PETALING JAYA, Sept 2: Two transport experts have opposed a proposal to place all 35 toll highways under a trust to be established by the government, saying it is doubtful that such a plan will lead to an easing of the public’s burden.
Goh Bok Yen and Rosli Azad Khan, both transport planning consultants, said there were better ways of helping road users save money.
Goh said the government should improve alternative routes by widening them or building new links to them.
This element of competition would pressure highway concessionaires to keep toll rates low to ensure traffic on their highways, he said.
Rosli said Putrajaya should seek to abolish tolls altogether rather than reduce toll rates and extend concession periods.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed said recently the government was looking at the proposal in its effort to reduce toll rates. The 35 highways include six under construction.
Goh told FMT toll rates were an issue that concerned mainly users of urban highways, which account for less than a third of all expressways in the country.
He said pooling all the highways under a trust could cause trouble further down the road and what was intended as a solution to urban issues could well end up as problems elsewhere.
He noted that many highways were reaching the end of their concession periods and some infrequently used ones were on the brink of coming under receivership. “Why bother pulling them into the trust?”
He also pointed out that not all highways were owned by Khazanah Nasional and the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).
“Restructuring them all into a single trust entity with different concession periods would lead to many difficulties in terms of pricing and evaluation.
“It’s going to be a massive corporate exercise that, at the end, won’t make any business sense. In the final analysis, the users will continue to suffer and they still have to pay tolls,” he said.
Rosli said Putrajaya should take into account the remaining period of some of the concessions and also consider offers from the private sector, particularly for highways currently owned by Khazanah and EPF under PLUS Expressways Bhd.
He said this might relieve Putrajaya of all government guarantees “by billions” of ringgit.
He also suggested the introduction of a trust fund that would help foot the costs of operations, maintenance and improvement of the highways.
“It is worth pointing out that the government is collecting a huge sum every year in road tax, over RM5 billion last year,” he said.
“This sum could be channelled into a trust fund for highway operations and maintenance. But the highways under the trust must be toll-free.”