What is the cheapest tollway account for Melbourne?

If you live in Victoria and own a car, something well worth having is a toll road account. Many motorists who use Melbourne’s CityLink and EastLink tollways on an irregular basis buy exorbitantly priced one-time trip passes, deciding against setting up an account because they think it costs too much, when in reality there is an option that costs you nothing to setup and maintain.

'Last exit before tollway' sign on the Eastern Freeway at Springvale Road

The first toll road in Melbourne was CityLink, which went live with their fully electronic system in 2000. Initially the only company in the game was CityLink operator Transurban with their e-TAG system, and this is where most people in Victoria had their first experiences of toll road accounts: hefty account keeping fees, even if you hardly drove on the toll road.

Thankfully competition was on the way, with the Australian Transport Council having set a standard for electronic tolling in the late 1990s, meaning that tags issued any any company in Australia would work on any other road. At first few took advantage of this, as it would have required Victorian motorists to deal with a company they had never heard of located in Sydney or Brisbane.

The big change hit in 2008 when Melbourne’s second tollway opened – EastLink. As well as running their own tollroad, operator ConnectEast also aggressively marketed their toll accounts to anyone in Victoria, boasting that their ‘Breeze’ windscreen tag was a third smaller than the clunky device issued by Transurban, but the real clincher was the lower account keeping costs.

CityLink toll point on the Bolte Bridge southbound

So the cheap account I mentioned? It is a ‘Breeze Pre-Paid Tag Account’ from ConnectEast. To sum up the deal…

  • You pay $40 to set up an account,
  • The entire $40 gets put onto the account as toll credit,
  • If you don’t travel for years the money will just sit there without charge,
  • You can add however many cars as you like to the account,
  • You can request an (almost) infinite number of tags to place in your cars,
  • The tag works on both CityLink and EastLink without any extra fees,
  • You can also drive on bridges, tunnels and tollways interstate and you don’t get charged a ‘roaming fee’ like some other companies do.

The only downside to the Breeze Pre-Paid Tag Account is the $30 minimum topup amount, and the minimum balance requirement – currently $12.18. I’m guessing the interest earned on the pool of money sitting in a few hundred thousand toll accounts is how ConnectEast make their money.

I’ve currently got four vehicles included on my Breeze account: my own car, plus those belonging to all my family members, which has saved my Dad a number of times when he gets lost in Melbourne and ends up on CityLink by mistake!

Links

Footnotes

  • When you add a new vehicle to your toll account, you are automatically backdated for toll charges incurred up to 72 hour before. I discovered this after driving my new car down CityLink without having added it to my account.
  • If you drive a ute or cab chassis, you might save money on tolls by using a New South Wales RTA tag: they classify you as a car, not a more expensive light commercial vehicle.
  • The first modern toll road in Victoria was actually the West Gate Bridge, which had toll booths at the city end from opening in 1978 until 1985, when it was decided to make the bridge free to all. But that is a story for another day.
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23 Responses to “What is the cheapest tollway account for Melbourne?”

  1. Andrew S says:

    The Breeze account benefits were probably to soften the blow of the Scoresby Freeway broken promise from a few years back. I live right near the Monash – Eastlink interchange and noted the very low numbers using Eastlink in the first few years. At that time they were not even paying their interest on the loan from the construction cost of $2.5 billion (inflated in part due to the shortened construction time for 40km of road … yes I’m a civil engineer-history nerd-part time gunzel myself!!)

    Since then the traffic levels have steadily risen but remain well below the original prospectus forecasts (since ajdusted to make the spin seem better). Interestingly VicRoads widened cross routes at the time like Wellington Road and Ferntree Gully Road to six lanes in part to encorage use. along with the Dandenong Bypass stuck in the Dingley Freeway reservation. The following site gives a useful comparison of toll road performance and volumes:

    http://chartingtransport.com/2012/03/03/traffic-volumes-on-australian-toll-roads/

    It is worth noting the Scoresby Freeway (F35) reservation was set aside in the 1960’s only as far south as the Dingley Freeway (F2 – itself in place since the 1950’s at least). Post 1969 Melbourne transportation plan the reservation was extended to Seaford.

    Personally … owing to where I live I use Citylink occasionally but hardly use Eastlink at all.

    • Marcus says:

      Interesting ‘soften the blow’ theory there, but it was the government that decided to make the road tolled. The current operator ConnectEast is just in it for the money, hoping to collect more money in tolls over their 39-year concession period to make back what they paid to build the road.

      Of course, by entering the established tollway tag market with a more competitive offering, they hoped to snatch market share from Transurban. On that front they seem to have won, even though the money to be made there looks to be very marginal.

      The data over the the Charting Transport site is very interesting – in a post-GFC world we can see how the financial wizard made up all kinds of figures to justify Public Private Partnerships, only for them to fall short.

      • Andrew S says:

        Don’t forget the contract was awarded back in 2005 on the basis of trying to deliver lower tolls, hence the account described above and plenty of spin about delivering the lowest tolls per km in the country and smaller ‘breeze’ tags (like anyone cares) Connect East was awarded the contract over Transurban at the time.

        The Eastern Freeway (F19) extension to Ringwood and Scoresby Freeway (F35) were originally separate projects. The latter (only) was eventually declared a Road of National Importance and attracted partial Federal funding (the decision itself political in nature). Issues with the long tunnel for the Eastern extension untimately led to the hare-brained idea to combine the two projects and delay them significantly – all the time insisting it would be finished by 2008. In the end they decided to toll the lot of it straight after State election and squeeze the construction time into three years instead of six or seven. The business case was sold on some inflated traffic estimates as shown in the link above. In reality the tunnels should have probable been tolled and the Scoresby built as a separate job with Federal assitance.

