IT WILL come as no surprise that the proposed 10% toll hike will come into force on Jan 1. The increase will have to be accepted or the Government will have to fork out RM154mil to compensate the concessionaires, PLUS.
It is just not possible for the Government to avoid this commitment as the condition of compensation has already been reached between the two parties that a hike be allowed every three years.
Many motorists who make use of the North South Expressway (NSE) must have hoped that pressure could be exerted on the Government and PLUS to postpone the increase.
However, the Government has felt that it cannot go on subsidising the hike indefinitely and that a line has to be drawn somewhere or billions would have to be spent to pay the concessionaires.
So there is little that the present Government can do as the agreement was arrived at long ago and it had no choice but to honour the obligation.
It would be bad for its image and reputation if the Abdullah administration should breach the terms and conditions of the contract with PLUS as it would send the wrong signals to both foreign and local investors.
It may have been a lop-sided contract as the concessionaires are protected from losses resulting from managing the project. But that is the reality of the situation and the Government and the people will have to live with it.
In any case, the Government cannot keep on playing nanny to make the people happy. The public must learn to accept the hard truth that if they wish to enjoy the benefits of any project, they must be prepared to pay for it.
The Government has been providing subsidies far too readily in order to make it easier for the ordinary people to enjoy some relief from inflation. It is necessary to cut back on this expenditure as the money saved is urgently needed elsewhere.
In this respect, the Government has continued to subsidise essential goods so that people can obtain such goods at a cheaper price as they are needed for their daily existence.
However, in the case of petrol and highway tolls, it is another issue altogether. Such subsidies will benefit only a section of consumers who are car owners. Some people have abused the cheap petrol and diesel prices and keep on buying cars for their personal enjoyment.
Why should the Government spend billions each year to sustain the lifestyle of this group as any subsidy should benefit the whole nation and not the few privileged consumers.
There should be no complaints by those who make use of the NSE for travel along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. There is no doubt that the expressway has not only shortened the journey but also made it much more pleasant to drive.
PLUS may have some shortcomings in its operations but it has managed to keep the expressway in reasonable shape and provide many stops with eateries and toilet facilities for the travellers to break journey.
But PLUS has explained to the National Economic Consultative Council that part of the 10% increase would be used for upgrading, repairing and maintaining the North-South Expressway which stretches from Bukit Kayu Hitam in the north all the way south to Johor.
However, it does not hold the monopoly for road transportation along the west coast. There are still many excellent, though narrower, federal and state highways which motorists can use as an alternative to travel without having to pay toll.
If they should decide to show their objection to any toll increase, the motorists could always avoid the NSE and take the alternate route instead. However, they will have to face a longer travelling time and a more tedious and hazardous journey due to the heavy traffic on such roads.
Maybe some of the motorists should stop campaigning against the 10% hike. If they wish to save time and enjoy the convenience of travel, then they should be prepared to pay the price, which is still the cheapest in the region.
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