Making road tolls more productive and cost-effective in Ghana
All over the world, road tolls are collected to provide a sustainable source of revenue for on-going road maintenance and improvement. Tolling is an innovative and cost-effective approach to addressing national transportation infrastructure challenges while providing a safe and reliable option for the travelling public to reach their destination.
Countries such as Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland among others, have widely adopted road tolling through various means. Even in the United States of America (USA), more than 4,000 kilometres of the interstate highway system are tolled.
IMPORTANCE AND RELEVANCE OF TOLL BOOTHS
This, therefore, shows how relevant and important road tolls play in the development of a nation because in some jurisdiction, road tolls allow new roads to be built and maintained without raising taxes on the general public.
The amount of tolls, usually varies by vehicle type, weight or number of axles, with freight trucks often charged higher rates than saloon cars. In most advanced countries, some collection points are automated and the user deposits money in a machine which opens the gate once the correct toll has been paid. In order to cut cost and minimise time delay, many tolls are collected with electronic collection equipment which automatically communicates with a toll payer’s transponder or uses automatic number plate recognition to charge drivers by debiting their accounts.
EXEMPTIONS FROM PAYMENT OF TOLLS
Over here in Ghana, the Road Fund Act, Act 536, exempts vehicles bearing official identification marks of institutions such as the Armed Forces, Police, Fire Service, Prisons, Diplomatic Missions on reciprocal basis, government and mission hospitals and the Ghana Red Cross Society, from paying road tolls.
It is estimated that Ghana has about 35 toll booths nationwide and collects approximately GH¢1million daily. These toll booths are mandated to collect tolls from vehicles including motorbikes with the exception of the security services and other exempted vehicles. Four of these toll booths namely, Accra Plaza, Tema Plaza, NgleshieAmanfro and Amasaman have been automated as of 2019. Charges by these toll booths range from saloon to other heavy duty vehicles but that of saloon car attracts a fee of 50 pesewas.
CONTROVERSY OVER THE PAYMENT OF ROAD TOLLS
In recent times, payments of these road tolls in the country, have been characterised with misunderstandings by motorists, especially commercial road transport operators who are crying foul about the manner in which money accrued from these tolls is disbursed by the government and also its intention to increase the current rate.
According to the drivers, years of the collection of road tolls in the country had not reflected in the routine maintenance of roads. They claim that today, there are more potholes on the roads than before and have become deathtraps. The question they are now asking is, “What has the government been using the road tolls for?”
To them, The Road Fund from all intent and purposes, was set up to receive money generated from the road tolls for the routine maintenance of our roads. But government, instead of using the money, rather mortgaged the Road Fund and raised money for other things in the road sector instead of maintaining the roads.
PAYMENT OF NEW ROAD TOLLS
The drivers have picked up information that Parliament has already approved the new road tolls and they have, therefore, registered their strong protest that they were not consulted for their input on the computation of the new tolls and that is not fair to them.
The drivers were of the view that if the sector minister, Mr. Kwasi Amoako-Atta had consistently made it clear that there were leakages in the collection of the road tolls, then increasing of road tolls was not a prudent measure to seal the leakages. The best option is for the minister to devise scientific or digital ways of blocking the leakages in order to maximise the money generated from the tolls.
“We have also picked up intelligence that there are plans to add the tolls to the prices of fuel at the pumps in order to do away with the toll booths. This also, we vehemently reject it. The commercial road transport operation is already reeling under serious high fuel price increases coupled with daily increases in spare parts. As a result, any additional tax or increase in road toll will collapse our businesses,” they stated.
ARGUMENT BY COMMERCIAL DRIVERS
Indeed, the argument being put forward by these commercial drivers is genuine and meritorious and, therefore, must be given serious attention by the government. How can you increase road tolls when you have alluded to loophole regarding the collection process? You need to plug these loopholes first to ensure that money due the Road Fund is collected before embarking on any further decision to amend the current rate.
We are told that out of 35 toll booths nationwide, only four have been automated since 2019. That is preposterous and unacceptable in a country such as Ghana. We need to find out why it is difficult to automate the rest of the toll booths. These manual processes of handling these toll booths have resulted in huge sums of money going down the drain daily. Besides, human cannot be well trusted and, therefore, personal handling of money from these toll booths can encourage corruption since there will be lack of transparency and accountability. We need to take a second look at road tolling mechanism in our country because it is another surest way of generating enough revenue to improve and maintain our road infrastructure to safeguard lives and property.
ELECTRONIC TOLL BOOTHS
Considering various electronic toll booths system that have been deployed in many parts of the world and the innumerable advantages they bring to such countries, it is safe to say that this project will address the challenges faced in developing countries in relation to toll collection. This electronic means of toll collection will also ease congestion at various toll booths where vehicles have to queue for manual payment before they can be allowed to cross the barrier.
It is regretful to state that ministers and government officials in charge of roads and transport, make frequent trips abroad where we have some of these automated toll booths, yet when they return from these travels, they do little to influence governments to streamline the processes to bring them in line with what they have seen abroad.
ADDING TOLL BOOTH CHARGES TO FUEL PRICES AT THE PUMPS
It is also amazing to hear that the government intends to add the tolls to the prices of fuel at the pumps in order to do away with the toll booths. That is dangerous and suicidal to say the least because not all road users patronise these toll booths and, therefore, some will be paying for services they have not used. Besides, this will encourage increases in transport fares unjustifiably. It is important and necessary for parliament to tread cautiously on the decision they make on this issue, otherwise, it will create chaos within the transport sector and affect the country in general.
Indeed, we need to make the collection of road tolls more productive and cost-effective to the best interest of our country because it is a force to reckon with to solve the numerous problems relating to the transportation sector.
By Charles Neequaye
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