Appoint A Toll Tsar And Cut Out Backroom Deals

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The National Road Transport Association has called on the New South Wales 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 appearance at the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Road Tolling Regimes today. The hearings were postponed from July by COVID and are proceeding by videoconference.

“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,” said CEO Warren Clark.

“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 percent.

“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.”

Mr Clark said 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,” Mr 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.”

Mr Clark said the heavy vehicle industry had been “knocked from pilar 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,” he 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.”