Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (14:56): I will be moving amendments to the North East Link Bill 2020.
Transport Matters Party amendments circulated by Mr BARTON pursuant to standing orders.
Mr BARTON: Thank you for the opportunity to propose these amendments on the tolling of traffic on the North East Link. This is not the first time we have discussed this. I attempted to introduce similar changes to the West Gate Tunnel legislation last year. Instead this house let through a mortgage on Melbourne, which stings even more in these challenging times as the Bank of Transurban chose to impose its fee increases despite the devastation that the coronavirus pandemic has had. But this new road, which almost everyone would agree—apart from Mr Hayes—is much needed for linking our road network, presents a new opportunity to deliver some fairness to the tolling system in our great city.
Listen to Rod’s amendments to the North East Link tolling legislation to make tolls fairer for families who choose utes or cab chassis vehicles.
I support the North East Link, and while I admit it is tempting to take a shot at the planning process and the use of reference design, which raises far more questions than answers, there is no doubt in the gridlocked communities of Bulleen, Rosanna, Viewbank and Watsonia that this road is desperately needed. But today I want to focus on reforming the tolls on this new road and I hope eventually across Melbourne.
I was contacted earlier this year by a constituent who had purchased a new vehicle. She wrote:
We were so excited to recently purchase a Nissan Navara for family adventures in exploring regional Victoria. My husband also needs to use it to commute to his work off the East Link in Mulgrave.
We were shocked to discover that we are forced to register as a light commercial vehicle and pay these exorbitant rates. We just feel sick about it, and it certainly isn’t a fair go for families. We really had no idea this would be the case.
She joins a great number of families who have been shocked and surprised to discover too late that their new and prized family utility is an expensive beast that feeds a tolling giant.
I would hope that the amendments I propose today will be adopted for the North East Link and will in time spread to road users on all toll roads in Victoria in a show of faith and fairness from our toll road operators. Vehicles that make up our public transport system should not be tolled; this is simple. This means we must exclude all taxis, VH-registered cars and buses from tolls on the North East Link. If you are paying to travel on these roads, the toll fee should not be part of that cost. The endgame here is to reduce congestion and get cars off residential streets and to get people into more efficient and more environmentally friendly public transport services.
Right now a taxidriver can recoup the cost of tolls from passengers by adding any tolls incurred during the trip to the final bill. However, these costs can only be charged when a passenger is in the car. If drivers need to return to the city without a passenger, they bear all the costs, or they avoid the toll roads and make rat runs through the suburban streets.
Making tolls free for commercial passenger vehicles will mean customers will get a cheaper ride. It will encourage drivers not to use the rat runs to get back to the city. It will get buses off the suburban rat runs too. 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 transport large groups of people—often students, tourists and community groups—getting them out of cars, reducing congestion and providing efficiency on our roads.
They should not be tolled; they should be encouraged. And what about rideshare drivers? Well, this amendment includes them too. I fought hard last year to have VH plates return to the market so that professional drivers can be easily identified. VH plates are available now, at a cost, to any registered commercial passenger vehicle. Rideshare drivers are included.
My amendments aim to make travelling on toll roads fairer for families. We almost got one through last year, but I know people in this place and the community feel the pain of tolls because they chose a ute or a cab chassis vehicle for their family. All our cars are heavier and bigger now. Utes are the vehicle of choice for many active families. They should not be punished for their weekend adventures in regional Victoria with commercial toll rates.
There are many inconsistencies in the classification of passenger and commercial vehicles. For example, a minibus carrying 12 passengers passes down our toll roads on a car rate. The enormous $250 000 Range Rover pays a car rate as well. An eight-seat Kia Carnival travels as a passenger vehicle, yet a nine-seat Volkswagen Multivan is hit with commercial rates.
This year has been an utter disaster for Victoria. With devastating bushfires and coronavirus lockdowns, our regional centres need these families and their family vans and utes, and will for years to come. These amendments will also extend passenger vehicle rates to our tradies and other local businesses who use utes for work purposes.
This Labor government and our federal Liberal government have expressed on many occasions that our construction industry must be kept alive and that they will lead the economy’s recovery from coronavirus. Halving the tolls is an easy way to put cash in their pockets. Including light commercial vehicles in the passenger vehicle classification also puts money into the pockets of small businesses that really need it. It is our small local businesses that have been hit hardest by restrictions, and it will take them many years to recover.
Reducing tolls for light commercial vehicles making local deliveries puts cash back into these businesses and makes them competitive with online alternatives. When local businesses must charge for delivery to cover tolls they compete with online stores, whose economies of scale allow them to offer free delivery. I say let them through.
Again, I am here to urge members to bring fairness to the tolling of the North East Link, and I sincerely hope the bank of Transurban is listening and chooses to take these amendments in good faith, act as a good corporate citizen and extend them across all toll roads in Victoria.
A respite for residents and businesses waiting for compulsory acquisition notices from the North East Link Authority could be a blessing for some and a challenge for others according to Eastern Metro MP Rod Barton.
This week I asked the Planning Minister for a timeline on the release of the independent advisory group (IAG) report on the North East Link project. Public hearings on the project’s Environmental Effects Statement concluded on 16 September, with the IAG required to present its report on more than 850 submissions and six weeks of hearings to the Minister within 30 days, but the report has yet to be made public.
I asked the Minister for Planning for a time line on the release of the report and recommendations from the independent advisory group’s review of submissions on the environment effects statement (EES) and plans for the North East Link Project.
I’ve raised concerns with the Government over early works on the North East Link project going ahead without the promised EES and planning approvals and reiterated the need for community concerns to be taken into consideration.