Postponed toll hike offers a breather during pandemic

We Malaysians love to complain. The slightest annoyance riles us up and we often take to social media to air our woes. Complaining can be good as it keeps those in power on their toes and it is therapeutic too!

But when we are so caught up in ranting, we sometimes take for granted the good deeds by others. It is human nature to complain when we are aggrieved but we don’t give enough credit when the help we receive is subtle and indirect, but no less meaningful.

Take the government’s recent decision to freeze the toll hike for several highways this year. For many road users, it’s just business as usual as long as their wallets do not get any lighter by the announcement.

But I remember when the government allowed Besraya to hike the toll for its highway from RM1.30 to RM2 in 2015. That’s a hike of over 50% overnight! The rate still holds today.

As someone who used the highway to go to KL for work, the hike ate into my monthly expenses because I had to pass through two tolls. A daily return trip meant that I had to fork out an additional RM2.80 per day, not to mention the occasional trips downtown. On top of that, my wife who carpooled to work with her colleague using the same highway, also had to fork out extra expenses.

And Besraya was just one of the highway concessionaires given the nod to hike toll rates at that time. Several other highway operators also raised toll prices at the same time, pushing up transportation costs.

Besides higher transportation costs, there’s also the spillover effect. Gradually, I noticed that prices of goods near my place started to creep up. When I enquired, traders attributed it to the rise in transportation costs. Whether it was an excuse to fleece customers or otherwise, the hole it burnt in my pocket was real.

After the experience, I have since been very mindful of toll hike announcements like the one made by Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof on April 30. I am glad that the government has postponed the hike.

This is definitely not the right time to raise transportation costs because the burden will eventually be passed on to consumers. With Covid-19 still raging and the economic recovery yet to pick up pace, the last thing we need is to add more burden to consumers.

The government has done the right thing by holding off a hike and forking out from its coffers compensation of RM2.093 billion to highway concessionaires. And for that, we ought to give credit to the government.

Thiagu Subramanian

Taman Universiti, Seri Kembangan

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