The bid by urban developer Transurban to take a majority interest in the WestConnex project will not be prohibited by the Australian Competition and Consumer Comission (ACCC).
Following its decision today to allow consortium Sydney Transport Partners’ proposed $16.8 billion acquisition of the Sydney motorway, the ACCC approved the sale after it said competition for future road toll concessions would not be reduced despite existing interests.
Transurban currently owns 15 of the 19 toll roads across its network in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These include recent agreements with state governments for Melbourne’s West Gate Tunnel and Sydney’s NorthConnex.
Significant delays in receiving toll road data owned by Transurban had been reported by rivals bidding for a 51 per cent stake in WestConnex.
Investment group IFM also tendered for the 33-kilometre project that connects the M1, M2, M5 and M7 arterials.
As one of the conditions of receiving ACCC approval, Transurban, given its incumbency advantages, has agreed to provide access to detailed toll road traffic data.
The court-enforceable undertaking will require Transurban, who maximises the reliability of its traffic forecasts through this data, to publish 15 minute toll gantry figures for each quarter for each toll road across its interests in Sydney. Data applied to vehicle count, vehicle classification and traffic flow directions must be included.
In an issued statement, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the regulator was concerned by the majority interest Transurban held in seven out of nine toll roads in Sydney, noting WestConnex would only entrench its position.
“We undertook extensive investigations, examining documents of numerous parties, interviewing parties, and examining executives under oath,” he said.
“Bidders with existing toll road concessions have an advantage in acquiring further ones, in particular due to the reality or a perception that they have better data and experience, and better models and better forecasts.”
As part of its findings the ACCC said, to the degree it reduced competition for future toll roads, the bid by Sydney Transport Partners was not in breach of section 50 of the Competition and Consumer Act.
“We are satisfied that with this undertaking others will be able to compete for new toll road concessions in New South Wales if Transurban succeeds in its bid for WestConnex,” Mr. Sims said.
“The undertaking addresses a key aspect of the incumbency advantages currently enjoyed by Transurban, which is access to data. This means that all bidders for future toll road concessions in NSW will benefit from access to detailed toll road traffic data, not just Transurban.”
“This will enable all potential bidders to calibrate and validate their traffic models to the same level of confidence as Transurban, which will likely lead to lower costs of finance,” he said.