Pressure is building on the NSW government to use the tens of millions of dollars it collects each year from train passengers passing through stations at Sydney Airport to cut the cost of the trip there, the most expensive on the city’s rail network.
The latest accounts filed with the corporate regulator for the private operator of the four stations on the nine-kilometre Airport Line tunnel show it paid the government almost $87 million in a “train service fee” in the year to June, a 26 per cent rise on the same period a year earlier.
Sydney’s most expensive train ticket
Train passengers are spending $17 to travel between Sydney Airport and the CBD, lining state government coffers by more than $1 million a week.
A one-way journey between Sydney’s CBD and the domestic and international terminals costs an adult passenger $18.10 during peak hours. Of that single-trip fare, $13.80 is for a station access fee.
The access fee – which rose by 3 per cent last year – does not count towards the daily travel cap for holders of Opal cards.
The City of Sydney’s chief transport adviser, Terry Lee-Williams, said the council believed the access fee at the stations should be removed to encourage more people to use trains and relieve increasing pressure on roads in and around the airport.
“With 150,000 people a day going to the airport, a greater percentage needs to move to rail to reduce congestion on the roads,” he said.
“The only viable alternative is to get people on the railway.”
Government figures show station patronage at the domestic and international terminals was 8.2 million in 2016, a 32 per cent increase on 2014. An extra 1 million journeys have been taken to and from the airport each year over the past two years.
Fiona Adam, who used the train line after arriving on a flight from Melbourne, said anything that could be done to encourage more people to use public transport was beneficial because congestion of roads around the airport would only worsen.
Congestion on roads in and around the airport can result in traffic queues extending from the international to the domestic terminals at weekends.
Ms Adam said the cost of the train meant she would “definitely cab it” to get into Sydney’s CBD if she was travelling with someone else because a taxi trip was likely to be cheaper for two or more people.
Since a so-called threshold was reached in 2014, the government has been entitled to 85 per cent of the sales revenue from the private operator, Airport Link Company, under a revised contract.
The boost to the government’s coffers from the access fee for the airport stations is offset by the state having to “compensate” Airport Link Company for passengers using Green Square and Mascot stations. That compensation was estimated at $22 million in 2016.
In 2011, the then Keneally government decided to subsidise the access fees at Mascot and Green Square, leading to a surge in patronage.
Sydney Airport, which has long advocated reducing the station access fee, said doing so would encourage even more people to consider catching public transport instead of driving, taking cars off the road and reducing congestion on roads.
“[A cut to the access fee] would ensure greater choice for the 160,000 people travelling to the airport each day, including the 29,000 staff who work across 800 businesses on airport,” a spokeswoman said.
But Transport for NSW said removing or reducing the station access fee would cost the state government hundreds of millions of dollars and would be subject to negotiations with the Airport Link Company.
The lead transport agency said the station access fee was comparable with similar charges in major cities around the world.
Every dollar the government received from the station fee was “ploughed straight back into improving services or delivering better infrastructure for customers”, it said.
The access fee for the airport stations is capped at $27 a week for Adult Opal cardholders who travel by train to the airport more than once a week.
Under the public-private partnership, Airport Link Company’s rights to operate the four stations on the line ends in 2030, when their ownership will revert to the state.