KLANG, Feb 25 ― The government simply cannot buy over every toll concessionaire in the country to abolish tolls because this will reduce public funding for other projects, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.
The prime minister said that while he understands the frustration of the people who demand toll-free roads ― a Pakatan Harapan (PH) 2018 election promise ― he also hoped that the people would understand that taxpayers’ monies which would be used.
“Yes, the criticisms from the people is bound to come because we did not abolish tolls. However, the people have to understand that though they don't have to pay tolls, the government will then have to pay tolls, and the government will pay tolls from the monies collected from the people.
“In the end, it is still the people who would be paying, though it is through the government. The government has to buy the highways. Whose money should be used for it? It is the monies from the taxes collected,” he added.
He then explained that the government would also have to constantly service and repair the highway roads after it buys them over, and this would leave a deeper dent in Putrajaya's coffers.
“This also means that part of the tax monies collected will be used to service the roads, meaning the government will lack funds for other needed projects,” he said.
He was responding to a question as to how PH would manage voter sentiment, especially with regards to the coalition's yet to be fulfilled election promise to abolish tolls.
On Saturday, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said that the federal government plans to replace the current system of toll collection on highways with a congestion charge system.
The PMO said the new system with variable fees based on peak and non-peak hour periods, would be introduced once the federal government succeeds in taking over the operations of four highways.
Under the proposed congestion charge system, highway users will not have to pay anything during “off-peak” hours, but will have to pay a fee during peak hours when there is more traffic.
It added that the government also plans to abolish the existing toll collection mechanism, with the success of the takeovers, and to introduce a ‘congestion charge’, where highway users will be charged a ‘congestion charge’ that is same as the existing toll rates for the peak period for six hours daily.
Toll rates will be abolished completely during ‘off-peak’ hours between 11pm and 5am, where the use of the highway will be free, it said.
For those using the highway outside of the peak period and off-peak hours, they will have to pay a fee that is at a 30 per cent discount of the existing toll rates, the statement said.
The PMO explained that the collection of the congestion charge would be used to pay for the cost of operating and maintaining the highways and loan repayments.
It said excess collections would be channelled into a public transport fund to be used to improve the quality of public transport nation-wide.
Earlier in the statement, the PMO also said the Pakatan Harapan-led government has initiated steps to fulfill the coalition’s promise in its electoral manifesto last year to take over highway concessions and gradually reduce toll rates according to the terms in concession agreements.
“As a first step, the government has started the process of negotiations with Gamuda Berhad to take over the highway concessions where the company has majority stake,” it said.
These highways are the Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), Sistem Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat (SPRINT), Lebuhraya Shah Alam (KESAS) and SMART Tunnel.
The PMO concluded its statement on its proposal by saying that the Finance Ministry would announce further details at an appropriate time.