Prime Mover Magazine

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Warren Clark

Rising tolls a challenge for road transport industry

October 2018

Heavy vehicle tolls have a significant impact on trucking operators.

There have been two recent inquiries about the operation of toll roads conducted by the NSW and Commonwealth governments and there is a third inquiry underway in Queensland.

There is also a current review by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) of the proposed acquisition of WestConnex by the Sydney Transport Partners Consortium (STP), including Transurban.

NatRoad has lodged submissions to all inquiries, raising concerns about:

• the lack of transparency and fairness in setting toll fees for heavy vehicles
• the lack of competition in private toll road operation
• heavy vehicle operators paying for road network improvements through increases in tolls without experiencing the promised efficiencies, and
• governments forcing heavy vehicles to use tolled roads by banning them from alternative routes.

NatRoad acknowledges that private sector investment in road infrastructure can help governments deliver infrastructure improvements more quickly than they otherwise could. Roads, however, are a connected network. What happens in one section of a road can have an impact on another.

Handing over a specific section of the road network to a private tolling operator means that governments are less able to optimise the efficiency of the network as a whole.

Tolling operators recognise this, which puts them in a strong position to negotiate controlling more and more of our road network.

Transurban has ownership of 13 out of 15 toll roads across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. There is a trend by Transurban to use the truck toll multiplier, which is now three times the light vehicle toll, to fund road upgrades.

For example, the Inner-City Bypass Upgrade in Brisbane was awarded to Transurban in exchange for an increase in the heavy vehicle multiplier on the Go Between Bridge, the Clem Jones Tunnel and Legacy Way.

In April 2017, Transurban increased the toll for heavy vehicles using CityLink in Melbourne by up to 125 per cent to fund the CityLink-Tullamarine widening project.

In comparison, tolls for light vehicles were increased by only five per cent.

The road transport industry consists almost entirely of small businesses that find it difficult to recover the costs associated with large toll increases.

Furthermore, our members report that trips on tolled roads are taking longer and longer due to congestion and roadworks.

This means that operators are not receiving the benefit they have paid for in terms of time-savings.

The heavy vehicle toll multiplier does not take into account the additional fuel excise and state registration charges that heavy vehicle operators already pay.

In fact, evidence to the Australian Senate inquiry suggested that there is little basis for determining toll levels of freight vehicles apart from maximising revenue.*  

Tolling charges should reflect the cost of building and maintaining the asset over its life and should not unreasonably discriminate against heavy vehicle operators.

However, locking in toll contracts over long periods makes it more difficult for governments to introduce broad, coherent road pricing reforms under which motorists and commercial vehicles are equitably charged to use all roads.

NatRoad submissions recommended introducing time-of-day concessions, differential tolling and multi-user discounts for heavy vehicles, as well as establishing an independent pricing regulator to ensure a pricing structure is applied that reflects the true cost of using trucks on the road network.

We don’t need any more inquiries on the operation of toll roads we need action.

* Thompson, Associate Professor Russell, Australian Senate, Operations of existing and proposed toll roads in Australia 3 August 2017 transcript, 10.

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