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Imagine buying anything, and I mean anything at all, and it didn’t work as advertised. Imagine a TV, for example, that only broadcast three channels. Or a toaster that refused to pop up. Or imagine buying a box of chocolates and when you opened the box, you discover half of them are missing.

What would you do?

I’m guessing you’d be straight back to the retailer with your faulty TV, your pop-less toaster or your half-empty box of choccies, wouldn’t you? And you’d want a refund or replacement. Further, under Australian consumer law, you would be entitled to a refund or replacement, and rightly so.

That’s how I feel about toll roads.

Unsurprisingly, doing what I do for a living, I drive a lot. And I spend a lot of times traversing toll roads, happy to pay the fee in order to avoid traffic congestion and reach my destination in a timely fashion and free of stress. Seriously, I don’t mind paying a toll at all for a better user experience. When they work, they work beautifully, safely ferrying you to the other side of the city in what sometimes seems like the blink of an eye. Worth every dollar.

But…

When I find myself in a snaking line of traffic, moving at a snail’s pace and all I can see is a traffic jam stretching for kilometres with no end in sight, when I eventually pass through the toll collection point and hear that tell-tale little ‘beep beep’ that informs me my account has just been debited $3.86 or $5.55 or $7.80 or whatever the fee is for that particular stretch of highway, I get, well, the shits.

In short, I feel I have been charged for an inferior product, one that does not perform as advertised. We are told, time and time again, that toll roads are worth it because they reduce traffic jams and are therefore a quicker method of reaching your destination. We are told, toll roads are a better product than the suburban two-lane roads that wind their way through our suburbs, motorists beholden to the whims of traffic lights and parked cars and all manner of obstacles toll roads promise to do away with.

The reality, of course, is far different. Toll roads, even those multi-lane blacktops with no traffic lights, are subject to snarls and jams as thousands upon thousands of cars converge on the same place at the same time, often slowing to a crawl. Sometimes it feels like you could walk faster than the traffic flow. So when I hear that ‘beep beep’ from my transponder, I get a bit irate.

And I want a refund. After all, the toll road is not working as advertised, so why should I pay for it?

There’s a simple solution, I reckon. We already have the technology to monitor trucks and cars from point-to-point. Average speed monitoring is already used to police speeding so why not extend that to policing toll roads efficiency?

Imagine, if you will, your favourite toll road is in a particularly bad way today and the average speed you reach traversing its black vastness is a meagre 17km/h. To my mind, that’s not good enough for a service I am paying for. Perhaps there could be a cut-off average speed, say 50km/h. Average above that, you pay, but if your average falls below that mark, then your trip is free-of-charge. After all, you’re not getting what you paid for. And you haven’t even got a full box of chocolates to munch on while you’re stuck in start/stop traffic.

So that’s my pet motoring peeve. Tell us yours in the comments below.

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