By Shahrim Tamrin
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 2019 : The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government is of the view that introducing discounted or flexible toll rates will mitigate its inability to fulfill the election promise of totally abolishing tolls.
This, despite the same idea being rejected by the previous government due to its massive cost.
Government sources told The Mole that the idea of congestion charges during certain road traffic hours and discounted toll rates for off-peak hours, weekends and festive season have been considered over the past months as public pressure mounts for PH to fulfill its election pledges.
“It is a huge undertaking to take over the entire highway concessionaires at one go if we look at the current financial situation. So the government is looking at easing the burden of the motorists in stages,” said one of the sources.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), yesterday announced that the government is in talks with Gamuda Berhad with the purpose to acquire certain percentage of stakes for four highway and road concessionaires namely Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), Sistem Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat (SPRINT), Lebuhraya Shah Alam (KESAS) and SMART Tunnel.
“Upon successful takeover of the highways, the government intends to abolish the existing toll mechanism. In its place, a ‘congestion charge’ will be introduced where commuters will only pay a ‘congestion charge’ equivalent to the existing toll for six hours of ‘peak’ period a day,” read the PMO statement.
The statement stated that there would be free access at the four tolled-roads during “off-peak” period between 11 p.m and 5 a.m while normal toll rate will still be applied during the rush hours (three hours in the morning and for 180-minutes in the evening). During ‘normal hours’, commuters will enjoy discounted rates up to 30 per cent from the existing toll charge.
Last week, during a recent road tour in Kelantan, Works Minister Baru Bian confirmed that the consultant appointed by the government late last year to study the possibility of removing highway tolls, has also been requested to look into the option of introducing “fresh dynamics” to solve the problem.
During the Works Ministry FTRoadpedia 3-day tour of East Coast, Baru said the ministry was given six months to present the best possible mechanism to ease the burden of tolled highway users.
“We will present the (auditor’s) findings in May and we will announce it probably in June. For example, we are looking into longer period for rebate or toll discount for highway users during festive travelling week and also during non-peak hours on work days,” he said in Kota Bharu last week.
However, the idea of a flexible rate over a period of time during week days for major highways in Klang Valley is nothing new.
Four years ago, Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof who was the then works minister said motorists may get to enjoy discounts on toll rates during off-peak traffic hours and that he had agreed in principle with the idea of frequent-user rebates on tolls.
He said the Works Ministry and its agency Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM) would be conducting a comprehensive study and forward the proposal to the respective expressway and highway operators for a flexible toll rate.
“We are willing to listen to feedback and suggestions from the public and discuss with the highway concessionaires, but it is up to them. We can’t force them since these companies are also answerable to their shareholders,” Fadillah had said during a dialogue session and dinner with Malaysian students at the Malaysian embassy in Seoul, South Korea in November 2015.
It was learnt that the in-depth study was carried out but the Barisan Nasional government at that time stopped short of executing the plan since it costs a massive amount of tax payers’ money.