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Motorists can file for compensation over highway jams

 | August 19, 2017

However, former Consumer tribunal chairman Pretam Singh says claims are only sustainable if motorists experience traffic jams almost every day on a selected stretch of highway.


PETALING JAYA: Motorists who feel shortchanged due to massive traffic jams along highways and expressways despite having paid a toll to use the roads, can turn to the Tribunal For Consumer Claims for remedy.

Former consumer tribunal chairman Pretam Singh said highway concessionaires were service providers and as such any service must be fit for the purpose.

“It is an implied guarantee to consumers, in this case motorists, that when they use the highway, a fit and proper service must be given in exchange for collecting toll,” he said.

Pretam said in legislating the Consumer Protection Act 1999, Parliament gave the public protection from “business giants.”

“This is because the consumer, who is also a motorist does not have better bargaining power when compared with a supplier,” he said.

Pretam was responding to a letter from FMT reader TK Chua (see below) who wrote about the experience of being caught in a jam near Seremban last Saturday while heading south along the PLUS highway.

Chua said since the traffic jam was not easing up, many, including him, decided to exit the highway but were subsequently caught in yet another traffic crawl.

He said it was later discovered that the traffic jam on the highway was due to an accident near the Senawang toll earlier in the morning.

Chua wanted PLUS, as the highway concessionaire, to refund the toll collected, and suggested some form of compensation to motorists when a traffic jam lasts for more than two hours.

“PLUS just completely ruined my day today. I wasted time and paid toll but failed to get to my destination,” Chua said.

Lawyer Harpal Singh Grewal said a highway concessionaire would have entered into a contract the very moment a ticket was issued to the motorist.

“The contract only expires when the motorist settles the toll charges,” he said, adding that a toll operator must therefore fullfil his side of the deal in exchange for collecting the fee.

Pretam, who is now an active consumer rights activist, said generally highway service providers have to comply with the minimum level of service (LOS), a qualitative measure used to relate the quality of traffic service.

“LOS is used to analyse highways by categorising traffic flow and assigning quality levels of traffic based on performance measures, such as speed and density,” he said.

He said level “A” is free flow, which means low traffic density, “B” is minimum delay and stable traffic flow, “C” is stable condition and movement is somewhat restricted due to higher volumes but not objectionable for motorists.

He added that level “D” is where movements were more restricted and travel speeds begin to decline, while “E” where traffic fills capacity of the roadway and vehicles are closely spaced and incidents can cause serious breakdown.

Finally, Pretam noted that level “F” means there is a forced flow with demand volumes exceeding capacity, resulting in a total breakdown in traffic flow.

“It is a generally accepted norm on highways that the service provider should allow traffic at a minimum of level ‘C’,” he said.

However, Pretam said highway operators should be allowed an exception when traffic was slow during festive periods as an unusual number of motorists would be using the highway to reach their destinations.

“A claim is sustainable only if motorists go through a jam practically every day on a selected stretch of a highway,” he said.

The Tribunal for Consumer Claims was set up in 1999 and the primary objective was to provide an alternative forum for the public to seek legal remedy in a simple, inexpensive and speedy manner.

The Consumer Protection Act also defines a consumer as a person who buys goods and services for his personal use or for domestic purposes.

All claims must be filed within three years from the date the cause of action occurred.

Highway concessionaire Plus only good for collecting tolls


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