PM: Too costly to abolish all tolls

The govt is currently in talks with Gamuda with the aim to reduce toll rates at LDP, SPRINT, KESAS and the SMART Tunnel


PRIME Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government is taking all the necessary steps to keep its election promise by abolishing toll collection in stages, as an all-out removal of tolls would be deemed “too expensive”.

The Pakatan Harapan administration is currently negotiating terms with Gamuda Bhd — which has a majority stake in Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), Sistem Penyuraian Trafik Kuala Lumpur Barat (SPRINT), Lebuhraya Shah Alam (KESAS) and the SMART Tunnel — with the aim to reduce toll rates at these highways.

“To cancel all the rates would be too expensive. We need to buy the toll roads, but when we buy, we have to raise money and service the loans that we raised. We are trying to reduce the amount of money we have to pay for acquiring the highway.

“We will go stage-by-stage and step-by-step, not the full toll-free road. We have toll-free at certain times, and toll-free at other times,” Dr Mahathir told reporters after officiating Metrod Holdings Bhd’s new plant in Klang yesterday.

On Saturday, Putrajaya announced that it has begun talks with Gamuda to negotiate the acquisition of the four highway concessions that the company has majority stakes in.

“Upon successful takeover of the highways, the government intends to abolish the existing toll mechanism.

“In its place, a ‘congestion charge’ will be introduced where commuters will only pay the ‘congestion charge’ equivalent to the existing toll for six hours of ‘peak’ period a day,” the PM’s office said in a statement.

This means that during the offpeak period between 11pm and 5am, commuters will travel on the highway for free.

At other regular travelling hours, commuters will enjoy discounted rates of up to 30% compared to existing toll rates.

Responding to criticism on the odd-hour charges, Dr Mahathir said: “We offer cheaper rates (between 11pm and 5am) because not many people use the roads. This will encourage people to use that time to travel, so that they can benefit from the reduction of the rates.”

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir said the acquisition of the highways from a private entity would translate into more costs to be borne by the federal government.

“The government needs to buy the highway, which will come from taxpayers’ money. These roads will need to be maintained and repaired all the time.

“This will be on the government and no longer on the company. What this means is, a part of tax money now has to be channelled to maintain these roads, leaving the government short of money for other projects that require funds,” he said.

Separately, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad said he is hopeful for the proposed takeover to be in favour of the people’s interest.

“Nothing has been finalised yet. This is possible now because of the fact that most of the highways are already owned by the government. We can look at the agreement and make the necessary adjustments,” Khalid said, adding that it is something for the Transport Ministry to deliberate with the Cabinet for approval.

Meanwhile, in a filing to Bursa Malaysia yesterday, Gamuda confirmed that it is in talks with the government in relation to the proposed takeover.

“As the board of directors of Gamuda has a fiduciary duty to deliver fair and reasonable value to all its shareholders, Gamuda has to ensure that the proposed transaction will be based on market valuation norms and practices,” the filing read.

The company’s shares fell 5.92% or 18 sen yesterday to close at RM2.86, with 41.68 million shares traded. Gamuda has a market capitalisation of RM7.06 billion.