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Fair tolls for Victorians

Introduction

The current toll system is imperfect. There are currently two separate companies that manage tolls in Victoria; Eastlink and Citylink. The differences between how these companies charge users are confusing for road users. Road tolls are designed to assist the companies recoup their losses and to cover maintenance costs. Whilst this is an effective cost-mechanism, there are faults within the system. The road toll system needs to be refined and clarified to ensure a fair road toll system that is clear to all road users.

 

Context

The companies that own and manage Eastlink and Citylink are ConnectEast and Transurban respectively. ConnectEast was bought by Horizon Roads and has a concession to manage Eastlink until 2043. Transurban’s concession for Citylink was recently extended to 2045 as a part of the West Gate Tunnel project. It is important that the rules surrounding the day-to-day management, including price setting, of these toll roads is considered in depth by the government.

Toll Point Melbourne

Current Toll Classification and Prices in Victoria

For the purposes of tolls, vehicles are currently classified in one of the four following categories:

  • Motorcycle
  • Car (including taxis) - Any vehicle that does not fall into any other category.
  • Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) - ‘Any two-axle rigid vehicle with a cab chassis construction, with a gross…mass’ between 1.5 to 4.5 tonnes.
  • Heavy Commercial Vehicle (HCV) - ‘articulated vehicles with cab chassis construct greater than 4.5 tonnes, or any rigid vehicle with three or more axles and a cab chassis construction that exceeds 1.5 tonnes, or an articulated truck, or a bus seating more than 12 people’.

Eastlink also has an additional class for Taxis and has a discount available for cars on weekends.

 

The cost for using tolls depends on how a user pays. If a person has an account but does not have an e-tag they will be charged a fee for the company to find the account linked to the number plate photographed. Users are also able to purchase a pass for casual use of the tolls. The following prices serve to depict how prices vary per vehicle class on Citylink and Eastlink. It is important to note that not all price variations and options are outlined in this brief.

 

              CityLink Toll Caps Per Class (Only for ETAG Holders)

  • $9.85 for Cars
  • $15.76 for LCV
  • $29.54 for HCV in the day
  • $19.70 for HCV in the evening from 8pm to 6am.
  • $4.92 for Motorcycles.

 

              Eastlink Toll Caps Per Class (Only for ETAG Holders)

  • $6.48 for Cars
  • $10.36 for LCV
  • $17.16 for HCV
  • $3.23 for Motorcycles
  • Taxis do not have a capped price but are instead charged $2.79 for a trip on any part of Eastlink.

 

              Eastlink Discounts for Cars

Eastlink encourages car drivers to use tolls on the weekends with a 20% discount on fees for cars. As a result, tolls are capped at $5.18 on weekends; including public holidays.

 

Fairness for Taxis’

In June this year, amendments were made to enable Taxis to charge car rates on Citylink. This meant that taxis are now charged the same as rideshare vehicles and cars. This reduced the stress of taxi drivers having to manually add tolls to meters and increased passenger awareness of the trip cost. This benefit both Taxi drivers and users as it creates a justifiable taxi cost. For example, Citylink outlines that the popular Flemington Road to airport trip will now cost $2.60 instead of $6.40. A good outcome for Taxis.

 

These changes revealed a new fault in the toll system for taxi users. From July 1, Taxi-specific passes were removed, and Taxi drivers can purchase the same passes as cars. Taxis are capped at 2 passes annually. Whereas Rideshare vehicles, like all other cars, are capped at 12 passes annually. This places country and rural taxi users at a disadvantage to their rideshare counterparts; as opening an account can end up more costly if not used at least once a month. It is only fair that the same standards are applied to both Taxis and RideShare Vehicles. Further, it is unclear why Taxis are limited to 2 passes annually.

 

Fair Vehicle Classifications

The current wording of vehicle classes defines a ute as LCV. As such families who own utes for personal reasons are charged nearly double the cost of a car on Citylink. A 2019 Ford Ranger (2.9 to 3.2tonnes) will set an owner back $15.76 a day whereas a Ford Everest (2.2 to 2.4 tonnes), Land Range Rover (3.1 to 3.3 tonnes) or Holden Trailblazer (5.7 tonnes) are looking at $9.85 a day. The concept that a light weight ute can cost a family more than large SUVs is unfair and frustrating for toll users.

 

In 2019 approximately 336, 523 passenger vehicles were sold in Victoria. Out of the one million cars sold in Australia, the number one selling vehicle was the Toyota Hilux (Ute) with 47,649 sold. In second was the Ford Ranger (Ute) with 40,960. If we consider that Victoria makes up for 28% of all new car sales, that is with utes selling more than 10,000 more than any other type of car, it can be expected that a large portion of utes are no longer being purchased for commercial purposes but rather for luxury and family adventures. In the 21st century it is important that we recognise that Utes are no longer solely commercial vehicles and charge tolls appropriately.

