which you're most likely to find a cyclist, horse rider or any other user who doesn't pay rego on that vehicle, and with the exception of the ACT (which doesn't have councils), they don't collect anything at all from the motorists themselves.

Councils get their bucket of revenue from land rates (ACT also collects rates), which everyone who pays for accommodation at least contributes towards. Rates are, in my experience, considerably more than rego for a car, and rates are often determined based on land zoning and size as well. This complicates the whomever-paid-the-most equation further, which is why it's such a bad notion.

Then we come to whom the roads are predominantly built for, and, well, it wasn't you.

If you're building a new housing estate, putting roads in is not a cost that any level of government takes up, they merely maintain them later on. That means the home owners effectively paid for their street, whether they own a vehicle of any kind or not.

Beyond the residential areas, grants come from government programs for certain projects of all kinds deemed worthy by the party in power, which includes strategic sections of certain roads important to the economy. In fact, a significant portion of the roads we have exist because of the needs of freight and logistics. Private use is just a bonus.

Don't believe me? Have a look at any section of road that was realigned or otherwise rebuilt with federal and/or state funds contributing. One regional example I can think of is a section south of Crookwell in NSW called Devil's Elbow.

Do you reckon they did that to help Crookwell's residents shave maybe 20 seconds off the 90 minute drive to Canberra? Hardly. They did it so bigger trucks could safely get through, reducing their transport costs. As Bronwyn Haynes reported in the Crookwell Gazette, "This is a direct freight route to the Yass [livestock] markets and is important in enticing industry to set up in the region, and confidence in getting produce efficiently to market will assist the region to grow."

As for who paid for it, we all did. According to Upper Lachlan Shire Council's press releases and 2017-18 annual report, $266,546 came from the federal Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity program, $193,500 from the federal Black Spot Project, $540,000 from the state's Fixing Country Roads program (which targets freight projects), and council needed to pay the rest of the $1.586m project.

So, next time someone argues the myth that rego gives them more right to be on the road than someone else who contributed in all the other ways, just help them realise that everyone who has ever paid for almost anything has helped to actually fund it.

Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who builds cars in his shed in his spare time.