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Councils and associations respond to NSW toll review report

Both NatRoad and the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils have responded to the recently released NSW toll network report

Various peak bodies and associations have responded to the recently released New South Wales toll network review interim report.

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), representing councils in Greater Western Sydney, has welcomed the findings of the independent review of motorway toll pricing across Sydney.

The report, led by professor Allan Fels and Dr David Cousins, examines the basis for motorway tolls in Sydney and the current issues impacting the network.

The review concluded that toll reform is preferable to toll relief schemes, but that reform will take concentrated effort.

Other recommendations include using legislation to allow government to take back control of tolls, giving the independent pricing regulator significant oversight in setting toll prices, charging motorists less the longer they drive on toll roads and a two-way tolling scheme on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Distributor.

“WSROC has been advocating for a review of road tolls over many years, urging the government to make toll roads simpler and fairer,” WSROC president Barry Calvert says.

“The people of Western Sydney are more greatly impacted by tolling issues than other parts of Sydney, due to their greater dependence on private vehicles resulting from Western Sydney’s lack of equivalent public transport coverage and capacity.

“Also, on average, Western Sydney residents travel further to access jobs, services and recreation. As a result, tolls represent the second largest cost for most households in Western Sydney.

“In effect, road tolls and the fuel excise constitute a regressive tax, which greatly and disproportionately burden working families in Western Sydney, already contending with soaring energy costs, rents, and food price inflation.”

In its response, the WSROC is calling for a fairer tolling system, clarity and transparency, smart tolls and more road revenue invested in Western Sydney’s public transport network to alleviate toll problems.

“As has been consistently identified by previous NSW government tolling inquiries, the methods for setting road tolls lack transparency and are highly project-based, resulting in variable outcomes that do not reflect user benefits, nor transport charges across the rest of the network,” Calvert says.

“Any review of the tolls on Sydney’s roads network must consider that Western Sydney residents are presently effectively subsidising transport infrastructure upgrades for more affluent parts of the city, both in terms of the taxes they pay and for the lack of transport services our resident can access.

“In the longer term the question that continues to be avoided by politicians of all colours is ‘how do we charge for the use of roads when the fuel excise is no longer sufficient to maintain our roads let alone expand our road network as our population grows?’.

“This is already happening as the users of hybrid and especially all-electric vehicles are not contributing to the maintenance of our roads through the fuel excise.”

Calvert says WSROC recommends a bi-partisan political approach be adopted to ensure the best outcomes for communities, whether it be public transport users or motorists.

“We would also urge that any proposed ‘best practice’ road usage charging model be trialled or piloted with community participation before it is finally adopted,” Calvert says.

“True road tolling reform must, by its very nature, require a bipartisan approach across the federal and state governments.

“It will not be properly done otherwise because of the fundamental changes required across the policy platform of both levels of government.”

Calvert says the latest report serves as an opportunity to begin the path of reform to ensure a fairer toll system, including zero or low-emissions vehicles.

“While our 160-kilometre toll road network urgently needs reform, there is also the question of fairer arrangements for how motorists that drive hybrid and electric vehicles access and pay for non-tolled roads,” Calvert says.

“Unlike other motorists that pay via fuel excise, EV owners pay almost nothing for using the non-tolled part of our road network that comprises over 178,000 kilometres of state roads — and this represents over 99 per cent of the NSW road network!”

The National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) has also responded to the report, with CEO Warren Clark saying the positive start is something he hopes to work on with Fels.

“The review has found road users will pay $123 billion in tolls up to 2060 in today’s dollars, which is well over and above the cost of the infrastructure,” Clark says.

“The interim report lays out multiple problems with how tolls have been set and makes a key recommendation for IPART to provide pricing oversight. NatRoad has long argued for independent oversight of toll prices.”

Economic modelling in the interim report finds heavy vehicles would generally pay lower tolls overall, although some trips would cost more because of the proposed changes.

“We are certainly interested in speaking to professor Fels about the proposed new Mid Class heavy vehicle category,” Clark says.

“We are not opposed to network pricing in principle, however there is a lot of detail in the interim report to work through.”
Clark says NatRoad is pleased the review acknowledges the need to incentivise heavy vehicles to use tollways which was a key part of its submission.

“It recommends a trial, so it’s a start,” he says.

“Flexible pricing for trucks is a no brainer if you want to incentivise them onto toll roads and off suburban streets.”

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