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The return of tollgates

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Sir: The issue of tollgates spilled out into the air and took possession of the land when the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola disclosed that the FG is working on modalities for the reintroduction of cashless toll plazas, other logistics include, acquiring more lands that will provide up to 10 lanes plazas.

My brow became clouded like a cloudy sky as I listened to the Minister’s statement with rapt attention. In a flash, I came to the understanding that it was still a proposal and not a policy statement. I asked rhetorically, why would the government want to reintroduce the tollgates? The answers came to me in barrels: Perhaps, the tolled road would bring market demand for the process of selecting worthwhile road projects.

Perhaps, the tollgates reintroduction will serve broader goals for growth and economic development. Perhaps, the tolled roads would add significantly to road capacity. Perhaps, the reintroduction is a way of generating income for the maintenance of federal roads. Perhaps, limited funds are available for construction and maintenance. Perhaps, the tollgates reintroduction is an effective financing mechanism that will present Nigeria with resources to embark on a strategic shift in sustainable transportation infrastructure. Perhaps, the revenue streams are shrinking and are not enough to maintain the federal roads.

At the moment and borrowing to build and operate transportation infrastructure is not sustainable as our public debts are going through the roof. So, many reasons for the reintroduction flooded my mind. I breathed a fresh breathe and came to the conclusion that the issue is like an antelope entangled in creepers. Who will bell the antelope?

When former President Olusegun Obasanjo increased the fuel pump from N26 to N42 in June 2003, his morsel of consolation was the removal of tollgates having built the toll fare into the petroleum pump price. It was strangely pleasing but that was a palliative measure.

What will be the soothing measure this time around? The options available are numerous; let the federal government continue the commendable rail transport expansion. Rail transport remains the cheapest and the most efficient of all modes of transportation globally. It will reduce the high cost of maintenance as it carried more than 80 percent of domestic freight and passengers.

Similarly, in land waterways is one of the oldest means of transportation, it is the most economical, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly means of transporting goods from place to place. We are blessed with a coastline of about 870km and about 3,000 kilometer of inland waterways.

One wonder why we are not making use of the opportunity nature offered us. The resistance to tollgates fare is expected as there is a perception that the FG will not utilize the collected funds to maintain the road. Most people would agree 100 percent with our Minister of works if we can have a system where an electronic toll collection technology that eliminates the need for tokens at the tollgate is deployed, where sensors at tollgates record a car passing through and the tolls are then charged to the tag’s owner’s account.

But is this possible? I have eliminated the word impossibility from my dictionary… It is as sure as the rock of gilbrater that transport fare will increase, as the motorist will put the burden on the commuters. The spiral effect is that there will be an increase in the prices of goods and services.

What then is the permanent solution? It is important that Planners of tollgate return first determine the critical needs, and then shop for toll funding to support them. But quite frankly the Government needs public-private partnership to make it work. If we have to be honest, most of the federal roads in the nooks and crannies of the country are lying on the sick bed and need doctors to urgently salvage them. Who are these doctors? They are those in the position of authorities who will do the needful and prevent the untimely death of innocent souls before embarking on a turnpike.

Olusanya Anjorin wrote from Lagos.


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