Govt must shelve urban tolling idea

HARARE - Plans by the Local Government ministry to set up urban tollgates will surely face stiff resistance from Zimbabweans who are reeling from the effects of myriad challenges.

Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere recently announced that the construction of plazas for use in the project will go ahead.

Transport minister Jorum Gumbo had earlier distanced himself from the proposed urban tollgates, saying if they are put in place, they would be the responsibility of Kasukuwere’s ministry.

Municipalities, who have come under heavy criticism from residents over the state of the roads, have complained over the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara)’s failure to give them enough funds for the rehabilitation of urban roads.

While motorists are currently overburdened with road taxes and highway toll fees, road construction and rehabilitation has remained a pipe-dream.

Highway tollgates, which came into being with the commissioning of the Ndabazinduna Toll Plaza in 2013, were expected to ease the pressure of road maintenance costs on Treasury as funds generated from user charges would now be used. However, while the tollgates added an extra financial load on already over-burdened motorists who have had to live with vehicle licensing, the roads have remained in a sorry state.

Despite Zinara raking in millions of dollars every year, very little, if anything, has been happening towards the rehabilitation of highways in the country.

The roads administrator has also taken over vehicle licensing from local authorities, making it difficult for councils to fund road construction, upgrades as well as maintenance. It appears the urban tollgates will come in to squeeze the taxpayer further while the funds collected are never properly accounted for.

Meanwhile, road infrastructure continues to deteriorate at massive costs to the economy. Road infrastructure investment plays a critical role in unlocking the economic potential of areas hitherto hard to access.

We are quite aware that a well-maintained road network has enormous economic advantages while maintenance of existing infrastructure created jobs for local communities.

The tragedy of our situation lies in imposing another levy before a forensic audit of the funds that have been collected so far but with insignificant benefits to the motoring and commuting public who are routinely exposed to danger on the poor roads. Adequate consultations are needed before the Local Government ministry rushes to introduce urban tolling. Urban residents are struggling to survive and the new toll fees may force commuter operators to pass the cost onto the commuting public.

It is important for government to avoid railroading policies that impact negatively on people’s lives because citizens’ buy-in will be difficult to get.

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