The ACCC has expressed concerns about consortium Sydney Transport Partners’ proposed acquisition of a majority interest in the WestConnex project.

The ACCC has published a statement of issues, outlining preliminary views on the likely impact of the proposed acquisition.

Transurban, who leads the Sydney Transport Partners consortium, controls 15 of 19 toll road concessions in Australia, and seven of the nine existing concessions in New South Wales.

ACCC Chairman, Rod Sims, said WestConnex is a very significant toll road asset, and as such represents an opportunity to establish a strong rival toll road operator.

“We consider that Transurban already has significant incumbency advantages when competing for future toll road projects. It has access to highly detailed traffic data when bidding for new roads and is able to leverage its existing toll roads to offer unique unsolicited proposals to state governments,” Mr Sims said.

“Transurban has been awarded five toll road concessions or upgrades following unsolicited proposals to state governments, in exchange for increases or extensions of existing tolls. It is the only operator in the past 30 years who has been granted a toll road concession in Australia following an unsolicited proposal to a state government.

“We are concerned that the proposed acquisition may cement Transurban’s advantages when competing for future toll roads.”

The ACCC is assessing Sydney Transport Partners’ proposal against the likely alternative scenario if it did not proceed.

“If WestConnex is acquired by an alternative bidder, there would be two major toll road operators in Sydney. Those two players would likely compete strongly for future toll road projects and vie for government approval for unsolicited road proposals,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC is also concerned about the effects of the proposed acquisition on competition between toll roads.

“We are examining whether motorists in Sydney could switch between existing Transurban toll roads and WestConnex roads for certain trips,” Mr Sims said.

“If there is potential competition between WestConnex and Transurban’s existing toll roads, motorists might lose the benefits from that competition if the acquisition goes ahead. For example, an alternative owner of WestConnex might lower tolls for certain trips, or make changes to its roads or services to ease traffic congestion in attempts to attract more vehicles away from Transurban roads.”

The ACCC invites submissions from interested parties in response to the statement of issues by 31 May 2018. The ACCC’s final decision is scheduled for 19 July 2018.

The statement of issues is available at Sydney Transport Partners Consortium (including Transurban) – proposed acquisition of WestConnex interest.

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