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Travelling on public roads

Find out about fuel tax credits and travelling on public roads.

Last updated 21 February 2023

What is a public road

A public road is available for use by members of the public.

Roads (sealed and unsealed including tracks and lanes) that are accessible to the public and integrated into the overall public road network are public roads regardless of whether they are publicly or privately owned, operated or maintained.

Common public roads include toll roads, bus lanes, busways, transit ways (T-ways), roads providing access to, or access between Indigenous communities, roads through shopping centres, within hospitals, ports and airports allowing public access.

Taxi lanes, taxi ranks and bus stops on streets are part of the public road network.

You can claim fuel tax credits for fuel you use in a heavy vehicle on public roads. This includes using fuel for:

If your heavy diesel vehicle is used on public roads and was manufactured before 1 January 1996, you need to meet an environmental criteria before you can claim fuel tax credits.

Example: public roads

Tim's Transport operates a fleet of buses in metropolitan and rural areas.

After departing Tim's Transport depot, the buses travel on lanes designated as bus lanes in peak hours, busways and through bus and train interchanges, shopping centres and the airport and port.

Some roads have bays set aside on the roads to enable the passengers to board and alight the vehicles.

The airport and port roads allow access to the buses for loading and unloading goods and passengers.

Even though a fare is required to board the buses, all of these are public roads as they exist for the purpose of conveying the public.

The buses also transport passengers to remote indigenous communities. Permits are required to travel on roads that traverse the community lands in case the traveller leaves the road and enters the lands.

The roads providing access to, traversing the communities and allowing movement between the communities are public roads.

Roads solely within the community on the lands serving the needs of the residents and under the authority of the community are not public roads. These roads are like privately owned roads on agricultural properties that exist for the benefit of the owner.


End of example

Travelling begins when a vehicle starts to move and ends when it arrives at a destination, regardless of the distance.

Fuel is used for travelling when:

  • the vehicle is travelling along public roads, including stopping or idling, during the journey
  • all aspects of the vehicle are operating, such as the use of lights, brakes, power-steering, windscreen wipers, powering the vehicle's cabin air-conditioning and bus passenger air-conditioning.

The fuel tax credit rate for fuel used in heavy vehicles for travelling on public roads is reduced by the road user charge. The road user charge reduces fuel tax credits for gaseous fuels to nil.

To calculate fuel tax credits for fuel used when travelling on public roads, use the current fuel tax credit rates.

Fuel tax credit tools can also help you to work out your fuel tax credits.

Activities not considered travelling

Vehicles are often engaged in travel and movement or other activities in their operations.

Movement of a vehicle undertaking road construction, maintenance or repair, such as by a grader or bulldozer is not considered travelling.

The fuel tax credit rate for this activity is not reduced by the road user charge. Use the rate for ‘All other business uses’ in the fuel tax credits rates.

Fuel tax credit tools can also help you to work out your fuel tax credits.

The following fuel tax rulings provide additional information:

  • FTR 2008/1 Fuel tax: vehicle's travel on a public road that is incidental to the vehicle's main use and the road user charge – provides guidance on when a vehicle's travel is incidental to the vehicle's main use for determining whether the road user charge applies, it also provides guidance on public roads for the purposes of claiming fuel tax credits
  • FTD 2016/1 Fuel tax: fuel tax credits – fuel used for idling and cabin air-conditioning of a vehicle on a public road – provides guidance that outlines the fuel tax credit rate will be reduced by the road user charge for fuel used in a heavy vehicle for          
    • idling on a public road
    • powering the air conditioning unit of a main cabin when travelling on a public road.

Environmental criteria for heavy diesel vehicles

If your heavy diesel vehicle was manufactured before 1 January 1996, it must meet one of the following criteria to claim fuel tax credits:

  • be registered in an audited maintenance program accredited by the Transport Secretary
  • meet Rule 147A of the Australian Vehicle Standards Rules 1999 (the 'DT80' test)
  • comply with a maintenance schedule endorsed by the Transport Secretary.

If your heavy diesel vehicle was manufactured before 1 January 1996, but has been retrofitted with an engine manufactured on or after 1 January 1996, the engine must meet all the following criteria:

  • be certified to the Australian Design Rule (ADR) 70/00 (or later) emission standard (currently ADR 80/00 or ADR 80/01)
  • be properly installed
  • retain all the original (or equivalent) components.

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications and the Arts provides more information about the environmental criteriaExternal Link.

You must keep records to demonstrate that your heavy vehicle meets environmental criterion.

When the environmental criteria do not apply

The environmental criteria do not apply if your heavy diesel vehicle is:

  • manufactured on or after 1 January 1996
  • a farm vehicle used primarily on an agricultural property for primary production
  • not used on a public road, such as private roads or work sites.

More information is available in the ATO Interpretive Decision ATO ID 2019/1 Fuel tax: fuel tax credits – vehicles and satisfying environmental criteria.