The plan by Government, to set up tollgates in urban areas, although still in its preliminary stages, has torched a storm among motorists,who feel the move is meant to continue milking them of their hard-earned cash without a corresponding improvement in the country's roads.
Experts, however, said if properly implemented, it would help ease the urban congestion problems. The system that is not new in the region, has also been introduced in South Africa, amid protests from the motoring public who view it as designed to fleece them of their hard-earned monies.
Elsewhere, the system has been successfully implemented in metropolitan cities like London, Stockholm and Oslo, where urban tolling led to the reduction of traffic, an optimised accessibility and a reduction of carbon emissions.
But with the problems already bedevilling the urban transport sector in Zimbabwe ranging from dilapidated infrastructure to financial problems, poor road systems and modes of transport that are unfit or have outlived their lifespan, it remains doubtful whether the plans will be a success in the country.
Motorists and experts say the move required Government and the urban councils, particularly of Harare and Bulawayo, with huge traffic flows to first improve the road systems, so that urban tolling does not create further problems.
Others, however, say it is imperative that the system be introduced to ensure that congestion is managed in the cities. Town planning expert Mr Percy Toriro said urban tolling was a welcome idea and if implemented soundly, could build a pool of funds for infrastructure development.
"This is a good idea and is globally acceptable. Urban tolling results in a huge capital injection and helps to improve our road network. What is, however, critical is the location of the tollgates and the tolling methods to be used -- manual, electronic or remote controlled -- where cars are just scanned and do not even stop at the tollgates," he said.
Mr Toriro said adequate planning was needed so as not to inconvenience motorists, because urban areas have a huge build-up of traffic, adding that the idea should be encouraged as long as it is done in a convenient, efficient and functional manner. An urban planning expert with the University of Zimbabwe who chose anonymity questioned the feasibility of such a move in Zimbabwe, saying that the move should be accompanied, with efficient roads network systems that promotes the movement of vehicles in and out of the city.
"We cannot implement this programme with the type of roads we have getting into the city. This can only be feasible in a city with a highly developed commuter transport network. This will actually result in a pile-up of traffic at the tolling sites, and would result in commuters taking longer to move from one place to the other," said the expert.
He said instead of introducing urban tollgates Government should work on the Chitungwiza railway line, and mass public transportation, systems as this will give an option to commuters.
Harare Residents' Trust said serious a consideration must be given to the convenience of the travelling public in the cities and towns, given the narrowness of most roads, resulting in central business district congestion, especially in Harare. HRT director Mr Precious Shumba said the programme required the involvement of all stakeholders to ensure its acceptability.
"Government should not implement a project that lacks the genuine involvement of citizens, and if they proceed to implement it without involving key stakeholders such as local authorities, citizens and business, then the project will not succeed.
"Before the tollgates are implemented, widespread consultations among key stakeholders, including residents and business, must be held as a basis to form the direction to take on the proposal to have tollgates in towns and cities," he said.
Mr Shumba said: "In fact, the ministry must be commended for suggesting it, as it opens room for other interested stakeholders to come up with better funding mechanisms and alternatives to improve the road network, where roads are heavily potholed, and the rainy season is also fast approaching."
He said transparency and accountability in the utilisation of the funds was critical, in light of the poor accountability by the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration, he says has not made any reasonable disbursements to the City of Harare, since taking over vehicle licensing.
Zimbabwe Commuters Association chairman Mr Walter Chidavanyika said it was pointless to introduce urban tollgates before addressing other factors that cause congestion.
"Urban tollgates are a noble idea, however, local authorities should solve other aspects that are causing congestion such as traffic lights not working, faint stop signs and road markings before they introduce urban tolling.
"Most motorists acquired their vehicles through empowerment policies, hence it is imperative that urban tolling be in tandem with these empowerment policies," he said.
Mr Chidavanyika said that if urban tolling was implemented without considering socio-economic factors it would negatively affect the transport sector and national economy. "Government and local authorities should investigate and survey how motorists allocate funds to buy vehicles before setting prices for urban tolling," he said.
Urban tolling is mostly likely to influence a rise in public transport fees from public transport providers at the expense of passengers.
A motorist, Mr Godfrey Japajapa, complained that urban tollgates would only serve to increase motoring costs without tangible feasible service delivery.
"The idea of introducing road tariffs is to improve service delivery in the road network system yet local authorities are considering urban tolling without repairing city traffic lights or potholes in most high-density suburbs. Urban tolling will only inconvenience us with further, costs when little is being done to improve road network systems," he said.
Another motorist, Mr Moses Zvevamwe, pleaded with Government and local authorities not to erect urban tollgates, saying it would financially strain motorists.
"It is not a noble idea to implement urban tolling on top of the other traffic taxes we are already paying. Introducing urban tolling ultimately means it will be expensive or costly to use vehicles," he said.
Mr Zvevamwe reiterated that urban tolling will force working motorists to folk out US$8 on a daily basis on traffic tariffs including EasiPark tariffs. Commuters said the introduction of urban tolling was mostly likely to result in an increase in commuter fares.
Mr Cain Makore of Kuwadzana said without a proper commuter transportation system and gazetted fares, it would be disastrous to the commuting public which is already being overcharged by kombi crews. Already kombi crews, are charging US$1 to and from town, instead of five rand and there is nothing that is being done.
In the event of the introduction of urban tollgates, said Mr Makore the kombis will simply push the cost to the already overburdened.
"The economy is not growing and salaries have been stagnant. Any extra cost will break the people backs," said Mr Makore.
Mr Makore said the idea of introducing road tariffs should be married to the improvement of the road network system and service delivery.
Local authorities, he said, should be considering repairing traffic lights, maintaining roads and repairing potholes in most high- density suburbs.
Mr Munyaradzi Mativavareka said: "It is not a noble idea to implement urban tolling on top of the other traffic taxes we are already paying.
"Introducing urban tolling ultimately means it will be expensive or costly to use vehicles," he said.
Mr Mativavareka said Government and local authorities should focus on other means to decongesting the cities rather than introducing urban tolling.
Mr Ranganai Kusekete, a motorist, applauded urban tolling saying anything that would decongest the city and bring revenue to improve the road network system was welcome.
"Urban tolling will be sustainable if implemented well, because it will facilitate funds to construct and rehabilitate infrastructure as well as decongest the city's CBD.
"Urban tolling will discourage the use of private vehicles due to increased expenses and that is what we want to ensure that we limit pollution and congestion. Some people are driving not because it is necessary but for the love of it.
"They then spend hours in town loafing while causing congestion," he said.
He, however ,said a reasonable fee to accommodate all motorists should be charged.
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>