Now is not the time for a toll hike, Malaysians say

Now is not the time for a toll hike, Malaysians say

PUTRAJAYA - Please, don't burden us further with a hike in toll rates, say the public and transport companies.

Some members of the public said they already found it hard to cope with rising food costs and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and could not afford another setback.

Lorry and bus operators said an increase in toll rates would come on top of the high operating costs that they were already struggling with.

A Cabinet meeting discussed the raising of toll charges this year - and by as much as 30 per cent.

The North-South Expressway (PLUS) will not be affected.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said there was no final decision on the toll increase.

Details will be released in the coming weeks, he said after chairing a Barisan Nasional supreme council meeting last night.

Several ministers at the Cabinet meeting were against allowing the increase.

"They felt that it was not a good time to increase toll charges when the prices of other things had gone up recently," said a source.

No decision was made and Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof issued a statement later, saying the ministry would be having "further discussions" with the toll operators.

He said that the Cabinet members have given their feedback and "I will consider every one of them".

A planned increase in 2011 was staved off when the Govern­ment compensated the toll operators instead.

The amount paid was confidential but it was reported last year that it was about RM400mil (S$143.4 m).

It was now time to decide whether to allow the operators to raise the toll this year or pay compensation again.

The compensation this time would be RM558.9mil, according to a report quoting Deputy Works Minister Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid, who spoke at the Dewan Rakyat last year.

She had said that this would have to be paid if the Government did not want the tolls raised at 20 highways.

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association said now was not the time to increase toll charges.

Its CEO Datuk Paul Selvaraj said Malaysians were already under a lot of pressure from other rising costs.

"There's also economic instability. Graduates are struggling to get jobs and there is a lot of unemployment," he said.

Selvaraj said the Government should look towards reducing toll, not increasing it.

"Focus on public transportation," he added.

National Consumer Complaints Centre director Datuk Marimuthu Nadason warned that any toll increase would have a chain reaction.

He said the cost of goods and services would go up, with providers blaming the increased cost of transportation.

"Also, the ringgit is weakening and people will suffer more if rates were to go up. The Government must do what's right for the people," he said.

Pan-Malaysia Lorry Owners' Asso­ciation president Jong Foh Jit said an increase would not only affect the transporters but all road users.

He said the GST had already caused prices to increase.

"Even makan also more costly. Please, no more increases," he said.

Express bus operators, in particular, would be badly affected by any hike in toll charges, said Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Associa­tion president Datuk Mohamad Ashfar Ali.

"If it happens, this is sure to affect us and eventually, our passengers," he said, adding that they were suffering due to high operating costs and low ticketing charges.

A Universiti Sains Malaysia transportation expert said the Govern­ment might not be able to keep compensating the concessionaires.

"According to their contracts, they are supposed to increase the toll every year because of inflation," said Prof Dr Ahmad Farhan Sadullah.

He said the Government had been trying to absorb the cost.

"I'm wondering if it has become too much to bear," he added.

Transport planner Goh Bok Yen said instead of paying compensation, the Government should buy over the highways.

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