The Victorian Government introduced the Zero and Low Emission Vehicle (ZLEV) road-user charge on 1 July 2021, after announcing its intention to do so, in the 2020-21 State Budget.
The tax is a distance-based charge that applies to electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, it would also apply to hydrogen vehicles if there were more than 3 of them.
Commonly known as the EV Tax, it was designed to ensure that all road users contribute fairly to the cost of maintaining and building roads.. or at least that’s what we were told.
The VicRoads ZLEV web page says:
Part of the justification was that EV drivers do not pay the fuel excise tax, built into each litre of petrol as such the VIC Government created a tax on electric vehicles. As the transport industry transitions from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, this would create an increasing revenue shortfall as people move from refuelling to recharging.
The charge is calculated based on the number of kilometres travelled and as drivers pay for their registration, they are required (or lose their license) to submit a photo of their odometer. After a calculation is done on the distance travelled, a bill is generated for the ZLEV.
The rate per kilometre started at 2.5 cents/km, however, this has since increased to 2.8 cents per km, while plug-in hybrid electric vehicles: are charged at 2.3 cents per km.
The electric vehicle transition is happening across Australia and yet, Victoria is the only state to have a ZLEV. While there are ways to claim exceptions, many EV owners end up paying Victoria for km driven in NSW (and other states) as tracking these trips through a log book is cumbersome.
Freedom of Information Request
The ZLEV charge has been controversial since its introduction. Some environmental groups have argued that the charge is a disincentive to the uptake of ZLEVs and that it undermines the Government’s commitment to reducing emissions.
Some motoring organisations have also argued that the charge is unfair to ZLEV drivers, as they are already paying a higher upfront cost for their vehicles and they are still subject to other road-related taxes and charges.
The Victorian Government has defended the ZLEV charge, arguing that it is necessary to ensure that all road users contribute fairly to the cost of maintaining and building roads.
I decided to submit a Freedom of Information Request with the Department of Transport and Planning which VicRoads reports to, in an effort to get answers.
On 29th June 2023, I submitted and received an email confirmation of a valid request, under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), it read:
Under the Act, the FOI request is supposed to be actioned within 30 days, however, on July 31, 2023, I received an email from the Privacy and Information Access Officer at VicRoads, asking for a 30-day extension.
While disappointed, I was keen to persist in getting the answers to my questions, so I granted the extension.
FOI after 60 days
On August 28th, 2023, I sent a follow-up email regarding my FOI enquiry, having not received anything, not a single piece of evidence or documentation from what I requested.
60 days had now elapsed since the original submission date.
FOI Extension #2
My email was replied to later that day with the following request for yet another extension.
At this point my patience was running out, given two months had passed and the data I was requesting, such as the total amount earned from the ZLEV, should be a quick summary of the total funds paid into an account at VicRoads since the tax was introduced.
If really hope these funds weren’t commingled with other service revenue at VicRoads, surely they had enough foresight to keep it separate, or at least attach metadata/descriptions that would enable filtering to reveal the answer without too much effort.
My response to Mary on August 28, 2023 was:
The next day (August 29th, 2023), I received the following reply.
It was becoming clear that they were stalling for time and this data either doesn’t exist, or is going to be reveal what I suspected which is that this money was not being deployed as per the stated intent.
There’s no conceivable way this information should take this long to deliver, remember, I’d be happy to receive anything, even 1 piece of data or documentation and so far have received zero.
My response on August 30th, 2023, at this point I was willing to entertain all options, including escalation.
This was met with the following response on August 31st, 2023.
So there we have it, after more than 63 days, they were unable to even track down the right team inside VicRoads who were responsible for the ZLEV data and funds. That’s wild and clearly doesn’t match with commitments stated on the VicRoads website.
To summarise, we have no idea how much has been collected under the EV tax, or where the funds have gone and we certainly can’t confirm if any was spent on maintaining roads.
On August 31, 2023 I replied with this:
Later that day, at 5:35PM on August 31st, 2023, I received the following reply:
Remember, this is from the Department of Transport and Planning, the body that VicRoads report to and it seems they’re unable to get any information regarding the ZLEV.
Still, zero documents or data has been provided.
I contemplated a refund of the cost of the FOI Request, but the money isn’t important here, I persisted in the hope that they would, eventually come up with some kind of evidence to support the claims that the EV tax was being used on roads and road maintenance.
More delays, zero documents
On September 20th, I received the following email from Mary.
I’m sure they would like me to withdraw the request, but I’m persisting in an effort to get to the bottom of this.
90 Days of delays and still waiting..
It has been 5 days since I sent the last reply and still nothing.
Today marks 90 days since the original request was approved and this Freedom of Information Request was initiated.
The only takeaway I can make from this is that the ZLEV road-user charge is a money grab, with no reporting and accountability for the dollars collected by Victorian EV drivers. This is incredibly disappointing to see, Victorians deserve better.
I attended the CarSales EV Show 2023 in Melbourne on the weekend and during a number of panels, this EV tax was spoken about as a massive disincentive top EV adoption, particularly with the backdrop of the state dropping the A$3,000 rebate off the price of an EV. In contrast, QLD offers $6,000 off and there’s no sign of a ZLEV up there.
If I get documentation from VicRoads, I’ll share it with you, but as you, after 90 days, I’ve got nothing from the hours of time, and dozens of emails, not sure this is how FOI is supposed to work.