Malaysiakini Letter

Tolled roads, fuel subsidies will not lead to a larger carbon footprint

TK Chua  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The recent proposals to increase fuel subsidies and to abolish tolls on certain roads by the opposition coalition have gathered the attention of BN.

They consider these measures as infeasible not only from the financial point of view, but claim they will increase the carbon footprint, exacerbate climatic change and environmental degradation.

Put simply, the argument is that tolled roads and reduced fuel subsidies could be used as a means to curb pollution and reduce the carbon footprint.

I think public policies in this country are being discussed in a very piecemeal and inordinate manner.

Do we travel less when the roads are tolled? All I know is tolled roads are jam packed every day. We travel because we need to.

Do we travel less when petrol price is high? In the absence of other means of transportation, again we travel because we need to, unless we choose not to turn up for work or business.

Public policies must be formulated coherently and comprehensively.

When we talk about tolled roads, it must be linked to fair privatisation, reasonable tolls and decent alternative routes. Since when are tolled roads a means to discourage travelling especially when public transportations are still not fully developed?

Just look at our tolled highways. Do we travel less despite the exorbitant tolls? What choice do the people have?

Then we look at the price of petrol. Do we really use less petrol when subsidies are withdrawn? May be some leisurely travels will be affected, but for essential ones, the demand is inelastic, at least in the immediate terms.

When we talk about tolled roads and petrol subsidies, we must consider factors beyond pollution and climate change. When people are hurting, the last thing they have in their minds is climate change. Besides, I think many are sceptical that Malaysia has done much on environment, notwithstanding cut in fuel subsidies or otherwise.

Did we use the taxes on vehicles and fuel prudently? Have we used the toll concessions to benefit the public or the concessionaires? Did we use the money collected to provide cleaner, better and more efficient public transport, both within cities and between cities? If no reasonable alternatives are available, it is impossible to expect the people to reduce fuel consumption, regardless of the price.

I agree that fuel subsidy is a distortion to the economy. But to remove it without viable alternatives is also a distortion because different players in the economy are affected differently.

Those who can’t pass on the cost to others will suffer the brunt of the subsidy removal. Similarly, unfair tolls benefit the concessionaires and vested interest groups more than the public.

Please don’t always use the same argument that fuel subsidies have benefited the middle and upper class more than the poor. The middle class is the most productive class in the country - don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Also, please don’t always argue that tolled roads have brought enormous benefits to travellers. We know that; but we must seriously look at the efficiency and equity aspects of toll roads. Please don’t argue that tolls are based on “cost-plus” when cost is big question mark.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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