1st EDITION: 31/8/2016 - @TheScandalAU - Contribute
FIRST EDITION: 31 August 2016 - @TheScandalAU - Contribute

A plan to toll all roads

Australian toll road operator exposé

Secret Deals, Influenced Government, Over $1 Billion in Penalties, Neighbourhoods Destroyed, Environmental Impact, Tens of Thousands Affected and a Plan to Toll All Roads.

Michael Fraser and Maddison Johnstone

Transurban's plan to toll all roads

Transurban Comic: Scott Charlton gets cheeky with Uber.

Related Content: Transurban - A Case for a Senate Inquiry - 31 August 2016

Transurban's CEO Scott Charlton has superimposed himself into a debate, that he is perhaps the impetus for, about the Government's need to move away from charging fuel excise, and instead toward a more 'fair' user-pay system.

How is it fair that an Uber driver doing 15 trips a day in an electric vehicle pays the same amount in registration as a pensioner who does 15 trips a year? And when it comes to their contribution to fuel excise the uber driver with an electric vehicle pays nothing at all.Scott Charlton

In June 2016, Mr Charlton spoke at The Australian Financial Review's National Infrastructure Summit where he took a cheeky swing at Uber drivers in an attempt to validate his argument to move to a user-pay model.

"Fuel excise is rapidly diminishing as we move to fuel efficient and electric cars," Mr Charlton said.

"How is it fair that an Uber driver doing 15 trips a day in an electric vehicle pays the same amount in registration as a pensioner who does 15 trips a year? And when it comes to their contribution to fuel excise the uber driver with an electric vehicle pays nothing at all."

Mr Charlton makes a fair point as he strongly advocates for changes in Government policy, especially when there is potential for Transurban to increase its revenue stream. However, when questioned about reducing toll fees, his go-go-government advocate button stops working.

"We are just administering what the state governments set up," Mr Charlton told the Sydney Morning Herald, demonstrating his apathy towards toll fee reductions.

With Transurban tolling less than 200 kilometres of the 800,000 plus kilometres of Australia's national road network, it raises the question as to why Mr Charlton is taking every opportunity to lobby for a user-pay system. Is he just a good Samaritan?

Perhaps the answer lies in Transurban's 2016 Investor Presentation under the heading 'Strategy' - "To be the partner of choice with governments providing effective and innovative urban road infrastructure utilising core capabilities".

Presumably, a user-pay model will require a 'partner of choice' to administer the billing for a user-pay model, and when it comes time for the government to make such decisions, as if by serendipity Mr Charlton will be there to graciously accept a contract awarded to Transurban.

If we are to move to a user-pay model, this will be no small step, and just like all toll road projects, the cost and inconvenience of rubber stamping rushed policy and government incompetence will be passed on to the public with immense human cost.

When reading Transurban's 9 March 2016 submission to the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, you will note that Transurban considers that they have more similarities with energy, telco, and water, than public goods, such as schools. Then, under the heading 'A sustainable funding solution', it talks about the "development of an appropriate operating model that sees government as the regulator and policy setter and the private sector as operator and owner, which is the structure of most of the utility industries."

Transurban are already conducting a road usage study, trialling various user pay models including "a distance-based per-kilometre charge, price per trip or charge to access the road network, and a flat-rate cost based on expected road usage."

They are using every opportunity to highlight the shortfall in road funding due to a number of factors, with a primary one being that hybrid and fully electric cars are not paying the fuel excise.

So it would be safe to say that the overall cost of driving will go up with a user-pay model to cover the significant shortfall in road funding.

It will be likely that Transurban will succeed in winning a contract in exchange for generous fees - that motorists will have to pay - to administer the billing for a user-pay model for not just their roads, but those of any other toll operator in Australia - that is if they haven't bought them all out.

A Transurban user study in Melbourne was covered by The Age in May 2016, and if the greater detail in the user-pay plans is anything to go by, motorists are likely to end up with plans similar to those of the first phone plans that came with a crippling bill-shock if you exceeded your cap.

Why should this concern you? Well firstly, if you received a surprise $900 Telstra bill (when it is normally $100) because you exceeded your cap by one hour while talking to Nana - and you didn't pay it - about the worst that could happen would be a suspension in services until paid.

In the case of Transurban, service suspension will be the least of your problems if you don't pay on time. Their partner, being the various State governments, will write legislation which ensures that it is an offence not to pay, and each offence will attract over-the-top penalties that range from a $170 Penalty Infringement Notice (PIN), through to vehicle seizures and possibly even imprisonment.

