The latest plunder from Down Under
December 24, 2005
The Courier Mail(Australia)
QUEENSLAND motorists are being charged a secret tax of up to $40 a year for failing to use the state's network of toll roads.
Thousands of motorists who have adopted the cashless e-toll technology will be hit with a $10 fine if they fail to use the tollways for three months.
The quarterly fee, equivalent of almost four Gateway Bridge car tolls, follows a Government's decision last February to dump the $40 deposit for using e-toll.
That led to a 40 per cent increase in the numbers using e-toll.
The technology is now fitted to 171,772 vehicles.
Queensland Motorways says in its annual report that the loss in transponder revenue will be recouped by the new fine which started in October.
The first charges for under-used transponders are likely to hit motorists early next year.
The RACQ yesterday called for the fee to be dumped and the Opposition labelled it another "secret new state tax".
RACQ external affairs manager Gary Fites said there were few, if any reasons, for Queensland Motorways to introduce the fee.
Mr Fites said that the costs of setting up e-tolls were lower than manned booths.
But the State Government defended the fine, saying few motorists would face charges and it compared favourably with fees on toll roads in other states.
Queensland Motorways also said it was reviewing customer accounts and the impact of the fee.
"Once the process has been completed, Queensland Motorways will work with customers who are likely to incur the fee, giving them time to examine their usage patterns and explore their payment options," the government company said.
"Should customers wish to reconsider their tolling payment method, Queensland Motorways will help them organise a tolling payment that best suits them."
E-tolls account for 43 per cent of all Gateway Bridge tolls and more than 50 per cent of tolls on the Logan and Gateway motorways. Transponders in their vehicles warn motorists when their e-toll account is low.
The minimum top-up amount has been reduced from $100 to $25.
But the electronic toll system has a chequered history.
In 2003, Queensland Motorways was forced to repay more than $100,000 to motorists after The Courier-Mail revealed that the company knowingly overcharged many users.
Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg accused Transport Minister Paul Lucas of duping motorists with free transponders when he announced toll increases in February.
"The Government should be rewarding those who use transponders not finding a way to tax them," Mr Springborg said.
"This secret tax is just another example of the greed and duplicity of the Beattie Government."
Mr Lucas said all states had adopted minimum use fees and the one introduced by Queensland Motorways was "significantly more favourable".
The "tax" comes on top of toll increases on July 1 by 20¢ for cars and 50¢ for trucks on the Gateway Bridge and 10¢ on the Logan Motorway's Loganlea, Kuraby and Stapleton Rd toll stations.
The Government has also linked tolls to annual inflation which means that Gateway Bridge car charges will be $3.10 by 2011 and $7.75 for trucks by the time a duplicated bridge is completed.
Mr Lucas said motorists would not be paying extra for tolls until 2042 if Mr Springborg had convinced his Federal Coalition colleagues to support the second Gateway bridge across the Brisbane River.
"Every time there needs to be a consumer price index increase it will be because of the Federal Government," he said.
Mr. Fites said the fine set by Queensland Motorways was an unnecessary impediment for casual e-toll users.
"Certainly from a traffic efficiency point of view we encourage the use of that technology but this charge tends to work against that outcome," he said.
Mr Fites said there were few, if any reasons, for Queensland Motorways to introduce the fee for financial reasons.
Mr Springborg said the Government had made it clear that, in the future, all motorists would need to use a transponder, reinforcing his claim that the "secret tax" was just a grab for cash.
E-TOLL – how it works
E-toll transponders are free.
The transponder is fitted on the windscreen behind the rear-view mirror and is recognised when vehicles pass through toll areas.
Customers who fail to use their transponders during a three-month period will have $10 deducted from their balance.
Those who spend under $10 a quarter will have to pay the difference.
© 2005 The Courier Mail