Road maintenance: Toll roads part of a package of solutions
South Africa has an estimated backlog of R80 tot R149 billion in road maintenance funding. And if road maintenance is delayed, the cost for repairs, rehabilitation and other services, increases exponentially.
According to the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), a three to five year delay in maintenance increases the required repair costs by between six and 18 times. Because of the subsequent decrease in riding quality, the vehicle operating cost of roads could easily double, with the associated ripple effect on the economy.
According to Stephan Krygsman, associate professor of Transport Economics at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, the ideal would be to fund maintenance from a combination of fuel levies, other taxes including tyre tax, levies on spare parts, carbon tax, mass distance tax and road user charging (toll roads). Massive investments on rail and other forms of public transport are also needed to alleviate congestion on the roads. Roads user costs collected as tolls should be based on Social Marginal Costs. This means that the road user costs includes, in addition to the construction and maintenance costs and private costs, also the congestion, pollution and other external costs not usually included in road costs.
Speaking at the Faculty’s Class Day, Krygsman said that the focus within the next 10 to 25 years will be on toll roads. These roads are here to stay and we will see a lot of expansion. “And it is not necessarily a bad thing,” Krygsman added.
According to him most countries are considering expanding their toll network as it is considered to be an efficient and equitable means of securing funds for large scale road projects and it accelerates the securing of funds to expand the much needed high volume road network which, in the absence of toll income, might only materialise much later and perhaps never.
However, as we all know, tolls are contentious. Collection of monies can be expensive and inefficient, lower volume roads can lead to a loss and if there are a sufficient number of other forms of road user charges to cover total road cost responsibility, there can be over-recovery or double recovery. Toll roads can also discriminate against people that live near the facility.
When a toll road is located in an urban area, the following steps could be introduced to mitigate possible discrimination and public resistance: Toll should be varied according to the time of day and the number of vehicles on the road at a certain time; there should be low, or even no toll outside of peak hours; alternative means of transport should be provided; discount should be given to regular users.
Introducing toll into an urban area it can make city living expensive. Other international proven means of “softening” the impact include: the use of toll to charge for congestion – it should not be used to fund roads in other areas; revenues should be linked to specific uses such as addressing accessibility of and to the city; relevant knowledge should be conveyed to the public.
International experience has shown that the public favours toll over taxes and it represents freedom of choice – only those who use the toll road, pay the toll.
“Toll roads are part of a package of solutions to fund road maintenance projects,” says Krygsman.
“It is undeniably a good option to fund our economic infrastructure. However, other components of the solutions are not addressed. This includes reform of road funding, appropriate institutional structure, acceptable public transport options and and acceptable rail freight netword. As toll roads seem so successful they may be considered a cure-all to all road funding problems. This may lead to over-optimistic toll road projects with toll rates at too high levels or tolling roads in urban areas without the revenue being shared to address the city’s transport problems.”