Raising the BARR – Week ending 19 March 2021

In How Many Ways is Our Society Becoming Less Equal

Some years ago I had the chance to visit one of the theme parks on the Gold Coast. After paying the hefty entry fee, I was shocked to find that the many hundreds of people in the normal lines were being left to wait longer by others who had apparently paid for a “queue-jumper” ticket that got them straight to the front.

Fundamentally, I thought to myself, we are all seeking to get on board the same ride or see the same show but these lines are now divided into a class structure – with the rich, those paying extra dollars at entry for the express lane tickets, getting faster access.

Now it did force me to wrestle with the issue of things like first-class seats on a plane or a train, where the key purpose of the transport is the same for all passengers – getting from A to B – but at check-in, the experience is very much different and the first-class passengers get to go to the front. But I land on the view that this is a different concept because in transport terms the first-class passenger is buying a different product with things like more legroom, more space and other comforts, whereas on the roller coaster or ghost train there is no such difference in product being purchased.

More recently I have been considering the equity of toll roads in a similar way to my consideration of those lines at the theme parks. Evidence and data is telling us that the public streets and road networks that go around toll roads are busier than ever. Many many people are voting with their wheels and not using the toll roads.

As I understand it, what is changing driver behaviour and their response to toll roads (ie: avoid them) is the fact that the recent expansion of toll roads in Sydney have very much linked many of them together. This means that once you get on one of them, you are pretty much committing yourself to perhaps 2 or 3 or 4 consecutive tolls that all add up pretty quickly.

Take this example: the NorthConnex Tunnel has recently been opened meaning that people from our neck of the woods can get from here to the Sydney CBD with only one set of traffic lights. But at what cost? The NorthConnex charges its toll and then spills you onto the M2 which also charge their toll and then of course the Harbour Bridge or Harbour Tunnel charge their toll. Recently, a return trip to Parliament cost me $34.50 in tolls. Imagine doing that 5 times a week.

For those that can afford the inter-connected and ever-expanding set of toll roads, it really is a little bit like the queue-jumping line at the theme park – good for those with the cash.