Tak­ing a new toll on driv­ers

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Opinion - CLARISSA BYE

DRIV­ERS are be­ing warned they could face higher tolls if Transur­ban buys a ma­jor­ity stake in West Con­nex.

The Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion has de­clared “con­cerns” about Transur­ban tak­ing over more toll­ways. The na­tion’s largest toll road op­er­a­tor al­ready holds seven of nine NSW toll­ways, in­clud­ing the M1, M2, M5 and M7.

ACCC chair­man Rod Sims said the $16.8 bil­lion West Con­nex was a “very sig­nif­i­cant toll road as­set” and an op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce a ri­val op­er­a­tor.

He warned driv­ers could “lose the ben­e­fits” of com­petit- ion if Transur­ban ac­quired the West Con­nex toll con­ces­sion.

“An al­ter­na­tive owner of West Con­nex might lower tolls for cer­tain trips, or make changes to its roads or ser­vices to ease traf­fic con­ges­tion in at­tempts to at­tract more ve­hi­cles away from Transur­ban roads,” Mr Sims said. “We are con­cerned that the pro­posed ac­qui­si­tion may ce­ment Transur­ban’s ad­van­tages when com­pet­ing for fu­ture toll roads.”

He called for more sub­mis­sions from in­ter­ested par­ties. The ACCC is now as­sess­ing the bid by Syd­ney Trans­port Part­ners, the con­sor­tium led by Transur­ban, against the likely al­ter­na­tive sce­nario if it did not pro­ceed.

Transur­ban is the only op­er­a­tor in the past 30 years to have been granted a toll road con­ces­sion in Aus­tralia fol­low­ing an un­so­licited pro­posal to a state gov­ern­ment, the ACCC re­ported.

“If West Con­nex is ac­quired by an al­ter­na­tive bid­der, there would be two ma­jor toll road op­er­a­tors in Syd­ney,” Mr Sims said. “Those two play­ers would likely com­pete strongly for fu­ture toll road projects and vie for gov­ern­ment ap­proval for un­so­licited road pro­pos­als.”

Only three toll roads in Aus­tralia are not op­er­ated by Transur­ban, in­clud­ing the Har­bour Bridge and Har­bour tun­nel. The ACCC de­ci­sion is due on July 19.

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