Transurban thwarted on Aust express lanes

Transurban says variable road tolls are popular in the US and ease congestion, but that there's little chance of them being implemented in Australia.

Toll road operator Transurban thinks it knows how to ease congestion in Australia.

The problem, it says, is Australians don't want to know.

Transurban operates express lanes on major roads in the US near Washington DC and both traffic numbers and revenue exceeded forecasts over the past financial year.

Chief executive Scott Charlton attributed their popularity in part to a variable pricing structure that helps keep traffic moving and lets public transport and vehicles carrying more than two people use them for free.

Mr Charlton said that reduces vehicle numbers and lightens the load elsewhere, but that there's little chance of the model being implemented in Australia.

"We could see its application but politically it's not something that's ever been acceptable in the Australian context," Mr Charlton said.

"It just doesn't seem to make the leap across the Pacific.

"For whatever reason, the politicians and the community acceptance of differential pricing seems to be much harder here than it is in the US."

Motoring group NRMA said all road users should benefit from toll roads irrespective of how they choose to travel.

"We believe hot lanes, or high occupancy transit lanes, are a form of congestion charging," NRMA president Kyle Loades said.

"The NRMA believes we need to move away from toll roads or in this case, specific lanes, being operated as isolated links rather than as part of a network.

"We'd like to see toll roads actively managed to keep all lanes moving."

Tolls on Transurban's US express lanes rise as vehicle numbers increase in an effort to spread journeys across the day.

Motorists see the rate, which varies from 20 US cents to $US1 per mile (between 16 and 84 Australian cents per kilometre), when they enter an express lane and are kept up to date by overhead signs.

They can leave the lane if they feel the price is too steep.

Mr Charlton said US customers increasingly recognise the benefits of variable pricing, but that Australia remains resistant despite evidence that giving public transport and multiple occupancy vehicles a free ride clears roads for other users.

"It creates capacity on the existing free network, but for some reason it's not politically not seen as palatable in the Australian context. It's a shame," Mr Charlton said.

"It's not applicable for all situations but certainly there would be situations it could be seen to address but it's some way off."

Source: AAP