Inquiry into road toll pricing is long overdue

Tolls.

The mere mention of the word is enough to send many motorists 10 kilometres in the other direction.

But unfortunately for a lot of commuters who drive to business hubs in Sydney’s west and beyond during peak hour, they are unavoidable.

That is, if you have any intention on arriving at your destination within 60 minutes without waking at the crack of dawn.

Fair enough, the government has invested millions of dollars to build these motorways; someone needs to pay for their maintenance and road tolls are a tried and tested way of doing so. For Sydneysiders it’s just part of life.

It’s undeniable, though, that people are fed up with paying an ever-rising price for the privilege of using roads that are often more congested than toll-free alternatives. Especially in the west, where residents travel greater distances and spend more time away from their families than their eastern counterparts.

The fact they can only dream of the employment, education and transport options available to those on the other side of Parramatta only adds fuel to the fire.

Now the only untolled freeway available to them, the M4, is about to have a price slapped back on it for the next 43 years by the state government as part of WestConnex.

That’s why the parliamentary inquiry into tolls in Sydney is so important. Questions have long been asked about the pricing, longevity and transparency of toll roads, which are almost exclusively owned by private companies in Sydney.

Last week the mayors of Penrith and Blacktown appeared before the inquiry to speak on behalf of their long-suffering constituents. Chief among their priorities was the introduction of an area-based cap for motorists, and an independent price regulator to address the inexplicable gap in prices for using different roads, say the M2 and M7 for example. 

It’s time the people knew exactly why they pay what they do, where it goes and how much bang motorists get for their hard-earned bucks. For too long, governments and toll companies have operated in a shroud of secrecy.

If the west is going to face more than 40 years of tolls, with prices set to keep rising, the government owes it to the people to get the system right. 

  • Heath Parkes-Hupton is a reporter for Fairfax Media in north-west Sydney.