WEST GATE TUNNEL (TRUCK BANS AND TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT) BILL 2019
Mr BARTON: I move:
38. Clause 24, after line 30 insert—
“(4) Despite subsection (1), the following persons are not liable to pay a toll and the relevant toll administration fee—
(a) a person who is the driver of a vehicle that is registered as a taxi for the purpose of tolling under section 33;
(b) a person who is the driver of a vehicle that is registered as a VH vehicle for the purpose of tolling under section 33;
(c) a person who is the driver of a vehicle that is registered as a bus for the purpose of tolling under section 33.”.
This amendment is about getting commercial passenger vehicles out of residential streets. The West Gate Tunnel project is the best option to get people from the west and through the city—after our east–west link fell apart. People travelling from the west into Melbourne are desperate for a solution. We have put in place a funding structure that places a mortgage on Melbourne. Figures released this week show the huge cost to road users of this tunnel. It is a travesty. But when you get lemons, you make lemonade.
We have an opportunity here today to amend our tolling and make some impact on congestion and on the number of vehicles using all our roads. Vehicles that make up our public transport system should not be tolled. We must exclude taxis, VH-registered cars and buses from the tolls on the West Gate Tunnel. Minister Pulford today clarified that VH plates will again be issued by VicRoads, and we await her response about whether all commercial passenger vehicles will be eligible.
The amendment will encourage drivers not to use the rat runs to get back into the city by avoiding tolls. It will get buses of the rat runs. Currently bus services are charged heavy commercial vehicle rates to use our toll roads. Whether privately chartered or part of the public transport routes, buses provide a great service in transporting large groups of people, getting them out of cars, reducing congestion and providing efficiencies on the roads. They should not be tolled. We know there are thousands of vehicles avoiding the tollways today because of the cost. Minister, will you support public transport on the toll roads?
Mr JENNINGS: I thank Mr Barton for his amendment, which is an interesting public policy challenge to respond to because, in relation to the taxi industry, I can understand his argument in relation to the public benefit that is gained from taxi vehicles being used on multiple occasions for trips across the state—which would mitigate against the need for private vehicle use. Conceptually I understand the concept and the principle that underpins your question and your amendment. I also understand that there is some unfinished business in relation to confidence in the sector relating to matters that have taken place—legislative reform and disruption in the industry over the last number of years, which continue to be disruptive in terms of the viability of the taxi industry and the desirability of people operating taxis and hire cars within the Victorian community and the economy.
If I was starting from scratch in relation to the recognition of the public transport benefit of the taxi industry, then some of the decisions that have been made in successive iterations about licensing structures and then the inequity that has been considered in relation to the licensing structure as it moves from one system to the other—maybe going back far enough in the past we might have been able to prevent a lot of the despair and misery. So within that I am very, very receptive to many of the issues that you raise and I do actually acknowledge the benefit to all of us of commuters who use public transport options as distinct from intensive road use. But unfortunately that is about as good as I am going to get at this minute.
Mr Barton: Really?
Mr JENNINGS: Yes, I think that is about as good as I am going to get. I do understand your point, and I do understand the way in which the government should be able to support the industry in the future playing that role. I do not think it is going to be achieved through the mechanism of me agreeing to these amendments today. We have relied on precedent in relation to CityLink and EastLink in terms of the tolling regime on a number of occasions in the debates on this matter and in our consideration today in relation to the regulations that are associated with those pieces of infrastructure and this new piece of infrastructure. There have also been significant undertakings made in relation to the categories of vehicles that would be covered in the agreement between the government and Transurban in actually establishing the road usage patterns in the forward estimation of getting this road constructed or the tunnel constructed and operational. Unfortunately there is not an exemption of the vehicles that you are hoping to exempt from paying the tolls. So while there are a number of ways in which I am sympathetic to your position, I am not in a position to be able to agree to it.
Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: Just to respond to Mr Barton’s amendment, certainly the coalition appreciates the sentiment that Mr Barton has in bringing forward this amendment around an exemption for public transport vehicles—buses, taxis and VH cars—and the merit of his argument in talking about getting them off local roads, where they are otherwise going because of the imposing of tolls. I listened with interest to the minister’s explanation of the government’s position in relation to this amendment, and in summary his position is it is an egg that is now difficult to unscramble in terms of where we are with the vehicles which are tolled on the network of toll roads. On balance the coalition is of the same view, that seeking to now exempt those categories of vehicle from tolling is difficult to do at this point in time as a discrete cohort and potentially a large cohort of vehicles. I indicate our position on this amendment conscious of a further amendment that the committee is going to deal with, which is in a way not dissimilar but I think a lot simpler in its implementation, which the coalition is going to look favourably upon. But in the case of providing this broad exemption for public transport vehicles, we are unable to support that at this time.
Committee divided on amendment:
Barton, Mr (Teller)
Bourman, Mr (Teller)
Atkinson, Mr (Teller)
Patten, Ms (Teller)