I think Dr Mahathir Mohamad was only partially correct when he said toll-free roads are not possible.
Yes, perhaps interstate expressways would be too expensive to build and maintain without toll collection. However, what many are questioning are the exorbitant toll rates and tolls imposed within the city.
I’m sure the government can do better than it did in the past when it comes to privatisation of expressways. I’m sure it can find enough resources to build proper toll-free roads and highways within the city.
To me, tolls within the city divert traffic and cause unnecessary delays. They hinder the people’s movements and affect land and property prices. Sometimes, it’s just queuing to pay toll that causes the jam.
I believe that annual road tax, licensing fees, excise duty and sales tax on vehicles, and other forms of revenue generated from the urbanisation and expansion of the city should be enough to pay for infrastructure development, including city roads and highways. Imposing tolls within the city inconveniences the people and costs them too much time. Imagine a family with children who need to cross toll booths to go to office, school, tuition centres, clinic and market. How many times would they need to use the Touch ‘n Go card each day?
It’s about time the government starts the renegotiating process as promised for expressways where tolls are imposed. I think people may tolerate tolls, but certainly not at the rates that exist today.
Our past privatisation accorded too much advantage to the concessionaires. When the government provides guaranteed revenue and profit on tolled roads, the expected returns should be in line with a “risk-free” rate. Anything higher would be a free lunch for concessionaires.
Similarly, the government must check on cost padding of past projects which has led to higher tolls imposed on road users. If the recent renegotiation of the MRT2 project can be used as an example, I think it would be reasonable for the government to renegotiate lower toll rates based on the “imputed” lower capital cost of most past projects.
TK Chua is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.