By George Morara
The government of Kenya has announced plans to introduce toll stations on five major highways in a bid to develop and maintain Kenyan roads better.
Among roads targeted for the exercise include the Nairobi- Mombasa highway, the Nairobi- Nakuru-Mau Summit highway, Thika Road, Nairobi’s Southern Bypass and a second Nyali bridge in Mombasa.
Speaking during a stakeholders meeting on the introduction of the tolls, Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) Director General Peter Mundinia said the projects will be carried out through a Public- Private Partnership plan (PPP), where developers will construct, maintain and then charge a fee for using roads they manage.
Motorists using these roads will have to part with an average of between Kshs 1 and Kshs 3 per kilometre for the next 30 years. In August 2017, KeNHA proposed a charging formula depending on the type of the vehicle, where saloon cars are to be charged Kshs 3 per kilometre while pick-ups and vans will part with Kshs 2 for the same distance.
Medium and large trucks are to be charged Kshs 2 and Kshs 3 per kilometre, respectively. Nevertheless, these plans by the highways’ authority are likely to ignite a wave of resistance from motorists who view tolls as double taxation and a cash cow for corrupt officials in government.
Transport Principal Secretary John Mosonik has however defended plans to introduce toll charges, saying that funds collected will develop debilitated roads in other parts of the country.
“These projects will not only cut down costs for motorists in terms of fuel savings, lost man hours and car maintenance costs, but are also expected to greatly spur economic activity along the corridors they pass,” Mosonik said.
The Transport ministry says transport costs account for around 30 per cent of the cost of goods and services across the region, occasioned by poor infrastructure and thousands of man-hours lost in traffic jams daily.
KeNHA said complete roads such as the Thika Superhighway and the Nairobi Southern Bypass, which do not require any repairs, will be tendered out soon, so that private partners may start managing them while collecting tolls.
Mundinia further stated that the Nairobi-Mombasa and Nairobi-Nakuru highways will be revampedinto dual carriage ways by successful private partners before the toll charges kick off.
All the ma jor roads to be constructed will be maintained by KeNHA, apart from the construction of the second Nyali Bridge which will be managed by Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) and will serve as a means to decongest MombasaIsland. KeNHA noted that there will be three formats for charging toll fees at thetollbooths.
Among these will include a manual format where motorists stop and pay, an electronic system that uses prepaid cards that can be swiped and a third system in which vehicles may be fitted with tags.
During the meeting, theMatatu Welfare Association, through its chaiman Dickson Mbugua opposed the proposal, terming it as a punishment to motorists.
“We are already paying a lot of taxes and charges as matatu owners, this will be punishing us,” Mbugua lamented, asking the government to engage all stakeholders before rolling out the project.
The fuel levy that is included in the cost of fuel and is used to maintain roads was also raised, with players questioning why the government would seek more funds from the public for road maintenance.
“I don’t expect the fuel price to go down, but it will stabilise and not go up. Also, all roads under tolling will not receive any fuel levy money,” said Mosonik.
The fuel levy, he explained, is used only for maintaining roads and not development. Initially, roads have been maintained through tax revenues.
The introduction of toll roads has also raised issues of equity and fairness in that without the alternative of toll free roads, it will hinder the free movement of the public. Moreover, choosing to apply toll charges on particular roads may be viewed as discriminatory.
This is a second attempt for Kenya to try to introduce toll charges, after the first attempt in the late 1980s was scrapped in the mid-1990s due to rampant corruption at toll stations.
The toll fee would later be replaced by road maintenance levies charged on fuel prices.