by David Temitope
The Roman Empire under the rule of Emperor Julio Caesar constructed and commissioned roads (viae) in 44 BC. The construction of these roads was solely by the Government, and a year later in 45 BC; there were challenges of maintenance and congestion on several roads. The Emperor then decreed that goods transporting carts (vehicles) should not travel by day, so as to ease traffic congestion. The maintenance of the roads was left in the hands of the people in the neighbouring communities close to the roads. The results were not positive; traffic congestion persisted, as did the need for road maintenance. They however found a solution, one which the people frowned at initially. It was a solution which made vehicles pay for the damage they cause to the road, helped ease traffic as some users’ plied alternative routes, and made the people directly responsible for the maintenance of the roads they use. The solution was to toll the roads. A toll road is private or public roadway on which a fee is charged for its usage. It is a form of road pricing typically implemented to help recoup the cost of road construction and maintenance; it also helps to discourage the use of certain roads by some class of vehicles, such as heavy duty vehicles and non-road worthy vehicles.
Two millennials on, and the world has not found a better way to solve the problems tolls tackle. There may be resistance from the people whenever their Government wants to impose road charges. This is the situation in Nigeria, a country with poor interstate road networks and dwindling economic fortunes. The country’s recession makes it difficult for the Government to of fund the construction and maintenance of existing or new highways. Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Works, and Housing, Mr Raji Fashola, in 2016; stated that only 28,980km out of the country’s 193,200km total length of road network has been developed. This implies that the country has a deficit of 164,220km of road network. The country’s interstate roads are in appalling conditions and this increases user’s cost. An example of this is when travelling from Ikom to Calabar; both towns are in central and southern Cross River State respectively. The distance between these towns is about 291 Km, hence, it should approximately take a travel time of two hours, when driving at the average design speed of 100km/hr. But due to the hideous state of the road, which stretches across seven local government areas, the travel time is about 4 hours and thirty minutes.
In 2003, the then Nigerian President abolished the collection of tolls on interstate roads. He cited corruption at the toll plazas as his main reason for doing so. There were daily returns of 63 million Naira ($525,000 per day, based on 120/$), which is 23 billion Naira per year, from over thirty toll plazas. In his words “Between 1999 and 2002, the ministry of works received 139 billion Naira, the tolls caused accidents. Look at Ibadan toll plaza, there is a big pothole just kilometers before it, so it is not doing enough. We will use the proceeds from petroleum tax of ₦1:50k per Liter, to construct roads.” Fourteen years later, Obasanjo’s solution looks more like severing the head from the body because of a headache. The roads have become worse and there is little oil money left to construct and maintain them. Perhaps it is time to revert back to Emperor Julio Caesar tolling method.
WHY NIGERIANS SHOULD EMBRACE ROAD USAGE CHARGES
The country is currently in an economic recession and experiencing dwindling oil revenues. Some Nigerians may want to resist the return of toll plazas on interstate roads, citing corruption, mismanagement of funds generated, and compounding hardship, as their reasons. Driving on bad roads increases travel time, fuel consumption, vehicle maintenance, etc. All these directly increase road users cost. Considering the negative economic and financial implications of bad roads on your pocket, perhaps you would prefer paying a relatively low fee so you can drive on good roads. The invention of Electronic Road Pricing (EPR) devices will help eliminate some of the issue of corruption, and mismanagement of proceeds from toll plazas. The technology would also provide jobs for the nation’s rapidly growing ICT sector. The issue of more hardship due to imposition of tolls by some citizens should not be discarded. The “smart” citizens should not think the former set of people are dumb, in fact their agitations and concerns are genuine, and not smokescreen. But we must consider Emperor Julio Caesar’s stance on tolls when agitations were made. The Emperor was convinced that, not every agitator had a cart; some were commuters who have been told to pay extra by their transporters due to tolls. It was a situation of transporters exploiting the tolls, to raise charges. The Emperor was also aware that not every vehicle was worthy to use the roads; hence he used the theory of “perception over reality”. The Roman Government was able to communicate the reasons for the tolls to the people effectively. They made the people see the benefits of tolls, suppressing public emotions, and harnessing the people’s volition. Nigeria’s concerned executives, especially President Muhammadu Buhari must fine-tune their communication, if they want the people to accept the tolls; without their somewhat dwindling popularity hitting new lows. The Government must buttress the positives and not just counter the negatives. The use of military and police might as a way of communicating on civil issues may not work and may discredit the whole scheme, as perception is more important than reality. They must show genuineness through the use of technology.
WHAT CAN REVENUE FROM ROAD CHARGES DO IN THE 2017 BUDGET?
Nigeria had 1,108,000 vehicles registered in 2003, that number has risen by 956.5 percent to approximately 10.6m, in 2016 (FRSC). The number of vehicles plying the highways is directly proportional to the revenue generated from road charges. In the 2017 budget, 311.5bn was earmarked for capital works on roads. Considering the increase in registered vehicles and assuming a direct relationship with revenue, road charges could have generated up to 220 billion Naira in 2016. This is 70.6 percent of the 2017 capital budget for roads. Simply put, the toll revenues will help finance more road constructions and maintenances. Road construction will create more jobs for the people and reduce poverty.
HOW DO ELECTRONIC ROAD PRICING (ERP) SYSTEMS WORK?
The electronic road pricing system is an electronic toll collection scheme that is a usage-based taxation mechanism.The system uses open road tolling; vehicles do not stop or slow down to pay tolls, thereby eliminating traffic congestion as the one experienced on the Lekki toll plazas, in Lagos. There are several types of ERP in existence, the system is made up of sensors, cameras, scanners, and screens. Vehicles that ply the roads will be electronically charged. Public and private vehicles which ply the roads would have to buy the cards from which the charges will be deducted. Vehicles which ply the roads without the card or insufficient funds in card would be sensed and their plate numbers pictured. Their penalty fees, regular road usage charges which should have been paid, and administrative fee, will be forwarded to such offenders; through mails, calls, texts and posts to their residential or office address. Failure of the culprit to pay, may lead to vehicle impound and suspension of driver’s license, after which the previous charges and new administrative charges will be paid by the culprit. The usage of the electronic road pricing system will help the country’s road construction and maintenance demands, boost revenue, and promote the Central Bank of Nigeria, cashless policy.
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