Experts back Putrajaya’s toll plan, but with conditions

An expert says merely taking over concessions and abolishing tolls would be unfair to taxpayers who might not even use the highways in question.

PETALING JAYA: A transport expert has welcomed the government’s plan to acquire four highway concessions, saying the introduction of congestion charges is a step in the right direction although there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Goh Bok Yen, who has over 30 years of experience in transport consultation, told FMT that a proper study to determine peak hours should be carried out as they differ according to location.

“For example, in downtown Kuala Lumpur, 7.30am is not the peak hour, but in Damansara and Selayang, it is because the traffic is moving into the city.

“The peak periods for different routes should not be the same. They must be fine-tuned to ensure a better distribution of traffic,” he said.

Goh said different toll charges for different periods of the day might help reduce traffic during peak hours and divert vehicles due to the 30% discount offered during non-peak periods.

“To some extent, this could encourage employers to adopt more flexible hours for their employees. Maybe allow people to start and finish an hour and a half later.

“This is a cross-subsidisation model in which peak-period travellers subsidise the use of highways for those using it during non-peak hours,” he said.

He added that merely taking over concessions and abolishing tolls would be unfair to taxpayers who might not even use the highways.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations CEO Paul Selvaraj said he supported any attempt to reduce toll charges and ease the pressure on the people’s cost of living.

“The discounts and the waiving of toll charges, even at night, will help people,” he said.

The Malaysian Public Transport Users Association (4PAM) meanwhile said the move might help with peak-period traffic, especially if toll charges during that time are increased.

This, 4PAM president Ajit Johl said, would encourage more people to use public transport.

“The government should also give toll exemptions to public transport providers like taxis, buses and rideshare operators to encourage its use.”

However, he suggested that the government focus more on improving and promoting public transportation than encouraging the use of private transportation through the reduction of toll charges.

Veteran transport consultant Rosli Khan said if the government wanted to totally abolish tolls, it could do so by increasing road taxes to fund the takeover of the highways from toll concessionaires.

“The government can renegotiate the concession agreements with the concessionaires so that the road tax collected can be channelled to them,” he said.

Association of Malaysian Hauliers president Nazari Akhbar said the discounts and exemptions would benefit only some hauling companies, particularly those which transport goods to outstations at night.

He said the bulk of hauling companies serve their local markets, and most of them would move goods during office hours because their clients receive goods only during that time.

“Also, the mechanism is not clear. If we go outstation at 3am and exit the toll after 5am, are we exempted from paying the toll?”

Malaysian Trades Union Congress president Abdul Halim Mansor said only about 20% of the people would benefit from the government’s takeover of highways as not many travel during the exemption period.

He said ideally, the toll in the city and along the North-South Expressway should be abolished, adding that a 50% reduction of charges could be implemented throughout the day if complete abolition is not possible.