On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Convenience comes with a price

While the LDP users, especially residents in the affected
areas, will save 50 sen per trip,  they
and other taxpayers will  have to
shoulder the burden of  paying RM85mil in
compensation to the concessionaire for 
that road alone.

Motorists have been told that  there will
no new highways until  the people want
them and are  willing to pay.

Generally, users are willing to  pay for
better quality roads. The  contention has
always been over  the amount of toll

The over-riding factor now is  that the
Government can no  longer afford to
subsidise road  users.

With scarce funds, subsidies  used to pay
these toll operators  should by right be
used to pay  for development

Thanks to an unprecedented  period of
economic boom, we  saw the expansion of
the middle  class. More Malaysians
began  owning a car or two.

Bus operators may pass the  cost of
increased toll charges to  passengers but
the amount  would be minimal.

Taxis and buses pay half the  charges for
commercial trucks  and private cars,
leaving a mild  effect on the lower

Motorcyclists don't have to  pay toll.
Likewise, if you take the  commuter train
or the LRT.

The biggest beneficiaries are  car
owners. Not only do city folk  travel
more, there is wider use  of highways for
economic activities.

Like the LDP protest and the  Cheras toll
issue some years ago,  the loudest
complaints came  from the

Generally, motorists do not  mind a small
increase in toll  charges for inter-state
roads but  they are likely to be more
angry  when it comes to city roads.

The reason is simple. Motorists feel cheated when they have  to pay for short trips like sending their
children to school or going marketing.

A wage earner may feel the  pinch of
having to set aside  RM150 to pay toll,
besides his  other obligations.

Rather than stop building highways, the Government should  perhaps concentrate on inter state link

We cannot ignore the fact that  highways
have cut our travelling  time, which
means lower fuel  consumption and less
wear and  tear on vehicles. And most
accidents occur on trunk roads, not 

Remember spending six to  eight hours on
trunk roads to balik kampung during festive seasons? When an accident
occurs,  the traffic jam can be
horrifying  because the roads are too

In the case of a breakdown,  there was no
one to turn to for  help. Now, we take
for granted  the back-up service from

Neither can we forget those  embarrassing
toilets at unhygenic coffee-shops and roadside 

With the highways, long-distance travel has become so much  pleasant.

There's always a price for everything and sometimes we tend  to forget the larger picture.

To refresh our memories, we  had opted
for privatisation because it was felt that the private  sector would be able to carry out  projects quicker and more efficient.

The North-South Highway was  one example.
We wanted a  world-class quality road
never  before seen in Malaysia, and we  got it in record time.

The idea was to let the private  sector
build these road linkages,  with the
Government imposing  some conditions in
the agreements.

Once the roads are built, the  operators
must maintain and upgrade them. Such an obligation  runs to hundreds of millions of  ringgit.

Like all businesses, concessionaires seek to make money,  too. The Government, on its part,  must honour all business deals if  it is to be viewed positively by  the business community in attracting investments.

For future agreements, it may  be
worthwhile to provide a longer concession period but with  lower rates.

It will also be worthwhile for  the
Government to insist on the  maintenance
of alternative  roads.

If we operate on the open-toll  system
concept, meaning not every motorist would have to pay  the whole amount, then alternative roads are

Obviously, there are political 
ramifications when toll charges 
rise. More so with the general 
election looming. And, aware of 
ground sentiments, Barisan Nasional component parties also objected to
the toll increase.