NatRoad in Transurban swipe over tolls hike


Industry body calls for independent oversight nationally of road tolling

NatRoad in Transurban swipe over tolls hike
NatRoad wants independent tolling oversight brought in Australia-wide

 

Transurban has increased tolls on its major routes "with a distinct lack of transparency", according to the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad).

A statement headlined "Quarterly toll price update for October 2021" has been posted on the company’s website, it pointed out.

The announcement covered the Cross City Tunnel, Eastern Distributor, Hills M2, Lane Cove Tunnel and Military Road E-Ramp in Sydney and CityLink in Melbourne.

"The so-called ‘adjustment’ reflects agreements permitting Transurban to raise tolls by four percent per year or the CPI, whatever is greatest," NatRoad CEO Warren Clark said.

"The announcement contains only the barest of details - things like last quarter’s prices are omitted.

"A one percent rise in a quarter might not sound much but when truck owners already pay three times as much in tolls as motorists, it is a significant whack."

Clark repeated his call for motorway operators to give heavy vehicles multi-use or off-peak discounts or rebates to make toll road use more affordable.

"The average truck owner isn’t a big fleet operator – he or she is self-employed with one vehicle or a small business running on a profit margin of 2.5 per cent," he said.

"By way of contrast, Transurban made an 80 per cent return before tax on its Sydney assets.

"Transurban’s Sydney toll roads are twice as profitable as its similar operations in the USA and contributed more than half of company earnings.

"Truck operators want to use toll roads but they simply can’t afford to. That’s a loss for them, the community and the environment.

"It’s time all toll road operators cut our industry a break."


Read how Toll views the use of toll roads, here


This latest intervention comes swiftly after the organisation called for independent oversight of toll roads nationally.

NatRoad called on the NSW government to appoint a ‘Toll Road Tsar’ with sweeping powers to set prices and scrutinise backroom toll operator deals and wants similar bodies in other states.

NatRoad made the call its recent appearance at the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Road Tolling Regimes.

"NatRoad is calling out the lack of transparency and fairness in NSW in setting toll fees for heavy vehicles – it really is gold-standard highway robbery," Clark said.

"Annual toll bills of up to $100,000 are not unknown in Sydney and that’s an unacceptable burden for drivers who are mostly small businesspeople and working on an average profit margin of 2.5 per cent.

"One of our members now shells out more in tolls for a four-hour round trip from the Western Suburbs to the Northern Beaches than he pays a driver in wages.

"Trucks attract tolls that are generally three times greater than those for cars, and up to 11 times more than a motorist in registration charges. Then they get slammed at the toll gates."

Clark noted that with the exception of the Harbour Bridge, every Sydney toll road is run by private companies, and all but two are operated by one company, Transurban, which also dominates Brisbane and Melbourne.

"Tolls rise annually using a formula that bears no relation to the actual cost of road upkeep," Clark said.

"Under the proposal we put to the Inquiry, an independent regulator would agree consistent pricing rules with the NSW government and apply them to each toll road.

"Tolling companies would only be able to apply higher charges for better quality tollways if they can show they are delivering improvements.

"The regulator’s decisions would not be subject to ministerial approval or parliamentary disallowance.

"A similar authority could be set up in other states to ensure fairness."

The heavy vehicle industry had been "knocked from pillar to post" by rising costs during the pandemic but had kept essential goods and services moving.

"If government and toll operators want to get trucks back onto tollways, they need to provide some relief," Clark said.

"Variable toll rates for off-peak journeys or discounts for multiple journeys would be one very practical way of keeping trucks off suburban streets, improving environmental outcomes and making travel less congested and safer."

 

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