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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Zambia Road Tolls

The Road Development Agency (RDA) recently announced that it has raised over K100 million from toll fees at various weighbridges since January. Last year RDA raised K296 million from toll fees comfortably exceeding its target of K250 million. The target this year is K360 million which RDA should be able to meet assuming the quoted figures only cover the first quarter or exclude border entry points.

We are still early days in the road tolling programme. One expects it will generate significant revenue going forward. The programme was launched by the PF government in November 2013 in order to provide much needed revenues for road maintenance. The MMD government had laid down the groundwork with the Tolls Act (2011) after mulling over the idea for three years.

When PF came to power, there were genuine questions whether it would abandon the programme because it is at odds with Sata’s populist rhetoric. Instead the expanding road programme means that it now even more necessary. When it comes to the tolling programme, PF has more that stayed the course, it has become evangelical in promoting it. The vision of government is to roll out the programme across the country

Transport Minister Yamfwa Mukanga made this very point when he informed parliament last year that “Government has prioritised the high economic routes….the North South Corridor (through the Great North Road to Nakonde) and the Nacala Corridor through the Great East Road. Sustainable financing for road maintenance will be guaranteed through the National Tolling Programme”

In September 2014, the RDA began construction of 6 toll plazas at the cost of K200m as part of the first tranche of the approved 26 toll plazas on its 67,000-kilometre stretch of tarred roads in a bid to boost revenues for road maintenance.The 6 plazas under construction are Kafulafuta, Manyumbi, Choma, Levy Mwanawasa, Sabina/Ganertone and Kamfinsa. The target is to have these ready by the end of the 2015. In the meantime RDA has procured 30 booths to be used for collecting toll fees while waiting for works on toll plazas to be completed.

The RDA is currently collecting toll fees from vehicles above 6.5 tonnes but that all vehicles will be paying toll fees once the programme is fully rolled out. The vehicles will be paying according to their classification. Small cars will be paying around K10 and the abnormal ones around K250. There is no doubt that the Tolling Programme is progressing well and will undoubtedly prove successful once the plazas are built.

When the MMD brought forward legislation there were real questions around what it was actually going to achieve because the legislation was not consulted on and the rationale was unclear. However, the implementation process so far suggests that fees levels that are being not simply to collect money but also to rationalise demand in fair way.

There is of course room for improvement especially as the programme expands. For one thing there is need for more consultation on where tollgates should be built. The original MMD policy was developed without a green paper for consultation. Indeed, as one reads through the Toll Act (2011) you get the impression that the RDA can impose a toll on any road.

For example, the Act says that "the Agency may, on any road, border post, bridge, pontoon or other place - (a) operate toll points; and (b) erect and maintain such structures necessary for operating toll points. That is clearly too broad sweeping. At present it sounds like a toll road can be erected right outside your house! It erodes the power of local councils to dictate what happens on local roads.

There is no reason for the current PF government to allow RDA this much power. The implementation going forward needs more input from ordinary Zambians not just in terms of feeding into the sites selected, but also in the appropriate level of fees that should be set. The public will also certainly want government to keep an eye on any potential adverse modal switch. Simply put, it does not make sense to have highly punitive toll roads when the rail system is in a state of disrepair. A fact that so far appears not lost on the government.

Chola Mukanga
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2015

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