The case for fair, transparent and sustainable road tolls

CityLink has a length of 22 kilometres and comprises two parts: the Western Link, which connects the Tullamarine Freeway to the West Gate Freeway; and the Southern Link, which connects the West Gate Freeway to the Monash Freeway.

The deal was struck between Transurban and the Victorian Government to help pay for the CityLink-Tullamarine widening project which is not due for completion until 2018. According to Transurban, “these changes bring CityLink tolls in line with national tolling. They also reflect the increased maintenance requirements from carrying high volumes of heavy vehicles.”
Transurban has ownership of 13 out of 15 toll roads across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. 

NatRoad shares the concerns of the Victorian Transport Association that there has been no transparency and little justification surrounding the cost recovery required for the CityLink-Tullamarine widening project. Although car users are likely to benefit more from this widening project than heavy vehicle operators, the toll for private motor vehicles is only increasing by a moderate five per cent.

NatRoad members using CityLink have indicated that such a significant increase in tolls will be impossible to absorb and will need to be passed on to customers, with some members estimating an additional direct operating cost of $450,000 per year due to the new toll charges. Despite this massive cost increase to business, CityLink users will not experience the full efficiency benefits promised by the Victorian Government until the project is completed in 2018. Yet they are expected to pay for it now.

NatRoad maintains that tolling charges should be fair, transparent and sustainable. They should not unreasonably discriminate against heavy vehicle operators. NatRoad calls for greater transparency in:
• how tolling contracts are negotiated and varied;
• how tolls are set for all types of vehicles; and,
• the process for determining the length of tolling concessions and the rationale for extending these concession periods.

Toll roads should be designed to reduce congestion and improve safety, but these outcomes cannot be fully realised if the costs of using the road outweigh the benefits. There should be a clear line of sight between tolling charges and the value that road investment provides to users. Increasing tolls more than CPI should be clearly justified. 

NatRoad acknowledges that private sector investment in road infrastructure can help improve the road network. But this should be done within a properly regulated and transparent system that protects the public interest against any pricing abuses, under-maintenance of assets or unfair profits at public expense.

Consumer engagement is essential to make any revised pricing work. Toll increases will be resisted if road users do not understand why they are needed and how they are determined. NatRoad urges governments to consult with the heavy vehicle road transport industry before making changes to tolling regimes and to provide opportunities for greater public scrutiny and accountability of the negotiations that take place between governments and private tolling companies.

Given that the use of tolls is likely to increase into the future, NatRoad maintains that the impact of tolls on the freight task and any channelling of associated revenue to fund road infrastructure development and maintenance should be considered in determining heavy vehicle charges. NatRoad reminds governments of the need to apply key principles endorsed by both the Transport and Infrastructure Council and the Council of Australian Governments that include transparency and cost-effective pricing instruments.

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