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LETTER | Free tolls a cause of heavier than normal congestion

LETTER | During major festive periods with extended holidays, the headline such as ‘Heavy traffic on Expressways” would appear normal. No surprises as it is something expected.

But this time around, the horrible traffic jam increased multifold causing so much frustration and anger to motorists and the travelling public.

What happened? The simple answer is that the unprecedented terrible traffic jam was our own doing; we created the problem.

As part of its corporate social responsibility, both the North-South Expressway (NSE) and the East-Coast Expressway (ECE), decided to implement toll-free rates just prior and after Hari Raya holidays.

Yes, the kind gesture was appreciated by the rakyat but in the process, it created a fresh set of problems even to the extent of erasing the toll-free benefits motorists enjoyed.

The timing of the toll-free rates was way out of line with what a transport economist would have recommended.

It is common in the transportation sector to impose higher rates during peak hours in order to reduce congestion. It’s meant to encourage road users who can be flexible with their usage to shift away from peak periods.

But the NSE and ECE did just the opposite! By encouraging and inviting more motorists to travel during peak periods to take advantage of the free toll, they exacerbated the situation and worsened the already peak-period congestion.

They also created a fresh set of problems such as a shortage of petrol along the highway.

The associated costs or disbenefits, if computed, are also high. The extra fuel burnt due to the slowing moving traffic meant that air pollution also increased correspondingly.

What about the wear and tear of the vehicles? And the loss of man-hours idling in the traffic jam?

There is also the human factor. Any motorist worth his salt can attest to the fact that it can be so frustrating and exasperating when caught in such a long jam; their stiff legs overworked by constantly pressing the brakes and accelerator over an extended period of time.

Tiredness and fatigue sets in. The stress and strain of drivers, including their loved ones cooped up in the vehicle, who inched their way over a considerably long period of time unfortunately cannot be quantified but it is enough to be impactful.

The management of the express bus service too must also be fuming mad as their turnaround time was adversely affected in terms of less trips per day.

We learnt from Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob that it’s good to know that the Transport Ministry, Works Ministry, Malaysian Highway Authority, and highway operators have long term plans to overcome the frequent problem of traffic congestion during festive periods.

This is welcome news. The authorities must have some sort of control on the extent of congestion on the highways during festive periods.

By all means, the highway operators are free to give motorists something to cheer about during festive periods but the timing must be right.

The whole idea is to smoothen or level off the traffic curve - to redistribute traffic - by applying the toll-free rates during non-peak hours such as midnight to 6am a few days before and after.

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

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