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Political Will Threatens Toll Reform For Western Sydney

Mar 13, 2024

There is no dispute that Western Sydney residents bear unequal toll burdens but for reform to occur the Minns government is going to have to stare down disgruntled motorists/voters, the powerful toll operators (namely Transurban) and possible threats of legal action. Heading towards a 2027 election that leaves a big question over whether the government has the political will to do so.

An independent review of motorway toll pricing in Sydney, led by Professor Allan Fels and Dr David Cousins has proposed significant reform. At the heart of their recommendations released this week is the creation of a state owned tolling authority – State TollCo – which would take control of the motorways and set prices. 

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) is supportive of the plan and many of the other recommendations in the report, including a recommendation to introduce two-way tolling on major routes like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The final report will be released in six months.

In welcoming the report, WSROC President, Councillor Barry Calvert, said that Western Sydney residents are disproportionately affected by tolling issues due to the region’s greater reliance on private vehicles and limited public transport options. “In effect, road tolls and the fuel excise constitute a regressive tax, which greatly and disproportionately burden working families in Western Sydney,” Cr. Calvert said.

WSROC has outlined several key demands in response to the review’s findings. These include advocating for a fairer tolling system with “Journey Caps” and “Daily Caps” to ease the financial strain on commuters and small business operators. WSROC also wants  greater transparency in toll pricing and the adoption of smart tolling technologies to tailor charges based on various factors such as income level and time of travel.

Councillor Calvert said the need for reform was urgent as Western Sydney residents effectively subsidise transport infrastructure upgrades for more affluent parts of the city. He urged for bipartisan collaboration at both the state and federal levels to ensure the implementation of a sustainable and equitable toll system.

Cr. Calvert also said fuel excise also needed to be addressed as contributions by owners of electric and hybrid vehicles was minimal.

“In the longer term the question that continues to be avoided by politicians of all colours is ‘how do we charge for the use of roads when the fuel excise is no longer sufficient to maintain our roads let alone expand our road network as our population grows?” he said.

“This is already happening as the users of hybrid and especially all-electric vehicles are not contributing to the maintenance of our roads through the fuel excise.”

 

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