Toll rejects toll roads disclosed during parliamentary inquiry

Multinational transport and logistics provider Toll Group is the latest road freight operator to boycott Sydney’s growing network of toll roads.

Exorbitant costs have been blamed for the embargo by trucking companies that now includes the country’s biggest freight operator.

A parliamentary inquiry today heard that Toll Group had instructed its workforce to avoid toll roads reported the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

According to the TWU the Toll Group had communicated the directive in a Toolbox Briefing document for their Woolworths site in Minchinbury, in May earlier this year.

In the document Toll Group said “in most cases, the cost of the toll roads outweighs any benefit we receive from using them”.

The TWU had accused the NSW Government and its infrastructure partner Transurban of compounding increases in tolls with NorthConnex requiring heavy vehicle operators incur a $25 toll each-way or risk a $194 fine for failing to do so.

“It’s clear that coercion is the only way the NSW Government and Transurban can get people to use their overpriced toll roads,” said TWU NSW State Secretary Richard Olsen.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an owner-driver trying to run a small business, or a massive multinational company like Toll Group, Sydney’s toll roads are simply too expensive” he said.

A move from such a major company like Toll Group was all the proof needed that Sydney’s toll roads have reached crisis point according to Olsen who suggested the burden placed on the transport industry left drivers with no choice but to boycott toll roads.

That had resulted in more trucks on suburban streets.

Nationals representative Wes Fang questioned the authenticity of the leaked document.

As far back as 2018, ACCC Chair Rod Sims, whose organisation in its capacity to regulate fair trading had failed to limit the toll road cartel, had admitted Transurban were “fairly close” to a monopoly position over toll roads in NSW.

Since then the NSW Liberal-National Government had presided over an explosion in the number of privately owned toll roads in Sydney, with Transurban partially or fully owning every toll road in Sydney except the Sydney Harbour Bridge/Tunnel.

Over the next 40 years, the private companies owning Sydney’s toll roads are set to generate revenue that exceeds the build cost of the roads by more than six times in some cases according to the TWU.

Transurban paid $11.1 billion for the purchase of NSW State Government’s remaining stake in WestConnex.

That brought its national portfolio of toll roads to 22.

During an opening address to NSW parliamentary inquiry into Tolling Regimes NatRoad CEO Warren said the average net profit margin of most of the organisation’s members during the same time had fallen to about 2.5 per cent, putting extreme pressure on people trying to feed their families and modernise their equipment.

He noted the current “ridiculous” situation in which some operators paid more in tolls for a four-hour round trip from Sydney’s Western Suburbs to the Northern Beaches than in driver wages.

“On WestConnex, for example, they increase by 4 per cent or the CPI – whichever is higher – We believe this increase has no relation to the actual cost of road repair and upkeep as the details are confidential. At most the increase should be CPI,” said Clark.

“The fact is that truck operators already pay more than car drivers for road maintenance through registration charges and fuel tax. These toll increases come around like clockwork, without the operators showing any evidence that promised efficiencies and improvements have been delivered,” he said.

Most truck operators were prevented from passing toll costs on to large customers due to contractual conditions that hold them responsible for these charges and even for unavoidable delays.

Clark referred to a news report that confirmed Transurban had made an 80 per cent return on its investment on WestConnex in the last year.

“This would tell me that Transurban can afford to give its truck industry customers a brea,” he said.

NatRoad was advocating for a solution to the current inequitable regime that involved the introduction of a variable toll rate that incentivises off-peak journeys, or gives discounts for multiple journeys; and the creation of an independent regulator to oversee and manage fair and transparent toll pricing.

“Variable truck toll rates for off-peak journeys, or discounts for multiple journeys are a very practical way of keeping trucks off suburban streets, improving environmental outcomes and making travel less congested and safer,” said Clark.

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