I AM glad the government has seen some sense and decided to drop the toll charges in favour of a congestion charge. However, we need to be clear what such a concept entails.
A congestion charge is a price put on each vehicle entering a zone either daily or per entry. It excludes charging motorists living within the area.
Congestion charges have been implemented in Singapore, London and Stockholm. In New York City, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to implement the charge but failed.
As such, the Ministry of Transport and all those involved need to craft this plan well.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said that it will be a “win win win” situation for all parties. However, that depends on how it is implemented.
The MCA is correct in asserting that if such a charge were to apply in Kuala Lumpur, it would mean imposing a toll on all roads leading into the city, including the Federal Highway.
How will the government implement the charge?
Will it use the RFID technology that has been introduced in tolls over the past year or will it use a different system which would require the government to create a new charging mechanism? Either way, it needs to be clarified.
At the same time, there is a need to relook the categories for such a charge. Unlike tolled roads which have different classes, a congestion charge applies equally to all vehicles that are not excluded or subsidised.
Exclusions are yet another point to make for this plan – there will be a need to classify an exclusion list.
In London, handicapped motorists and elderly drivers are excluded from paying a congestion charge. If I am not mistaken, even electric vehicles are exempted from such a charge as the current thinking is that they do not pollute the environment with exhaust fumes (disposal of batteries used in electric vehicles needs to be handled with care).
Then, we come to the issue of road maintenance. This issue was raised when the toll concessions for roads connecting to the Federal Highway were abolished last year. It was decided that the local councils and city halls would maintain the roads within their boundaries.
Thus, taking over the four tolled highways would put the brunt of maintaining the roads on the local councils, thus increasing their expenditure.
One way the government can stop city councils shirking from their duty to maintain these roads is to establish an agency to maintain these roads. However, it would mean yet another government-linked company being set up and might increase the burden on the civil service that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is trying to reduce.
Now, we come to the most important point – will a congestion charge reduce traffic congestion?
I doubt it, considering that even the tolls did nothing to reduce traffic and tolled roads were congested during rush hours. As such, the government should consider a higher congestion charge.
Second, the subsidy element creeps in. If those living in the zone are excluded, then it would mean the government might end up subsidising the charges for motorists living in Bukit Bintang, Bangsar, Bukit Tunku and even those living in the high rises surrounding Mont Kiara if it is zoned incorrectly.
In short, the government might end up imposing congestion charges on the middle- and low-income groups who cannot afford to live inside the zone, while letting the upper income and uber rich use private vehicles on the roads for free.
Thus, the areas zoned for the congestion charge need to be worked out carefully to avoid creating a “win win win” situation for the government, the concessionaire and the rich.
While this is in the works, and only discussions have been held between the government and the toll concessionaire, the congestion charge plan is a step in the right direction if it is implemented correctly.
The congestion charge is a good idea to lower traffic volume within the city and to encourage more Malaysians to use public transport, bicycles and walk.
This is the purpose for most congestion charges in other countries. However, if the government is merely taking over tolled roads, allowing free travel from 11pm to 5am, and giving discounts, then it has not understood the concept of a congestion charge.
Instead, just like switching BR1M to BSH, it would merely be a rebranding exercise.
Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org