Transurban currently only operate 13 toll roads in Australia, which covers less than 200 kilometres of road. Apart from the thousands of customers complaining to our advocacy office, there is currently over $1 billion - that's B for Billion - in outstanding toll infringements owing in Australia. The large majority of those outstanding infringements were issued to motorists that traveled on Transurban toll roads.

With a long line of customers claiming they were penalised due to Transurban error, and a whistleblower indicating systemic problems, the thought of them tolling roads on a much larger scale is surely concerning.

If you were upset by having to supply your name in this year's Census, then you won't like this. Transurban propose that user-pay customers are tracked using a GPS tracker fitted to your vehicle. See slide 14 of their 2016 Investor Presentation.

In their trial the GPS trackers were located under the steering wheel. So how will this work in a real world environment? If they are tolling all roads it will be unlikely that they will install toll gantries everywhere. If this is the case, that means a motorist would be able to remove the device from their vehicle and drive around for free.

Transurban would have already considered this, so no doubt they will ask their State Government partners to write legislation making it compulsory to have a GPS tracker in your vehicle and an offence to remove the device.

That means Transurban will be tracking your every move, even when you are driving on a road that is not yet a user-pay road, or when your car is in the garage, and even when you sneak off late at night to purchase a yummy doughnut from an exploited 7-Eleven worker.

A Transurban whistleblower has alleged that Transurban have a secret deal with Salmat to issue toll notices in exchange for a generous fee that is passed on to the customer. Salmat are an Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) listed company and describe themselves as 'a marketing services business'. The Scandal contacted Salmat for comment. They did not respond.

When you enter a toll road you automatically agree to their Terms and Conditions. In those terms, you will find that by using their services, you agree for them to share your information with [unnamed] third parties, the State, the courts and law enforcement.

You can bet your bottom dollar that all your tracked movements will be shared with companies such as Salmat - most likely sold - and the State and law enforcement will know all your movements. Sure you might not be doing anything wrong, but I am sure you can think of better people to share your information with than a profit hungry toll company.

Do you know more? Contact us.

5 things you didn't know about Transurban

  • 1

    Illegal Political Donations

    In 2008 the Washington Post wrote that Transurban gave $172k to 90 campaigns in Virginia USA over 3 years. They admitted to making illegal donations and subsequently asked the politicians to return the money. Transurban currently operate 2 toll roads in Virginia.

  • 2

    26,000 Lawsuits Filed Against US Drivers in 2014

    Fox 5 writes that Transurban filed 26,000 lawsuits against drivers in 2014 alone. Transurban lost cases for exceeding the statute of limitations, and have been caught using "non-lawyers" to represent them. A judge ruled "non-lawyers" could not and cannot represent Transurban, however they still engage them to negotiate court settlements.

  • 3

    Tolling 'Ombudsman' Website Owned by Transurban

    The 'independent' Tolling Customer Ombudsman (TCO) website is owned by Transurban. Transurban is listed as the Domain Registrant, while the Registrant is Kirsten Llewellyn, formerly Transurban's senior legal counsel and currently their assistant company secretary.

  • 4

    Transurban CEO on Board of Roads Australia

    Scott Charlton sits on the Board of Roads Australia - the peak body of road transport stakeholders. Joining him are the heads of Government departments - John Merritt (VicRoads), Peter Duncan (Roads and Maritime Service), and Neil Scales (Department of Transport and Main Roads).

  • 5

    Transurban breaches concession deed

    CityLink overcharged customers by $1.3 million by raising the administration fee before receiving approval from the Victorian Government. Despite breaching the concession deed, the State agreed with CityLink that customers would not be refunded overcharged fees. Could it be state-approved robbery?

Top 8 toll complaints

  • 1.

    Outrageous Fees & Fines

  • 2.

    Escalated to State Infringement

  • 3.

    Faulty E-Tag

  • 4.

    Toll Notices Not Received

  • 5.

    Poor Customer Service & Long Waits

  • 6.

    Conflicting Stories From Toll Operator

  • 7.

    Phone/Online Payment: Wouldn't Process, or Didn't Show

  • 8.

    Toll Operator Promised Call Back. Never Called Back

Fun facts

Did you know?

  • 1.

    In almost all cases, State Gazetted toll road charges and fees are the maximum that Transurban can charge, but they are not required to charge the maximum. Our Transurban Whistleblower says "They always charge the maximum".

  • 2.

    According to slide 55 in Transurban's 2016 Investor Presentation, less than 2% of transactions escalate to the infringement process. With over 1.8 million transactions daily there could potentially be as many as 36,000 infringements issued per day.