Pity professional drivers, as trucks will pay three times this amount.
What makes the toll slug more galling is that the Liberals have just reneged on additional parking for Campbelltown station as our population grows. At the other end of Macarthur the brand new station at Leppington barely has enough parking now. The Federal and State Liberals are not even sure if rail can make it as far as Badgerys Creek airport when it opens. It’s like they want us on the roads.
Then as a toll gantry appeared over the entire M5-East, this line appeared in a story by the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, “The toll on the M5 East from King Georges Road, Beverley Hills to General Holmes Drive will be $6.42”.
This is separate from the toll for the West Connect tunnel from Beverley Hill to St Peters ($6.43) and the M4/M5 connection from Haberfield to St Peters ($6.77).
This new toll will be introduced in 2020 and run for 40 years. The current toll of $4.71 on the M5 is supposed to expire in 2026. So, for six years commuters will pay two tolls to use the length of the M5. That’s more than $10 a day, simply for the privilege of going to work or visiting Sydney.
M5 toll to increate at least 4% every year
Here’s the real kicker, the new M5-East toll will increase by CPI or 4% per year, “which ever is greater” for 20 years before reverting to CPI. This is the largest percentage increase on any toll road. Over the past 20 years, yearly CPI has exceeded 4% just once, in 2008. That means the toll increase is likely to consistently outstrip CPI, making it an increasingly heavier burden over time for those in the southwest. By 2040 a one-way trip will cost us all close to $10.
What probably makes southwest road commuters most angry, is that commuters from St George and Sutherland Shire have been using this same stretch of road free-of-charge for years. The extra traffic these freeloaders bring to the M5 has been the main cause for the congestion that turns the M5 into a car park from River Road to the M5 East Tunnel. Now we have to pay again, only this time over 40 years.
The whole deal kicked off back in 2014. Documents leaked back then show the new toll would run until 2060 and was part of a deal to finance the project by letting the private partner add $1.7bn in tolls to sweeten the deal. They use the weasel word “concession” to describe the advantages they give to private partners.
The winner of all this largesse is Sydney Transport Partners, a consortium led by Transurban. The consortium just bought a 51% stake in West Connect for $9.26bn. Transurban already owns M5 West and owns or has major stakes in 7 out of 9 toll roads in Sydney, including the messes that were the Lane Cove and Cross Sydney tunnels. The Lane Cove tunnel did so badly that taxpayers had to foot the bill after only 40,000 cars a day used the tunnel despite forecasts of 100,000 cars a day.
Governments underwrite most public private partnerships (PPPs) like these and, therefore, taxpayers foot the bill if things go wrong. Clever accounting tricks with these public/private partnerships also keep the costs off the budget bottom line. I highly recommend you take some time to read Game of Mates, particularly the chapter about the transport sector to see how this works. West Connect is just the latest version of process.
Will the M5-West toll end?
Finally, it is worth asking whether the M5-West toll will permanently disappear in 2026, or if we will see it return? This it what happened on the M4 when the government of the day wanted to fund further road infrastructure and there are indications we could see a repeat on the M5.
Right now Transurban is trying to increase its share in M5 West, even though the toll there is supposed to end in 2026. Why try to own more of an asset when the concessions end in 2026?
What makes this intriguing is that Transurban is completely upfront that it depends on tolls to survive, as it states in its WestConnex Acquisition document (pdf – page 66, 1.1 Transurbans’ concession agreements have finite lives).
Let's make this an election issue
If you are looking for an election issue to make a noise about, this is one that impacts not just our region but every commuter from Riverwood to the fringes of Sydney. At the very least, we need another cashback deal on the new steadily increasing toll that we will be wearing for the next 40 years. But we should also demand better planning of public transport.
Macarthur residents also depend on being able to get to work, pay our mortgages and bills to survive. We also, perhaps foolishly, expect investment in decent transport public options that might take cars off the roads and get us home to spend more time with our families. So, here are two good questions we need to put to our candidates before the next State election.
- What are you going to do now about improving public transport services in Macarthur now?
- What can you do to reduce the future heavy toll burden that will be imposed, yet again, on the voters of the southwest?
Step up candidates. Let’s see what you really can do for the community or if you will just mouth the usual party lines.