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How driving takes its tolls

The greenslip.com.au team wonders how many motorists in Sydney know just how much they spend on road tolls.

When you drive through a toll gate and there’s a gentle ping as it takes your money, do you know what you just paid? In the days of cash, there were no doubts and you lost the money straightaway. With e-tolling, there is no immediate pain and who actually reads those detailed quarterly toll statements that appear much later?

Car or train

This table shows you the difference between buying a single train fare and driving the car on each of four trips.

 Liverpool to City Glendenning to City Penrith to Airport via M5 Wahroonga to Airport
Single peak train fare  $4.82  $6.46  $20.26  $18.62
 Road tolls there  $16.99  $19.62  $12.35  $9.25
 Road tolls back  $4.57  $15.62  $12.35  $13.60
 Total road tolls per day  $21.56  $35.24  $24.70  $22.85
 Annual tolls  $5,627  $9,162  NA  NA

This table uses the publicly available Sydney Motorway Toll Calculator. You need to know the names of your entry and exit points and, if not, locate them on a map. Some entry points on motorways do not operate as exit points.

In some cases, you can vary the price by entering at a different point. While the M5 uses a flat rate, the M7 charges according to distance travelled. This kind of distance tolling is going to become the norm, according to Transurban and government sources.

This table shows the road tolls payable for the above trips. These toll charges go up each year, for no reason other than the increases are built in.

Tolls for the

above trips

 M5  $4.57
 Eastern Distributor  $6.95
 Cross City Tunnel  $5.47
 M7  $7.33-$7.95
 M2  $3.44-$6.89
 Lane Cove Tunnel  $3.21
 Harbour Bridge  $4.00

Australians together paid Transurban, an Australian corporation, $1 billion in tolls in the 6 months to 31 December 2016. (It paid no tax in full year 2016.)

Transurban has what Morgan Stanley calls a “meta monopoly” on private roads in Australia, controlling 13 of the 15 toll roads in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Where are limits?

Studies are often done to see how motorists feel about paying tolls, and to discover where their limits are.

The industry estimate is motorists put a value of $22 an hour on saving travel time. This means we are willing to pay up to $5.50 in road tolls to save 15 minutes driving time. However, this estimate fails to consider what happens when we pay multiple tolls.

In our examples above, there are multiple tolls for each journey. According to Professor Hensher’s study, many Sydney commuters are already nearing their “toll budget threshold”.

Transport for NSW employed an agency to find out how much customers are willing to pay for the $16.8 billion WestConnex, which will also use distance-based tolling. Meanwhile, a new toll will operate on the M4 from mid-2017, costing from $1.63 to $4.21 per trip.

There may come a time when only the well-heeled can afford to drive anywhere in Sydney.

It is certainly true that driving is taking its tolls.

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