 

The current model is to charge a higher toll price for those vehicles that create a higher level of wear and tear on the roads and increase maintenance costs. The removal of the word cab chassis from LCV would make the classification solely based on weight. Therefore, it would be solely based on higher levels of wear and tear. As discussed below, NSW tolls do not use the words cab chassis and instead base their model solely on the height and weight of a vehicle.

 

NSW Tolls 

Currently NSW’s model provides the fairest tolling system for road users. Three types of toll pricing are used in NSW dependent on location and purpose of the tolls; distance based, time of day tolling and fixed tolling.

  • Time of day tolling is used on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Harbour Tunnel encourages road users to use tolls out of peak periods to reduce congestion.
  • Distance based tolls are typically used on long stretches of road to reflect the cost of maintaining the road travelled.
  • Fixed toll is used on the majority of tolls and is fixed regardless of distance or time.

 

Example of Toll Prices

Sydney Harbour Bridge/Tunnel

Weekdays:

-          $4.00 (peak periods)

-          $3.00 (9:30 – 4pm)

-          $2.50 (7pm – 6:30am)

Weekends:

-          $3.00 (8am – 8pm)

-          $2.50 (8pm – 8am)

M5 South-West Motorway

Class A - $4.85

Class B - $14.56

Westlink M7 Motorway

Class A – Capped at $8.36

Class B – Capped at $25.08

 

Whilst this mismatch of pricing systems can be confusing at times, it creates a fair and equitable system for all privately-owned vehicles and small businesses by classing them together. This prevents misclassification issues that can occur in other jurisdictions and assists small businesses by reducing their overall costs. As a result, only large commercial companies are required to pay substantial toll prices.

 

Vehicle Classifications

Vehicles in NSW are classed as either a Class A or Class B except on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Tunnel where all vehicles are charged the same toll.

  • Class A – 12.5 metres or less in length and 2.8 metres or less in height (Eastern and M5 require 3-axle vehicles to be under 2.0 metres).
  • Class B – Exceeds dimensions of Class A.

By not including cab chassis, Class A vehicles include all passenger vehicles, taxis and all cab chassis vehicles that are less than 2.8 meters in height. Thus, creating a classification model based solely on height, length and weight.

 

Solutions for Victorian Toll Users

To create a fair and equitable system for all toll users that the class system of Victorian tolls be modified. In doing so it is important that the Eastlink, Citylink and upcoming North East Link all have the same classifications to ensure equality across the road toll system. Potential amendments to be made include:

  • Removal of the words cab chassis from the definition of Light Commercial Vehicles to include all heavy vehicles; or
  • Increase the weight of Light Commercial Vehicles to exclude lightweight utes; or
  • Apply NSW’s toll road vehicle classifications to Victoria;
  • Amend road toll policies regarding Taxis to class them as cars across all toll roads to provide them the same benefits as rideshare vehicles.

Such amendments can potentially be made by varying the terms of the Concession Deeds and/or by amending the Melbourne City Link Act 1995, West Gate Tunnel (Truck Bans and Traffic Management) Act 2019 and Eastlink Project Act 2004.

 

Wear and Tear

The current toll model seeks to cover the maintenance cost caused by the wear and tear of varying vehicle types and weights. Since 2017, large SUV’s have made up 45% of all new car sales in Australia. To put this in perspective a Range Rover Vogue has a starting price of $201,395 and weighs 3.29 tonnes. Under the current vehicle classification system, a Range Rover Vogue can expect to be charged $10.40 for a day pass to travel from the Tullamarine Freeway to Toorak road. On the other hand, the number one selling car in 2019, the Toyota Hilux, with a starting price of $24, 999 and starting weight of 2.7 tonnes, can be expected to be charged $16.31 for the same day pass. This is because the Toyota Hilux has a cab chassis which means it is classified as an LCV. This is despite the fact that a SUV typically weighs more and costs more than your everyday ute. On this basis, it can be assumed that a Range Rover would cause higher wear and tear on a road and increase maintenance costs more than a Toyota Hilux. So, the question is, why are utes charged more if the toll road model is based on the wear and tear caused by vehicles?

 

Summary/Conclusion 

Tolls should be fair for all road users. The current toll system includes the words cab chassis in its classification of light commercial vehicles. This places many Victorian families and small businesses at a disadvantage as they are required to pay double the cost of passenger vehicles and/or avoid tolls and encounter a longer journey on suburban roads. The effect of this is higher wear and tear cost on state and council owned roads. Proper consideration of the current road toll system needs to be undertaken to determine a fair and equitable model for all road users.

 

The current road toll model needs to be amended. The everyday family man and small business owner should not be faced with the burden of extra costs because they choose a cab chassis over an enclosed boot. The fact that these individuals are charged more than someone who can afford a Range Rover is simply not logical, just or fair. To create a true equitable tolling system, amendments must be made. We ask Minister Ben Carroll to reconsider the current tolling system, and to make appropriate amendments to toll vehicle classifications and pricing to create an equitable system across all toll roads.

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