Toll stations: Lessons from the past

The idea of toll stations is not a new one; it has been tried before. It failed once, and is bound to, again, for those same reasons

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By Antony Mutunga

China is the most populated country in the world; it has an expressway system that is estimated to stretch over 85,000km to serve its large population. However, the extensive expressway has led to the establishment of toll stations; it is estimated that over 70% of all tolled roads in the world are found in China.

Despite being a way for the government to collect revenue, the toll stations have been met with opposition from the Chinese, who say it has brought more harm than good. People say that due to the toll stations, there is a lot of traffic build-up on the roads. Things get especially bad on holidays when almost half of the population leaves the major cities causing major traffic congestions.

In Kenya, the government recently decided to go back to the idea of toll stations around Nairobi, leaving many wondering just how this move will help other than bring about more traffic congestion and corruption. Toll stations are not a new idea in the country; they were introduced in the country over 30 years ago but were quickly scrapped. But government still argues this move will help in the maintenance and development or our motorways, specifically in the funding for modernisation of other roads around the country.

In 1983, when toll stations were formally introduced in Kenya they were practically going to be used for the same reason as now; to help collect revenue to maintain the roads and help construct new ones. According to the 2001 KIPPRA Working Paper No. 1, in 1992/93 Sh326 million was collected from tolls and used for periodic maintenance and strengthening of the main paved road system.

However, this did not work out for long as corruption took root and traffic congestions became more frequent, causing government to scrap the idea. In their place, the road maintenance levy (RML) was introduced in 1993 in order to do away with the growing corruption. Instead, road maintenance levy was charged on fuel, whereby some of the money paid for fuel goes to the RML fund that is used to maintain the roads.

The levy has been in place to date whereby Kenyans now pay Sh18 per litre of fuel raising an average of Sh50 billion per year. However, the government argues this is not enough to maintain all roads, as an additional Sh90 billion is needed, and therefore the need to reintroduce toll stations.

The government has planned on creating the toll stations through a public-private partnership (PPP) plan, where government invites developers to bid for the opportunity of managing the planned stations. Once a developer is granted the opportunity, they will be in charge of building and maintaining the checkpoints. When the stations are fully operational, the developers will be the ones to decide what to charge the public and, in turn, will pay a fee to the government that will then be used to maintain the toll roads.

This is actually a good idea if the local developers are given an equal chance of winning the bids. If so, it will help ease unemployment in a country where the majority is jobless. In turn this will help other people as there will be a need for labour when it comes to constructing and maintaining the toll stations.

The current plan by the government is to first put up toll stations in five major highways in Kenya; the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, the Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit highway, Thika Superhighway, Nairobi’s Southern Bypass and the second Nyali bridge in Mombasa. Due to the fact that both the Thika Superhighway and the Nairobi’s Southern Bypass are already complete, they were selected to be the pilot projects. The two major roads are expected to have toll stations by the end of 2017.

Unfair (selective) taxation

It seems the government has just found another way to transfer the burden of funding their development agendas to the pockets of the struggling people under the pretext that it is for their benefit in the long run. The reason the government is willing to go back to the same strategy that failed to work decades ago is incredulous and baffling to say the least. Despite the idea that it is aimed at gathering extra revenue, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages, making it a gamble that may eventually cost more than it brings in.

Toll stations along the five highways are bound to bring about a sense of unfairness as only a number of people – those who get to use the roads – will be liable to the toll charges. This means that instead of the entire population funding the maintenance and development of roads only a few will be contributing to the national duty. In order to be fair the government needs to put measures that affect the nation as a whole for example, instead of toll station they might consider slightly increasing the RML, that way doing away with the bias nature of the stations. It might not be a favourable solution to the public but it is better when compared to the checkpoints.

Apart from this, it will also mean that besides worrying about the road maintenance levy, the public will have to worry about the toll charges as well. This creates a double taxation effect on the public. Already living in difficult times, many people will look for ways to avoid roads that have the toll stations in order to avoid increasing their expenses. As a result, many motorists will find other routes creating more traffic jams on the roads thus causing the country to lose more money. Currently, the country loses over Sh50 million a day in productivity due to the traffic jams.

The government needs to do more research and consult better before implementing the toll stations. In addition, 2017 is going to be an election year and one of the hottest agendas to pay attention to is the issue on traffic congestions around the major cities. Those who will be vying for office need to also find better solutions to the issue therefore, when one gets into office they will be ready to ease the problems of the public on the roads and be able to reduce the vast amount lost due to traffic congestions.

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