Trinidad and Tobago motorists, accustomed to driving on the country’s roadways without being required to pay a special fee, save with respect to the Priority Bus Route, may soon be required to pay a toll for use of new highways Government plans to construct under a $2.5 billion highway expansion programme.
The proposed departure from the long accepted norm follows the insistence of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), from which Government is seeking a loan for the highways project, that concessionaire funding, another term for road tolls, be introduced. If this is done, Trinidad and Tobago will join such countries in the Hemisphere as Chile, Costa Rica and the United States of America. It is an international device adopted by several other nations apart from those in North, Central and South America, for example the United Kingdom, Germany and France, which not only assists with the repayment of the cost of the highways, but for their maintenance as well. In addition, it frees Government revenues inter alia for further highways expansion, as well as the expansion of hospitals, hospital services and schools and the upkeep of Government buildings.
In turn, because it is a form of indirect taxation to treat with a formidable item of expenditure, it reduces the need to increase direct taxation, to wit income and corporate taxes. A plus in many of the developed countries is that the toll has tended to encourage persons heading in the same direction or travelling to the same place of work to have car pools, rather than travel to work etc., in their vehicles singly. Traffic on these highways as well as other roads is eased, reducing the incidence of traffic jams, and the problems of reaching to work and school late with the troubling, negative effect of drops in productivity at the work place and classroom. Meanwhile, motorists not wishing to pay the toll, will have as in other countries where the toll system has been introduced, the option of using main roads or other and older highways where the toll does not apply. No decision has yet been reached as to what the toll will be, although Minister of Works, Franklyn Khan, has thrown out either $10 or $5 as a possible figure.
One alternative to the toll is a sharp reduction in the gasolene subsidy, while another is the increase in direct taxes. Although they will spread the �burden’ across the taxpaying and vehicle owner public, persons who are less likely to make use of the new highways may regard either of these approaches as punitive and an imposition. In turn, this would be more than likely to trigger both an increase in conventional taxi and maxi taxi fares and a demand for additional wages to meet the cost of spiralling transport prices. With the introduction of the road toll, however, the rise in taxi fares which may be applied to taxis using the new highways should be minimal, and persons would be paying the additional fares for the facility of reaching to work and school without the humbug of stressful traffic jams.
Transport Minister Khan has spoken of the possibility of Government’s absorbing part of the cost of the highways expansion programme. Whatever happens, however, Trinidad and Tobago will become part of the growing international trend in road tolls. All that remains for the Government to do now is maintain the roads. Let us be rid of potholes and subsiding road edges and all other irritants that road users experience on a daily basis. Why should it take close to two hours to drive from Arima to Port-of-Spain. Before we rush to copying other countries we should first fix our own roads.