The minibus Mat Mason drives for work each day is longer, taller and heavier than the Volkswagen Amarok he uses for everyday purposes.

Yet any time Mat uses either of Victoria’s two toll roads, CityLink and EastLink, he’s slugged higher tolls in his Amarok than he is in the minibus.

Mat is one of a rapidly growing number of Victorians who drive vehicles with cab chassis, such as the Amarok, as a day-to-day family car.

“The Amarok is hugely popular as a family commute. It drives like a sedan, it’s extremely comfortable and it’s made to be like a normal everyday vehicle,” he says.

While tolls for his minibus on CityLink are capped at $9.07 a day with an e-tag, Mat can pay up to $14.51 a day in his Amarok.

Why the discrepancy?

The discrepancy occurs because toll-road providers recognise any two-axle rigid vehicle with a cab-chassis construction, between 1.5 and 4.5 tonnes in weight, as a light commercial vehicle instead of a car, regardless of whether the vehicle is used for commercial or private purposes.

Light commercial vehicles can be tolled up to $3.67 more than cars each day on EastLink.

RACV’s roads and traffic manager Dave Jones says that before 2015, the cheaper car toll was applied in many circumstances where cab-chassis vehicles were used, because the toll-road companies could not always tell what type of chassis a particular model of vehicle has. Since then,  toll-road providers have charged eligible cab-chassis vehicles the higher toll, as their contract with the government entitles them to.

“Now members with some utes, SUVs and four-wheel drives have been affected, no matter whether they use them for work, a hobby, a family taxi, towing a horse float or caravan, or four-wheel-drive touring,” says Dave.

Other four-wheel drives, such as the Toyota LandCruiser, pay the lower car toll.

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Avoiding toll roads

Mat, who lives in Sydenham and works in Brunswick, uses toll roads as little as twice and as many as six or seven times a day due to his work. But when he’s in the Amarok, he tries to avoid tolls as much as he can given the higher fees.

According to Wayne Hevey, CEO of Four Wheel Drive Victoria, many other drivers avoid toll roads for just the same reason.

“Feedback informs us that many members avoid toll roads like the plague because of the enormous charges in place and of course this adds extra time to travel plus puts more strain on the smaller roads and streets throughout metropolitan areas,” he says.

“Obviously there is the opportunity from Transurban and the government’s point of view to generate huge extra amounts of money which they justify by arguing that these vehicles are all commercially operated, business-based units.”

‘Address this issue’

RACV’s Dave Jones points out that in Queensland, light commercial vehicle tolls only apply to vehicles registered for commercial use and that in New South Wales vehicles are tolled based on their dimensions.

“The Victorian Government needs to address this issue. One option would be to reform the vehicle registration system to separate commercial and private-use vehicles and reform the system of toll road charges to reflect this.”

Mat says there’s scope for a fairer system in Victoria. “I understand that tolls exist and that there’s a cost to use these roads and that’s fine with me. The unfair part is that the tolls aren’t the same for everyone.”                                                

Photo: Shannon Morris

Written by Kathryn Kernohan
January 09, 2018