Why Zambia needs Toll Roads

The Victoria Falls Road has been worked on

The Victoria Falls Road has been worked on

By Edwin M Hatembo Jr.

There has been a debate in Zambia as to whether we are ready to have toll gates or not.

Some corners of society are for the argument that Zambia does not have the capacity to build such infrastructure. Firstly, Zambians need to understand what a toll gate is, how a toll gate is built and how it operates.

Secondly, to the average Zambian, having to pay for a service that is generally perceived to be free seems to be an absurd thing. Why should one pay for a road when they want to move from one place to another. To understand this one needs to know what a toll road is; “this is a privately or publicly built road for which a driver pays a toll (a fee) for use.”

To build roads costs billions of kwacha. Toll gates are necessary as the money raised from this will be used to maintain the roads and assist us in meeting the demands of social services, which are important for the growth of our country. Toll roads will accelerate the availability of initial funding for construction, compared to traditional tax based funding. Toll roads therefore will reduce the total net cost to the economy, ensuring greater opportunities for prosperity and growth.

Advantages of toll roads

Procurement and dedication of funds

Toll road schemes are more costly for road users than obtaining funds through taxation or a fuel levy, but the funds can be obtained much sooner. Toll roads enable the public sector to contract the private sector for the construction, operation and maintenance of the road for a period of 25 to 30 years. It is in short a self-generating form of income, the Government of the Republic of Zambia will play a moderating role and just ensure the laws are adhered to and roads are safe.

It is a funny thing to see a president launching road projects because that should be left to the Ministry or Department tasked with that. So if we have self-sustaining road mechanisms our dear President can concentrate on far important issues.

The President is a human being and there is too much pressure in leading a country so this will lessen some of the pressure in the case of Zambia where we make a big deal of our President launching road projects, for example, the Link Zambia projects. I have never heard of President Jacob Zuma (South Africa) or King Mohammed VI (Morocco) commissioning a road. Why? Simple! This is because the mechanisms in place are developed to such an extent that a road maintenance programme runs itself without the president’s hand.

Improved road

The road is usually upgraded and expanded before it is tolled. This expansion provides increased capacity and thus reduced congestion. The upgrade of a road generally also improves the safety and decreases accidents. Expansion of roads such as the Great North and Great East Roads in this regard would be a good thing.

Tolls also act as a form of congestion charge. It rations the use of the road to those with the highest need to travel. This reduces unnecessary trips and congestion.

Job creation and Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Gross Domestic Product is defined as the total value of all final goods and services produced in the country. GDP is an indicator of welfare, and an increase in GDP could lead to a better life for a country’s population. Toll roads can significantly increase GDP over the lifetime of the project.

A toll road project leads to direct (constructors, builders, architects) and indirect (toll road attendants, ambulance services at toll points, casual workers) job creation. Direct jobs are created in the construction, operation and maintenance of the road and indirect job creation is stimulated through the increased business and commercial opportunities following the development. We so need job creation in Zambia as the population is ever increasing.

 Encourage the use of public transport

Government will make revenue if they are to invest in the public sector like a modern train service and bus service because people will use them to avoid unnecessary toll fees. This is a spill-over effect of toll gates.

Other major advantages of toll roads relates to funding, road condition and job creation. Funds can be procured more readily and are dedicated towards road improvement and maintenance. The roads condition is improved in terms of safety and capacity, which leads to safer and shorter travel times. Jobs are created in the construction, operation and maintenance of the road, as well as due to economic growth stimulated by the project.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of toll roads are mostly related to user reactions. An increased load might be imposed on the alternative routes due to traffic diversion. Public transport will not be advanced, since toll roads encourage public vehicle use.

It has been revealed that society generally reacts negatively towards toll roads in the first few years after implementation. This is because the public finds it difficult to pay for things which were originally provided for free.

Tolling is experienced as a sudden real expense, while the savings in running costs, services and saved time are not immediately notable. As soon as users get used to the tolls and realise the benefits, their attitudes will improve drastically.

The advantages far out-weigh the disadvantages so it tells us something

Why do I pay taxes and now also tolls?

When we pay taxes these monies are used for the service which government renders to us all. Taxes are used to pay for these services, whether we make use of all of them or not. Tolls on the other hand, will pay only a portion of road that we use in other words it is a user fee. Toll fees are used directly on the road, which is a benefit to the motorist.

Taxes will not be used to fund a toll road and therefore this will reduce the tax obligation of the individual.

Why do we have to pay tolls on an existing road, which was paid for out of taxes?

Road performance depends on how, what and when maintenance is performed. Roads deteriorate over time due to environmental influences such as weather, ultra violet radiation, overloading etc. Tolls are not levied on the value of the current asset (road), but only on the initial and future improvements, including operations and maintenance. Monies derived from taxes are used on other, non-toll-roads, including city streets.

What will the toll fees used for?

The tolls collected on a specific road will be used to, inter alia, and repay the loans obtained to finance the building, upgrading or improvement of the road. In addition, it provides a dedicated on-going revenue stream, which enables the road to be adequately maintained and improved, independent of tax based revenues.

What do I get from using a toll road?

Toll roads are built and maintained to the highest possible standards. Therefore you are ensured of a smooth ride, saving you on the running costs of your vehicle and saving you time. Improved security ensures you a safe and pleasant journey. Tolls ensure that funding is available much sooner, for adding highway capacity at the right time thereby relieving congestion, reducing losses in time and productivity.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Zambians 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 subsidized 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.

Zambians should actually learn from other countries such as South Africa and Morocco (these were for the most part recently built) which have some of the best roads not only in Africa but the world over. Even our cash-strapped southern neighbor, Zimbabwe is implementing toll gates on major high ways.

This is an indication of how successful toll gates can be given the fact that they are correctly implemented. The important thing to understand about toll gates is that, all we are interested in is seeing a good road network bearing good road markings which is a serious cause of accidents in Zambia, good signage, good road shoulders, safety precautions on roads and many other things that qualify for a good road.

If a road is sold to a private or public contractor, they have to deliver this and if they fail the road is sold to the next available buyer simple as that.