Monday, March 2, 2009

Toll rates should correlate with traffic volume!

- A commentary -

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26, 2009 — Toll rates will go up at five major highways from March 1, the government said in an announcement today which has already drawn sharp criticism from the Pakatan Rakyat. [The Malaysian Insider]

This is absurd. It is not as if the toll rates for the five major highways (North-South Expressway, Sprint/Kerinchi/Damansara Link Highways, Ampang Elevated Highway, Sungai Besi Highway and the New Pantai Expressway) are not high enough to be burn holes in our pockets.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed said the federal government had no choice but to allow the increase in toll rates as stated in toll concession agreements. The government has shown little or no consideration whatsoever to the plight of the people given the current current economic situation of the nation. The minister said the government would have to pay concession holders compensation if the increase was not allowed.

And one day later after announcing the hike in toll rates, the federal government said it would defer the hike till end of the year following mass protests from MPs and members of the public. At the mean time, taxpayers would still need to pay RM287 million in compensation to toll concession holders. Regardless of whether the toll rate hike is in effect now or later at the end of the year, the people of Malaysia is still at the losing end - pay higher toll rates or risk losing public funds to compensate concession holders.

As I understand, toll rates are collected from road users to pay off the cost of construction of highways. But the main question is how long does the public need to pay to cover the cost? Instead, highways have been money-making machines for concession holders that include high profile, well-linked businessmen and companies. The trick up their sleeves is wipe off any code of transparency in toll concession agreements from the public under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) - meaning such agreements are filed as state secrets. One can only imagine how agreements on highway construction could be a threat to national security. It's not like the North Koreans or the Israelis are interested in our tolls.

The five major highways bound to have its rates raised enjoy stupendous traffic volume everyday. And yet, toll rates are reviewed and raised every few years without bearing in mind its effect on the pockets of the middle-class. Toll concession holders may argue rising maintenance costs to justify toll rate hikes but let's look at it this way. The tarmac on the highways remains the same. So really, how expensive could maintaining tarmac be. Streetlights along the highways are not exactly lighthouses too. Unless there are gargantuan holographic road signs or ion-powered chrome streetlights to justify the toll rate hike, I do not see why road users have to dig deeper into their pockets every now and then.

To give a glimpse of what is to come unless Malaysians reclaim their highways, a return KL-Penang journey (currently at RM86.60) will balloon to RM115.30 in 2015 and RM168.80 by 2030.

Highways should not be 24 hours-a-day-7-days-a-week wealth machines, serving to fill the pockets of wealthy concession holders and well-connected companies. On February 25, the DAP proposed for a toll-free North-South Expressway by 2016 that the party said will save taxpayers RM14 billion (Click here for a detailed summary of the proposal).

And I personally welcome that notion.

To conclude, I believe toll rates should be proportionate to traffic volume. It makes no sense to raise the toll rates to 'cover costs' when traffic volume increases exponentially every year. If logic permits, the toll rates should be reduced as more motorists are sharing the 'costs'. Hence, I believe that toll rates should correlate with traffic volume and not at the mercy of highway concessiors. That way, it makes more sense for every cent spent on toll rates.

Toll rates of 2007 and 2008. Note the increase. (Image courtesy of: http://www.jeffooi.com)

1 comments :

  1. Anonymous said...

    Increased volume = increased maintenance costs. There goes your "sharing of costs".

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