Home » Business » Urban Tollgates – More Needs to Be Done

Urban tollgates are, in the correct circumstances, an excellent idea to reduce congestion and raise funds for essential infrastructure from the users of that infrastructure, as Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Dr Obert Mpofu has eloquently argued.

But their introduction in Zimbabwe needs some careful thought, and any system of urban tollgates will have to have clearly stated goals and very clear rules on how the money raised is to be spent.

Such tollgates work best in cities which have excellent public transport — buses, trains and metro lines.

This applies in most large European cities and as Minister Mpofu noted such tollgates are fairly common in Europe.

If anyone does not want to pay the fairly steep congestion charges to go into central London they do not have to they can take the tube. If they want the luxury, rather than the necessity, of commuting to work or going shopping by car they can pay.

If their business really requires the high mobility of a private vehicle then the toll charges are likely to be a modest business expense and so tolerable.

Some cities go further with different charges for different times of the day. If you insist on driving at rush hour you pay more. If you are going to a restaurant at night, when congestion is minimal and a private car makes more sense anyway, you pay a lot less.

In America, where public transport is usually not nearly up to European standards, there are some sophisticated variations.

A widening of part of the Washington DC Beltway is being financed by tolls, but cars with three or more occupants will travel free, a simple way of encouraging car pools in a country where almost everyone can drive to work if they wish.

The problem for many Zimbabweans is that the options are simply not there.

Public transport is built around second-hand minibuses using arterial roads into the outskirts of the city centre many have long walks each end of their journey and a very uncomfortable ride in between.

Having free entry for crowded cars will encourage pirating.

Charges for rush hours might work in part, since possibly half of those rushing into the city centre at 7.45am could adjust working hours, but the other half could not.

This is why it is so necessary to have that wide consultation that Minister Mpofu, to his credit, has insisted on.

And part of that consultation must include how toll revenues will be spent.

One possibility is a 50-50 split between infrastructure and putting in place a proper public transport system.

In fact it might be possible to fund loans to a proper bus company prepared to have regular scheduled services using decent buses from toll revenues.

A pilot scheme from one direction would help see if this sort of arrangement works, the tolls providing both the revenue to capitalise the public transport and the incentive to those who could use such a service to use it.

In short urban tollgates have much to commend them, but also require a raft of other services to ensure that they are fair.

The consultations must be wide-ranging and imaginative, with some detailed studies included. Once everything has been considered and planned for, then it will be possible to make the final decision of when we introduce such tollgates, the conditions required for their success and fairness, and how to meet those conditions.

Source : The Herald

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