Toll gates raise revenue to maintain through roads

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The issue of toll gates has become topical in Zimbabwe.

Bernard Musarurwa

In the late 1990s, most urban councils clamoured for toll gates on the major roads leading into and out of their cities and towns, ostensibly for the purpose of raising revenue to maintain the through roads, targeting through traffic, with the local traffic already paying for roads through vehicle licensing which at the time was paid through the local authorities and post offices.

Vehicle licensing was taken over by the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara), an entity set up under the Ministry of Transport for the purpose of collection of road user charges for disbursement to road authorities for the maintenance of roads.

Government, at both central and local level, is responsible for the provision, operation and maintenance of roads, though this role may be delegated to other entities under certain circumstances and arrangements. With Zinara now collecting all road tolls and vehicle licence fees throughout the country, with most of the toll gates already located near the major cities and towns, the proposition of any further toll gates becomes debatable.

In order to put into perspective the debate on toll gates, it is proper to define the purpose and intention of toll gates, as well as to describe the types of toll gates.

Purpose
The fundamental purpose of a toll gate is to levy a fee for motor vehicles to be allowed to pass at a specific point along a road. The conventional purpose of the road toll is to generate revenue for the provision, management and maintenance of road infrastructure. This may be achieved through an entity mandated by government to finance the development of a road and being allowed to operate it while levying tolls to service the debt and a return on the investment, and then to transfer the road back to the relevant authority after a concession period of typically 20 to 30 years.

This is the classic build-operate-transfer (BOT), a public private partnership (PPP), but there are variations from a hybrid where both the public sector and a private entity contribute to the capital expenditure, to a case of where the public sector does everything alone. The normal purpose of levying toll fees on motorists is to raise revenue for the provision, management and maintenance of roads, usually the road on which the toll gates are located. Moral social responsibility requires that there be an alternative route for motorists who do not wish or cannot afford to go through a toll gate, though this has largely been abandoned as a matter of expedience.

In Zimbabwe road tolls were first
levied on motorists at the New Limpopo Bridge at Beitbridge in 1994. Whilst the old Beitbridge bridge could have continued to be used as an alternative, probably no motorist would have paid tolls to use the new bridge. Thus the old bridge was closed to motor vehicle traffic, forcing all motorists to use the new tolled bridge.

Types
A toll gate is a facility at which a fee is levied for motor vehicles to be given passage at a specific location along a road. The toll gate may take a rudimentary form of a single person, legally or otherwise, mounting a road block, with or without any barricades or signs, to charge a fee on all or selected motorists to pass at that point. Modern toll gates can be sophisticated, like the ones causing much consternation and contention in Gauteng in South Africa, where high-speed cameras can read an electronic tag on a speeding vehicle to levy the toll without the vehicle having to stop. The e-tag may be pre-purchased and “juiced” like a cell phone.

In Zimbabwe the toll gates have booths where persons manually levy and collect tolls based on the class and size of a vehicle. The toll gates are equipped with information communication technology (ICT) systems linked to central control centres for monitoring and auditing, and have the potential for upgrading to e-tolling. Toll gates are normally located to ensure maximum “capturing” of traffic along the route, and minimisation of “leakage” or avoidance of tolls by motorists using alternative roads to circumvent the toll gates. Under normal circumstances, the distance between toll gates should be taken into account in the fee charged at each toll gate to ensure equity in the level of the toll levied on vehicles passing through different toll gates, with the toll computed as a unit charge per kilometre travelled.

Urban toll gates
where and when may urban toll gates be justified? An obvious case is a toll gate to finance the outstanding works on the Harare Airport Road, being the direct link from the Dieppe Road roundabout to Mutare Road, including the road-over-rail flyover over the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) marshalling yard. At the time being most traffic is forced to go East or West at the Dieppe Road roundabout.

Another example is on the completion of the missing links of the Harare Drive ring road, where a toll gate could be justified if it was installed on the leg from Kirkman Road to Willowvale Road. The link starts at Kirkman Road in Warren Hills, crosses the Bulawayo Road at Heroes Acre with a flyover, flies over Coventry Road and Lytton Road in Workington, and over the railway lines at Southerton, to link into the existing Harare Drive at Willowvale Road. This will provide a direct link for traffic that currently has to use circuitous alternative routes via Kambuzuma or Belvedere.

Another case is the missing link of Harare Drive ring road from Twentydales in Hatfield to the roundabout on Mutare Road in Msasa. Completion of the Harare Drive ring road will go a long way in catering for traffic that does not need or wish to pass through the central business district (CBD) to get from one end of town to the other. For example, one can now come from Chinhoyi and get on the road to Mutoko or Mutare by using Harare Drive without going near the CBD. This will help to decongest the CBD. The three remaining missing links of Harare Drive from Warren Hills to the Mutare Road could be done on a BOT concession. The chronic congestion in the CBD is primarily due to the absence of an efficient and reliable public transport system, making self-driving to and from town a necessity for most people, thus contributing to the congestion.

The relevant authorities must bring back the Harare United Omnibus Company, or similar, that used to run from the Rezende Street, Fourth Street and Market Square termini, with a clean, efficient and regular service to offer commuters an alternative to self-drive to and from town. Punitive parking charges are making people park their vehicles on the periphery of the CBD, but the congestion remains throughout most of the day and it gets horrendous in the morning and evening peak periods.

Due to lack of space, there is little scope of increasing the capacity of most of the roads in the CBD by providing additional lanes. The City of Harare needs to reinstate the computer-controlled traffic lights system to enhance the coordinated smoother flow of traffic in the CBD.

The use of low capacity commuter kombi mini-buses contributes to the congestion, especially in the western parts of downtown. The plan to rank the mini-buses outside the CBD may help, but the congestion will still require more innovations.

A proposal for an elevated monorail train like the one in Sydney, Australia, may go a long way in facilitating the movement of commuters across town, from say Fourth Street to Market Square. The monorail trains could run on a regular schedule in a loop along Samora Machel Avenue, Fourth Street, Robert Mugabe Road and Rotten Row, with stops at strategic locations along to route to pick and drop commuters. The proposed Chitungwiza commuter rail project, which will cater for the commuters to and from Harare, the “freedom” trains to Ruwa and Mufakose, if run efficiently, would offer a viable alternative to road transport for a significant number of commuters.

Otherwise how would urban toll gates help the motorist, who would expect to see and get tangible benefits for the service that he or she may be made to pay for? Electronic toll gates where vehicles do not need to stop are obviously the way of the future of tolling. But e-tolling comes with a huge price tag, both for the installation as well as the operation and maintenance of the toll gates. It is not uncommon for a toll gate to cost more to install and operate than the revenue it may ever raise.

So any proposal to install toll gates must be preceded by elaborate and detailed feasibility studies to establish a positive cost-benefit analysis thereof. In the meantime, it therefore may be more efficient and convenient to increase the fuel levy and vehicle licence fees, which road user charges Zinara is already collecting from every motor vehicle that travels on the roads. Otherwise, there may be no justification, or benefits, for urban toll gates on the existing roads.

It is a case for Zinara to ensure that the levels of road user charges that it collects are commensurate with the budgetary requirements for the maintenance of the national road networks, including those in urban and rural areas.

Engineer Bernard Musarurwa is a consulting road engineer and former chairman of the inaugural Zinara board. These NEW PERSPECTIVES articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society : email kadenge.zes@gmail.com, cell +263 772 382 852.

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