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Renewed calls for toll relief for Sydney truckies at inquiry

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Peak trucking bodies sent a loud and clear message to the NSW parliamentary inquiry into tolling yesterday: give our truckies a break.

In his appearance before the inquiry, Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) chief executive Simon O’Hara stressed that it is time now for the NSW government to look at rego or toll relief for the hardworking truckies who “help save our community through Covid”.

“We have seen light vehicle users and ‘grey nomads’ receive tolling relief in one form or another, from the NSW Government around rego and other things. Why not for hardworking truckies?” O’Hara argued.

“RFNSW welcomed the review of pricing on the state’s toll-roads, including the potential for the introduction of distance-based tolling, hoping more would be done to provide financial relief to trucking operators with ever-increasing tolls and administration costs putting a stranglehold on road freight businesses, workers and their families.”

O’Hara echoed the RFNSW’s written submission outlining a number of solutions to the crippling toll regime for the trucking fraternity including a ‘per km’ distance-based tolling system, daily cap on tolls for transport operators and off-peak tolling discounts which could also deliver less congestion and improved road safety for the community.

“Different incentives would offer a range of savings and those savings in logistics and freight are much more than dollars and cents,” said O’Hara.

“This is not the first time we have raised these issues and we are open to dialogue on how we can make it work to happen.

“We want to focus on a remedy for our freight operators that is fair and equitable for the industry to ensure that together we can deliver constructive solutions for an essential sector that supplies so much of what we need day-to-day.”

Speaking on the eve of his appearance before the tolling inquiry, National Road Transport Association CEO Warren Clark said Transurban boss Scott Charlton needs to backtrack on a statement he made on September 20.

“Mr Charlton said the government sets the toll price and its annual rate of increases and they’re not his problems,” Clark said.

“Nothing stops Transurban giving rebates or multi-use discounts to truck operators to encourage them to use its roads.

“Mr Charlton’s company just paid $11.1 billion for the purchase of the State Government’s remaining stake in WestConnex and made an 80 per cent return on its shareholding last year.

“Most NatRoad members are owner-operators or small businesses working on a profit margin of 2.4 percent.

“By any stretch of the imagination, Transurban can afford to cut truck drivers a break.”

Clark said the heavy vehicle industry had been “knocked from pillar to post” by rising costs during the pandemic but had kept essential goods and services moving.

“If government and toll operators want to get trucks back onto tollways, they need to provide some relief,” he said.

“Variable toll rates for off-peak journeys or discounts for multiple journeys would be one very practical way of keeping trucks off suburban streets, improving environmental outcomes and making travel less congested and safer.”

NatRoad gave evidence that annual toll bills of up to $100,000 are not unknown in Sydney, and one of its member companies pays more in tolls for a round trip between the Western Suburbs and the Northern Beaches that it does in driver wages for the round trip.

“Trucks attract tolls that are generally three times greater than those for cars, and up to 11 times more than a motorist in registration charges,” Clark said.

“With the exception of the Harbour Bridge, every Sydney toll road is run by private companies, and all but two are operated by Transurban.

“We want incentives for heavy vehicles to use toll roads and for the state government to appoint an independent regulator to impose fair and consistent pricing rules to each toll road.

“Tolling companies should only be able to apply higher charges on tollways if they can show they are delivering improvements.”

In its submission, the Transport Workers Union revealed that Toll Group – the biggest freight company in Australia – has instructed its workforce to not use toll roads because “in most cases, the cost of the toll roads outweighs any benefit we receive from using them”.

The instruction from Toll Group to its workforce to avoid toll roads was communicated in a Toolbox Briefing document for their Woolworths site in Minchinbury, dated May 2021.

TWU NSW State Secretary Richard Olsen said that the move from such a major company was all the proof needed that Sydney’s toll roads have reached crisis point.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an owner-driver trying to run a small business, or a massive multinational company like Toll Group, Sydney’s toll roads are simply too expensive” Olsen said.

“Quarter after quarter of compounding increases in tolls are just making the burden on the transport industry more and more severe – and now drivers are increasingly being left with no choice but to boycott toll roads, which means more trucks on suburban streets.

“And of course, there’s the outrageous example of NorthConnex – where truck drivers have to pay a $25 toll each-way, or get a $194 fine if they don’t. It’s clear that coercion is the only way the NSW Government and Transurban can get people to use their overpriced toll roads.

“Something needs to change, and it needs to change now. The transport industry can’t go on like this.”

The inquiry received 230 written submissions in all and is holding a series of video hearings in support, with the final two scheduled for October 7 and November 1.

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