via Urban tollgates the way to go | The Herald by Kuthula Njokweni October 21, 2013
THE decision by the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Dr Obert Mpofu to introduce tollgates in cities presents a long-term systems approach to Zimbabwe’s transport and infrastructure management.It is unfortunate that the debate has revolved primarily around tollgates when there is a wider scope to this debate.
Tollgates are an effective financing mechanism that will present Zimbabwe with resources to embark on a strategic shift in sustainable transportation infrastructure development and traffic management.
Zimbabweans should understand four realities about the transportation infrastructure situation facing us. First, the time for continuous expansion of the capacity of road networks is reaching saturation point and new ways of managing traffic and infrastructure should be identified and implemented.
Second, public funds are not enough to sustain or maintain roads at the current or anticipated future levels based on the prevailing interest to expand traffic and the road network.
Third, borrowing to build and operate a heavily subsidised transportation infrastructure is not sustainable. Fourth, the rapid expansion of cars on our roads is simply unsustainable and becoming a strain on economic and social development.
This is the context within which Minister Mpofu has to strategise to manage our traffic and transportation infrastructure. The objective of his strategic plan should focus on traffic congestion and establishing a sustainable transportation infrastructure.
The strategy will include three themes. First, make drivers pay the full cost of driving by imposing a premium. Drivers argue that they already pay taxes through vehicle registration.
That is true to some extent, because vehicle registration tax does not reflect the full costs of driving and other related social costs.
Vehicle registration taxes don’t cover the per capita full cost of road use.
Motor vehicles cause air pollution, which has become a major source of air pollution in cities. Emissions from vehicles cause several illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, heart attacks and stroke.
Further, motor vehicle air pollution causes damage to the ecosystem. Currently, drivers do not pay for these social, ecological and health problems directly linked to their activities on the road.
The tollgates fees should take into consideration such cost factors. Second, there is need to change the culture on the conventional understanding of transportation as predominantly motor vehicles.
Supposing that Government implements the tollgates, it should move ahead and reform the traditional transportation system to a different, more sustainable and environmentally friendly multi-modal transportation system.
This approach consists of integrating and promoting all the different forms of transportation including, but not limited to buses (commuter omnibuses included), cars, trains, bicycles, walking, etc.
Some countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Canada have successfully implemented this approach. It is possible to go down that route!
If we pursue world class standards in democracy, governance, financial management systems, etc., surely we should be able to aspire to establish such standards for our transportation strategy and policies!
However, it will be difficult to do so if we cannot take initial steps to raise the necessary funds through tollgates to make drivers pay the full costs of driving as well as manage congestion.
Thirdly, tollgates will, over time, encourage people to drive only when it’s absolutely necessary and therefore cause decongestion.
London is one of the success stories on how to manage congestion.
The decongestion will provide an opportunity to the local governments to reform the urban transportation landscape by incorporating a multimodal transportation system.
Key elements of the plan could include reducing vehicle lanes and parking spaces, while establishing bicycle lanes, and pavements for pedestrians and the disabled to operate their devices.
Indeed, critics of tollgates will argue that there are other alternatives to fund Zimbabwe’s long-term transportation infrastructure strategy.
One such way is to adopt a private-public partnership approach. This arrangement is good in other forms of infrastructure projects but most likely unsuitable for a project to reduce congestion and implement a multimodal transportation system.
The multimodal transportation system will focus on managing (read curbing) the number of vehicles driving on city roads than increasing it, and therefore this is likely a disincentive for the private player to be involved.
However, new economic opportunities exist to provide other services such as bicycle renting. Another alternative is to privatise the roads so that the private sector charges drivers the full cost of driving on the road.
This approach will likely find very little public support because the road prices will be very expensive. However, private investors need to cover their capital and operating costs, and also make a profit to stay in business.
A fuel tax is another policy instrument that Government can consider to introduce to fund transportation infrastructure. True, however, that kind of a tax could be contemplated down the road as an extra measure to supplement toll gates, but not to necessarily replace them.
Resistance to the expected introduction of toll gates rests on issues such as lack of full understanding, perception that Government will not utilise the collected funds in an effective and efficient manner, and in a fair and equitable manner.
Therein lies Dr Mpofu’s challenge.
He and the Government need to demonstrate that this perception is addressed effectively.
The Government needs, among other things, to make benefits derived from tollgate charges visible, such as repaired roads, and it needs to continue explaining the policy to the public.
This is not to suggest that these initiatives are not taking place, but a re-iteration that they are critical to achieving a high level of appreciation of tollgates.
Tollgates are a critical policy tool intended to fund transportation infrastructure and manage traffic. They will assist in the systematic elimination of potholes and clean-up of the cities through employment of well-paid municipal workers and restoration of the dignity of labour throughout all our cities.
The envisaged transportation infrastructure will consist of a sustainable, modern transportation infrastructure that promotes lesser air pollution, establishes and facilitates accessibility for the disabled.
Through transportation infrastructure improvement, stakeholders sphere become enlarged such as vendors pursuing environmentally friendly economic opportunities and we restore the cities’ glory again in a systematic manner.
All this enhances our day-to-day quality of life.