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NSW toll review reveals the damage of toll road privatisation

The NSW interim toll report suggests there’s plenty of reform to be done to fix the state’s current toll problems

The NSW government has officially released the latest independent toll review interim report handed down by Professor Allan Fels, saying it “lays bare the damage wrought by toll road privatisation”.

The report reveals a major task ahead of reform to help ease the burden on motorists, with Fels and Dr David Cousins asked to independently assess the efficiency, fairness, simplicity and transparency of tolls.

The interim report reveals Sydney’s toll road network is a “poorly-functioning patchwork of numerous different price structures” that the NSW government says will cost motorists $195 billion in nominal terms in tolls over the next three and a half decades.

The report also says the toll issue will hit western Sydney the hardest if no significant reforms are made, suggesting that privatisation has left Sydney with a patchwork of toll concessions that make the state’s toll road network “neither simple nor fair”.

“The price of tolls in NSW are simply too high, which discourages the efficient use of toll roads, while the toll prices are locked in for decades with a system that was designed with financial returns back to toll road operators in mind rather than managing traffic in the most efficient way,” the NSW government says.

“Reforming Sydney’s vast road toll network is a complex task, spanning 13 different toll roads and 10 individual contracts, with two more toll roads under construction.”

The suggestions made in the report include a unified, network-wide price structure that’s changed on a declining distance-based method, creating a state-owned special purpose entity to set toll prices and improve competition and legislative changes to allow toll prices to be set independently of individual contracts.

The pair also call for ways to further encourage efficient freight use of toll roads, including reducing charges for a new class of light heavy vehicle ‘tradie trucks’, motorcycles and towed recreational vehicles.

The NSW government says the finding and recommendations of the toll review will help it consider different options to reform the network over time.

“We were elected with a mandate to undertake work on toll reform, to make tolls simpler and fairer,” NSW premier Chris Minns says.

“It is important to note that this independent report is not government policy, but it does offer ideas which will inform our roadmap to a clearer, more equitable tolling system.

“It will take some time, but this interim report outlines some bold options for government to consider.

“I want to be clear in saying we will not be ending the M5 South-West Cashback Scheme.”

NSW roads minister John Graham says the report recognises how difficult toll reform will be, but also how necessary it is.

“Allan Fels and David Cousins have placed in front of the NSW government some serious options on toll reform. We will take our time to consider these options and come back with a detailed government response,” Graham says.

“This government is willing to have the hard conversations and take on the status quo to deliver a fairer, simpler system that puts the motorist back at the centre rather than financial interests of toll road investors.”

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