Sydney transport operator Rob Woolley just wants a fair go.
He said he welcomes the concept behind the 9km NorthConnex tunnel, which opens tomorrow, as the missing link between the M1 Pacific Motorway at Wahroonga to the Hills M2 Motorway at West Pennant Hills, improving travel times for truckies and easing congestion along Pennant Hills Road.
But as he told a TWU-hosted media conference in Sydney today, there needs to be more flexibility from Transurban and TfNSW for short-haul operators using the tunnel on a regular basis.
At nearly $24 for a one-way toll, Woolley estimates he’ll be out of pocket by as much as $50,000 a year after running just two bulk tankers from the Central Coast into metropolitan Sydney each night.
“It’s easy to say pass it on but that won’t happen in a lot of cases,” said Woolley. “Even pre-Covid, and pre-recession it was economically difficult so we’re calling on some relief and some flexibility.
“Hopefully we can get some change or amendments to the regulation in that we have a cap on the tolls, say multi-trip concessions, and perhaps a curfew to make it optional for after-hours.
“To have a situation in which we’re forced to use the tunnel and have Pennant Hills Road taken away from us in unfair and is un-Australian.”
Woolley said the state government also seemed to have disregarded the impacts the compulsory tunnel use will have on fatigue management and driver safety.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be able to go from Newcastle to Melbourne without any traffic lights, but what the transport minister has forgotten to also tell us is that we can go from Wyong to Pheasant’s Nest, which is near Mittagong, without having direct access to any food or fuel. We expect better and this situation is unacceptable.”
Owner-driver Phil Mineo, one of a small army of operators who helped build the $3bn NorthConnex, also called for toll relief at the conference.
“I am really frustrated with the state government and the position they’ve put us in with these toll costs and running costs. We just can’t sustain the costs anymore. We’ve lost three owner-drivers in the last four months,” he said.
“The way the industry is going all the owner-drivers will be out of action in the next 12 to 18 months.
“I don’t know where the state government gets the idea of pushing us into tunnels if we can’t even afford to run these tunnels. If they do, and we’re not allowed to use a road tax that we pay on Pennant Hills Road, then take it off our rego.”
Richard Olsen, NSW State Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union said, “TWU members and operators in the transport industry are telling me how the exorbitant cost of toll roads are impacting their businesses.”
“Owner Drivers have told the TWU that the NorthConnex means that many will now pay tolls where they never have had to before,” Mr Olsen said.
One heavy vehicle owner-driver who parks his truck just north of the NorthConnex told the TWU: “Last week I didn’t have to pay tolls to get to work. Now I need to pay $250 per week out of my pocket just to get to and from work. After the costs of doing business I earn about $1000 per week, next week I’ll only earn $750. That’s a 25% pay cut overnight.”