Sun | Apr 23, 2017

Toll rates are testing our mettle

Published:Monday | September 28, 2015 | 9:00 AM

Well, it was nice while it lasted. Sure, I didn't like the prolonged steep incline and descent of the Mt Rosser bypass toll highway, but the scenery was breathtaking, I was able to avoid getting stuck behind huge, lumbering, slow- moving, smoky trucks; there was very little traffic, it saved about 20 minutes and my pickup (a designated Class 2 vehicle) easily handled the challenge.

I knew that ascending the hill consumed a lot of fuel, that descending it consumed the brake pads and that the traffic cops were always checking to see if you obeyed that ridiculous 80 kilometre per hour speed limit but the corners were few and the hills were majestic. Although I always thought that the $420 one-way cost was rather expensive, I figured that it was a treat that I could afford. After all, I only travelled there once or twice each week sometimes but I pitied those who travelled that route regularly.

 

No use again

 

My heart actually leapt when I saw The Gleaner piece on August 14, 2015 - 'Another toll hike - Massive rate increase planned for north-south link'. Now, that the one-way price for using the Mt Rosser bypass toll highway has jumped by 70 per cent to $715, it just isn't worth it any longer. Unless there is some great urgency, an emergency, horrendous weather or an obstruction on Mt Rosser, I cannot support folly. For that exorbitant price, they should add lay-bys and rest stops and rebrand the Mt Rosser bypass toll highway as a scenic attraction.

What will happen when the corridor is complete? How much will it cost to drive from Caymanas to Mammee Bay? I am certain that it will be terribly prohibitive.

The Gleaner piece also invited comments but the wrong email address was quoted so I didn't get through. Anyway, I don't think that it matters what we say ... it never seems to. Sometimes, I wonder if we consumers have any advocates and, if we do, they don't seem to have any clout whatsoever.

For such an economically challenged population, our toll rates are astronomical. Anecdotally, with the exception of the Portmore toll road, it appears to me that not many drivers are using the other toll roads. The problem is the cost. Portmore residents are faced with choosing between the exorbitant toll road and long delays because of severe traffic congestion caused by extremely poor planning and disgraceful governmental oversight. Why don't the operators try lowering the fees significantly for a designated period to see the response? What they give up in high individual fees they'll more than make up for in high traffic volume.

Another problem that really bugs me is how they classify vehicles. What is it with this height thing? Luggage racks on low vehicles confuse the sensors. And, although the toll fees are for the expected repair due to the weight on the surface, a very heavily laden small SUV could pay the Class 1 fee but, on returning with the load all gone, it could pay the Class 2 rate simply because the vehicle is lighter. Why aren't we charged by the number of axles (wheels)?

 

No money to spend

 

Building those toll roads cost truckloads of money and the investors need to make a profit. However, at this rate, in a few years, even fewer drivers will be able to afford any of them; where will their profit be then?

If this is the best that those who speak on our behalf can do then we need to speak for ourselves by avoiding the toll roads as much as possible. It would be good if we started by boycotting all toll roads on weekends. Then, if that fails to get anyone's attention, the boycotting should be extended.

Tolls rates are cheapening our currency and encouraging inflation. Jamaica is so polarised politically that we have never really stood steadfastly together for anything. This transcends politics. This represents our survival. This is a test of our mettle.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.