I bet you think roads with tolls are another avenue designed to loot : Well, think again

Tolls will get here on our Kenyan highways; it is just a matter of time. Very little time it appears. Controversial opinions regarding the evils and the benefits of this new way foreign to most of us; go on and on but usually linger on the unfairness of this system to the poor.

What are these toll roads?

A toll road  is a public or private roadway for which a fee (or toll) is paid for passage. This is usually implemented to recover the cost of construction and maintenance

You have got to be kidding; do I as a taxpayer pay for these roads and don’t get to use them?

No, you don’t pay for these roads. A unit called the Public-Private-Partnership unit http://www.pppunit.go.ke was created under the Public-Private-Partnership Act 2013. This unit has a number of responsibilities key of which are finding funding from private investors, assessing and also approving Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) projects in the country. These projects are financed through private debt and equity financing with public agencies like in our case KeNHA http://www.kenha.co.ke/index.php/public-private-partnership or KURA offering long term concession leases to private companies to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the roadway as a toll road.

Here is the break down. The government forms a public-private partnership with a private company, say an international company called Horizons Construction Ltd. Of course this is after a series of tendering stages ending with the winning of the best proposal with regard to tender requirements. So what Horizons Construction Ltd does is they FINANCE (or form a partnership with a different private company that has the finances required) the project, call it project XYZ. They also build and maintain the road for the agreed amount of time, say 7 years depending on the contract signed.This period is called the concession period. During the concession period, Horizons Constructions Ltd charges tolls on the road to recover their money and then hands over the road to the The Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development. The tolling will then stop. Simply put, the road pays for itself.

So tolling on roads is a great idea?

If implemented alongside the existing free toll infrastructure, tolling could be a great solution especially for a country like Kenya with an estimated funding gap in infrastructure requirements of approx. US$ 2 to 3 Billion per year needed within the next 5 to 8 years. Whoa, that is a lot of money to borrow! Building toll roads could be a solution.

The major opposition lies in the gap between the rich and the poor that road tolls bring in. Most people look at it as an injustice. Think about it this way; There are already existing roads, these roads are toll free. Expanding many of these highways which are already above capacity is costly and cannot be done concurrently using the available public resources. Extra roads constructed by private companies can help reduce traffic and eventually reduce the time taken by everyone including the commuters on the free roads. Fuel costs are also reduced due to reduced time on the road.This in turn reflects on the national economy. Besides that, technological innovations like paying online or use of electronic transponders ensure free flow of traffic on the toll roads. Let us leave it there and not talk about the other indirect benefits such as reduced pollution, greater safety and the eventual benefits to businesses involving transportation.

I bet you think roads with tolls are another avenue designed to loot : Well, think again | A toll station on a road in Zululand South Africa | Pinned Directory Kenya
A toll station on a road in Zululand, South Africa

On the other side of the coin; toll stations do separate the poor from the rich. Tolls affects the ability of those willing to  go and find work along the tolled roads and also their ability to get to work each day in areas with roads with such tolls. This has been seen in South Africa.

A solution by researchers towards addressing the issue of the general feeling of unfairness would be for the government to provide discounted pricing based on income levels or provide travel credits to lower-income commuters. Another great idea would be use of High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Here, Carpools and buses would drive for free, while cars with only one person (or sometimes two people) would pay a toll. These and other better solutions are what we should be suggesting and looking for. We need solutions now; our traffic system is at its knees.

Let us be wise and address the right issues

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