Impact of tolls


The rise of toll roads may result in more riding the bus if they deliver little savings

Impact of tolls
University of Sydney Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies director Professor David Hensher says the findings of its study into how much commuters are willing to pay in road tolls will shed new light on the subject

The financial breaking point for Sydney toll road users will be put under the microscope during a University of Sydney study.

Sydney now has more metropolitan toll roads than any other city in the world, and most large cities outside of Australia have toll roads on streamlined inter-city routes for the most part.

University of Sydney Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies director Professor David Hensher says the findings of its study into how much commuters are willing to pay in road tolls may shed new light on the relative costs and benefits of building more.

He says the effect of more toll roads would be that people increasingly look to public transport as the most sensible and cost-effective solution, if the investment in toll roads comes at the expense of less non-tolled roads.

"I have been thinking about this for a long time," he says.

"We are highly involved in toll road projects all around Australia and I often wonder if there will ever come a point where people reach their upper-limit when their commute to work is costing them too much."

"Certainly in cases where people are using more than one toll road they can end up paying quite a lot per day and of course, this adds up over a whole year."

Hensher cites examples where, for someone living at the fringes of the metropolitan area to get into work costing more than $4,000 a year.

The one thing that remains constant is that people are only willing to pay if they are actually getting a decent time saving on their journey.

"This is a neglected topic," Hensher says.

"No one has studied the toll ‘saturation point’.

"There will come a point in Sydney where people say enough is enough."

Hensher says he is not really surprised no one has studied the impact of toll saturation on people’s willingness to pay for toll roads before, because few cities around the world [other than in Australia] actually have a lot of toll roads.

"They are building a lot of urban toll roads in some Australian cities, but these are rare cases [internationally]."

 

It does not necessarily follow that those with a higher income will have a higher willingness to pay, he says.

"Income does have an important role to play here," Hensher says.

"But someone with very low income might still value their time enough to be willing to pay, so long as they are actually saving time by using the tolls."

It is possible, he says, for a city to get to the point where it’s actually quicker to use free roads that the tolls and therein lies the danger.

"As toll roads become more connected, they can actually become less effective if there is an unacceptable cost imposed," Hensher says.

With the development of the nine-kilometre NorthConnex and 33-kilometre WestConnex projects in Sydney, toll operators must deliver a service that is equal to what commuters are willing to pay.

Hensher expects to survey at least 1,000 respondents online and the results should be announced in July.

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