I have 2 cars. One is the family car, the other is a cheap little French track toy, back-up commuter. The family car has an eTag for going through tolls and letting the company randomly bill my credit card. The little Renault doesn’t have this tag, so when I found myself in the wrong lane a few weeks back, I went over a toll bridge (maybe 400 metres of toll road), and thought, ‘they’ll send me a bill’.

Today they did.

That 400 metres, or 30 seconds of driving, cost $11.39.

This comprised:

  • the toll charge—$2.98
  • a video matching fee—$0.45
  • an administration fee—$7.96
  • General Services Tax (GST)—$3.43

Yes, I know.

Moving on from the absurd audacity of this invoice. (Oh wait, if it isn’t paid within a week, it will go up to $25.72.)

Yes, indeed.

Moving on…

So, initial incensed reaction aside, I thought I’d pay it to prevent being even more outraged in a week when I forgot…

I logged into my bank on my phone, then went to enter the payment reference number. Here it is below.

Tiny payment reference number


Fourteen digits in slightly-less-than-half-of-fuck-all-point font.

Besides the usability issues of trying to read it, with no spacing to help, and the microscopic font, that gives a possible 99,999,999,999,999 variations.  Or in words: ninety-nine trillion, nine-hundred and ninety-nine billion, nine-hundred and ninety-nine million, nine-hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine. That number is so ridiculous, I’m not sure I have written it correctly. (And ‘nine’ is one strange-looking word at this point…)

Surely they could have used my licence plate as the reference, no?

But back to that ridiculous number.  How big is it?

At the time of writing there were 23,824,811 people in Australia. I expect some of them are children. Possibly some are other people who don’t drive.

Let’s round that up to 24 million.

Let’s assume that they all drive.

Let’s assume that they all drive without eTags.

The reference number system could accommodate 4,166,666 infringements for each person.

In the space of one year, this system could accommodate 11,415 infringements each day for each of these 24 million people.

That’s ridiculous, you say. There’s no way a person could get that many infringements in one day. Even if every man, woman and child in Australia was driving a car without an eTag, infringing their arses off 24 hours a day, they’d need to rack up over 475 infringements an hour, which is nearly 8 a minute…

So, if my 30-second drive got me an infringement at say, 60km/h (which probably averaged less, with the speed-up at the start and the slow-down at the end…), all 24 million people in Australia would need to be driving at ~ 960Km/h over the same 400 metres of bridge (or similar).

That’s just dumb, you say. There’s no way you can do a u-turn at 960 km/h in order to go back over the same section of road.

Good point.

If every man, woman and child in Australia got one ticket a day, every day, the system could still run for over 31 years without needing to re-issue a number…

How long do they expect the system to be in place?