Sydney Radio 2UE Toll Road Challenge

The epic failure of Sydney’s toll roads continues

POTENTIAL SAVING: $2232 annually, and 90 hours a week - one way

At 7.30am on Wednesday 9 November 2011, Radio 2UE broadcaster Paul Murray and I left Bankstown railway station in two separate cars, headed for The Rocks in Sydney. This seemingly inauspicious event was broadcast right across Sydney on 2UE.

Jason Morrison, 2UE’s breakfast host, covered our progress (if that’s the right word) regularly over the next 90 minutes or so, to answer the question: Are toll roads a fraud? In this case, the answer came back an unequivocal ‘yes’. More on that in a minute.


44 billion kilometers

The distance driven by Australians just getting to and from work in 2010 (source: Ausstats). That’s approximately 1 million laps of planet earth.

5 billion litres

The approximate fuel consumption from getting to and from work in 2010. This is a box as big as a football field at the base and 500 metres high.

$7.5 billion

The approximate amount of money spent on fuel getting to and from work in 2010.

$2.5 billion

The approximate taxation revenue from the fuel Australians consumed getting to and from work in 2010. So, in the immortal words of Pauline Hanson, please explain why critical road upgrades can’t be funded…

500 hours

The approximate amount of time you spend awake in one month. Also the approximate time you lose in a year if you spend an hour a day commuting to work and an hour commuting home. That is, commuting probably costs you a month of your life every year.

200 metres

The approximate length of road occupied by 40 commuters in a traffic jam, all driving singly in cars, stopped one metre apart.

14 metres

The approximate length of a bus carrying 40 commuters, including one metre of clearance front and rear.

5 buses

Number of buses carrying 40 commuters apiece required to eliminate one kilometer of traffic gridlock

THE 2UE TOLL ROAD CHALLENGE (Part II: South-west Sydney)

Here’s how we played it:

Paul’s mission: the toll roads – the notorious M5 East Motorway and the Eastern Distributor. Me? I cut virtually straight across to Ashfield, picked up the Hume Highway, and then cut through Leichardt to the City West Link, the Anzac Bridge and The Rocks, via Sussex St, generally using roads that had been in place for several decades.

Paul paid $9.30 one way in tolls; I paid exactly zip. (If Paul were a commuter heading home the same way, the cost of the round trip would be $13.10 a day.)

I arrived at Towns Place in The Rocks at 8.42am – one hour 12 minutes after leaving Bankstown. Paul was nowhere to be seen. In fact, he remained nowhere to be seen for the next 23 minutes. He pulled up at 9.05am, after paying $9.30 to, essentially, arrive late to work.

Just to recap: the toll roads delivered Paul to work 23 minutes later than the free roads – and he paid heavily for the ‘privilege’.

I checked the traffic reports – there was nothing abnormal during the morning, either on Paul’s route or mine. Frankly, I never felt like I was having a dream run. Paul likened his run to a “bad marriage” because “every time things start going well again you get scared because you know another disaster is just around the corner”.

One hour and 12 minutes to drive 21km (my trip on the free roads) is an average speed of just 17.5km/h – hardly an advertisement for efficient transportation, seeing as you can ride a bicycle faster than that. Google Maps says the trip will take 34 minutes. If only.

Google Maps predicted a similar travel time for Paul’s trip: 30 minutes flat. It actually took him 95 minutes…which is pretty much a great way to start each work day exhausted.


Toll roads are a rip-off. (Paul refers to the commute, appropriately enough, as “a punish”.) Political excuses for delaying critical transport infrastructure upgrades in Sydney are unjustifiable and inexcusable. There are profoundly negative social consequences for wasting your life in traffic – and the motorist pays more than enough tax to expect a better deal.