Penrith, Blacktown mayors call for more toll equity and caps

Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali, Blacktown City Council general manager Kerry Robinson, Penrith Mayor John Thain and Penrith City Council assistant general manager Craig Butler appear before the committee.
Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali, Blacktown City Council general manager Kerry Robinson, Penrith Mayor John Thain and Penrith City Council assistant general manager Craig Butler appear before the committee.

Two western Sydney mayors have called for more equity in road tolling and an introduction of capping similar to the Opal card.

Penrith Mayor John Thain and Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali fronted the second day of the NSW Upper House inquiry into NSW road tolls, held today (Wednesday) at Penrith Library.

Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) chief executive Charles Casuscelli also appeared before today’s hearing, which saw the Sydney-based inquiry committee travel to Penrith by bus, paying a total of $28 one-way in tolls.

In his opening statement to the committee, Cr Thain said tolls were a “hot topic” in the local community, particularly the soon-to-be-reintroduced M4 toll.

Two out of three Penrith residents traveled out of the area for work and asking them to pay about $6,500 per year by 2019 to travel on what was currently a free road would be a burden on local families, he said.

The toll should be capped in a manner similar to the Opal card to provide more equity in road tolling, Cr Thain said.

Opal cards had a cap of about $3,000 per year, and both mayors believed the state government should “appropriately negotiate” contracts with operators when toll roads were being considered.

Cr Bali said costs added up for western Sydney residents, who also paid more in extra expenses such as petrol, and agreed capping was an “acceptable principle”.

“In the end we are also paying for a toll, so that’s a tax on people living further away from Sydney than other areas, and then you’ve got to pay the petrol taxes,” he told reporters outside the inquiry. “It’s just ridiculous, we’re paying tax upon tax, and then losing quality of life time spending it with the family.

“There’s got to be a fairer, more equitable way of working out how to fund infrastructure across western Sydney and the Sydney basin itself.”

Upper House MP John Graham told the inquiry the M5 widening was a $400 million project that would be funded partially through increasing truck tolls for just over three years, while the $500 million M4 widening would be paid via a toll for 43 years.

“It’s wrong,” Cr Thain responded.

Cr Bali said while council rates were capped at around 1.5 per cent per annum, tolls would increase about four per cent or by CPI, “whichever is higher”.

Cr Thain said there should be “standardisation of how [tolls] are charged across Sydney” and that tolls should not go above CPI rises.

Penrith City Council’s assistant general manager, Craig Butler, said the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) should play a role in determining toll rises.

Upper House MP Peter Phelps raised questions of how the “harmonisation” of tolls would work, and stated only those motorists travelling east of Parramatta from areas like Penrith would be affected by the changes on the M4.

He also questioned what the government “breaking a series of long-term contracts” would mean to long-term infrastructure projects across the state.

Protesters from groups including No WestConnex, Public Transport (NOWPT), the WestConnex Action Group, Residents Against Western Sydney Airport (RAWSA) and No Badgerys Creek Airport staged a peaceful but colourful protest outside Penrith Library during the hearing.

Protesters outside the hearing at Penrith Library this afternoon.

Protesters outside the hearing at Penrith Library this afternoon.