        The Westgate was tolled only on the bridge itself with the Lower Yarra Freeway west of Williamstown Road free for the locals to use upon opening in 1971, with the bridge and accompanying ‘Westgate Expressway’ delayed until 1978 ater the collapse and subsequent Royal Commission. As you noted traffic was low leading to abolition.

  2. Paul says:

    East link is an absolute rip off, Costs us over $180 per month to still sit in traffic, add to that the ridiculous price of car registration and we are paying way too much for our roads. West Gate Bridge done it right and collected money until it was paid for and then the tolls were removed.

    • Marcus says:

      In the case of the West Gate Bridge they never actually paid it off with tolls – the government borrowed money to build it and planned for 40 years of tolls to pay it back. Over the next decade or so drivers kept on avoiding the road, so in 1985 the government caved in and made the road free, with the loans paid off some other way.

      With roads like EastLink, the government gets to transfer the complete cost of building the road to private companies, who make their money back by charging drivers tolls. Unfortunately those companies aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts – they want a generous profit margin on top of it all to pay their financial spin doctors!

  3. Simon says:

    Can you get a 12 month pass for the roads in Melbourne because I am paying 40 dollars every 3 days just to get to work?

    • Marcus says:

      No they don’t – if you don’t have some form of account, then the only option is day passes.

      For a few short trips these passes are a ripoff compared to pay-as-you-go tolls, and if you are making heaps of trips each day, the toll operators try to limit you. In the case of CityLink, they will only sell you 12 passes per vehicle per year:
      http://www.citylink.com.au/1798.htm

      EastLink doesn’t seem to mind if you buy them more often – but their prices seems to align with their daily trip cap:
      http://www.eastlink.com.au/page.aspx?cid=109

  4. […] works differently from the electronic tolling systems used on CityLink and East Link – the e-TAG inside your car is just a ‘dumb’ device that stores no information such as account balance inside it […]

  5. Matt says:

    Just wanted to pass on my thanks Marcus; your write up and simple to understand Eastlink piece saved me from my braindead self – ‘I need an e-tag for my car….google ‘citylink et-tag’ and then get 95% through the Citylink payment process and luckily find your piece before clicking FINSH and PAY.

    The EastLink ‘Breeze Pre-Paid Tag Account’ comes up much cheaper in initial cost, and the initial tag fee of $22.75 of CityLink is ridiculous! Just FYI, as of 13.5.13, the balance limit is not $12.57, not the $12.18 in your article.

    Thanks again!

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Glad you found it useful. As for the changed minimum balance, it seems that Eastlink jacks it up a bit every year. When I first signed up, it was a nice round number.

  6. peteshep says:

    Interesting reading all the comments. I have an RTA NSW ETag account, minimum balance $40 with a $60 top-up. Not sure how I managed to have $104 in my account. They have major problems with their accounting system (doubt if they would get away with it if they were non government), query your account at your peril as you can like it or lump it.

    So Connect East seams to be the way to go. I have retired to Coffs Harbour and travel through Qld., NSW and Vic once or twice a year on average and handy to have a tag account.

    On closing drove for Trans Otway coaches in the late 70’s from Geelong to Melbourne (Whites in Flinders Street) and the company were more than happy to pay the West gate toll to reduce travel time.

  7. Jong says:

    All these I did with an E-tag, there is no difference

    You pay $40 to set up an account,
    The entire $40 gets put onto the account as toll credit,
    If you don’t travel for years the money will just sit there without charge,
    You can add however many cars as you like to the account,
    You can request an (almost) infinite number of tags to place in your cars,
    The tag works on both CityLink and EastLink without any extra fees,
    You can also drive on bridges, tunnels and tollways interstate and you don’t get charged a ‘roaming fee’ like some other companies do.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The CityLink ‘Everyday Account’ is the best deal from Transurban, but they charge a $27.50 minimum annual payment fee per e-TAG, for the first three years of the tag:

      http://www.citylink.com.au/1222.htm

      So for someone who uses toll roads each day, that won’t be an issue, but for an irregular user you might fall foul of the minimum charge.

  8. Frans says:

    I currently have a Breeze account(thank Marcus) as I only used the toll every few days but i will start using my car every day to travel in Melbourne. Is there a cheaper way or is my Breeze account still the best.

    Thanks
    Frans

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Hi Frans,

      Using a prepaid Breeze account should still work out the cheapest, but if you’re running up $10 in toll charges each day, you might need to keep an eye on the direct debits being made to your credit card every few days to keep your account balance up.

  9. Elliott bailey says:

    Hey mate thanks a lot – going for breeze!

  10. Jo says:

    I have been using citylink but they are charging a monthly fee. I want to change as we only use Melbourne roads a few times a year, who would you recommend?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The prepaid Breeze account doesn’t have any fees, but you have to keep a minimum balance in your account (the odd figure of $13.18).

  11. Ollie says:

    Without sounding completely un-educated, if I purchase the Breeze Tag will that work on all tolls in Victoria, NSW and QLD?

  12. Robin says:

    We have never done this toll thing so im confused as anything.. My husband is a courier driver is there some sort of discount or special account for people who would use the tolls quite a lot?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      There isn’t any kind of ‘frequent user’ discount for any Melbourne toll roads, but Eastlink does offers a 20% off tolls for cars on weekends:

      http://www.eastlink.com.au/tolls

      CityLink doesn’t offer anything on their roads.

      Beyond that, as a business you may be able to claim your toll costs as a tax deduction, and the GST paid as input tax credits. An accountant would be able to give you a definitive answer on that front.

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