THE cash-strapped government, faced with a rising expenditure bill as a shrinking economy hits tax revenues, has been forced to impose an immediate 100 percent hike on tollgate fees.
The toll gates were initially touted as a way of raising money to rehabilitate the country's badly damaged road network, but disgruntled motorists now see a desperate regime trying to use the facility to raise funds for expenditure far removed from road rehabilitation.
With the economy not performing and foreign donors and financiers not overly keen to help, motorists say the government is at a loss for means of generating revenue and was taking the easier option of milking them through road fees.
Transport Minister Obert Mpofu announced the increase in a Statutory Instrument published Friday in which the Government Gazette made amendments to the Toll Roads (Regional Trunk Road Network) (Amendment) Regulations of 2010.
The development would now see private motorists forking out $2 up from $1 at every toll gate with haulage trucks paying $10, from $5.
Minibuses will now pay US$3, up from US$2 while buses will now pay US$4, up from US$3. Heavy vehicles will now be pay made to pay $5, up from US$4.
Greater Harare Commuter Omnibus Operators leader, Ngoni Katsvairo said the hike would have a knock-on effect in the running of public transport business.
"We appeal to Government to exempt public service vehicles from paying toll fees as this will further increase the costs of operating passenger vehicles in an economic environment of already unsustainably low fares for which we are unable to pass on the costs to an already overburdened commuter," he said.
"We also appeal for the continued rehabilitation of bad roads that are causing damage to vehicles, thereby increasing chances of accidents caused by defective tyres and suspension parts."
Zimbabwe Rural Transport Organisation vice chairman Regis Munenzwa said the increase would compound problems for bus operators.
He said public transporters were already paying a lot of money to the Vehicle Inspection Department, the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration, councils and the police through fines, so additional costs will burden operators.
A commuter transport operator who plies the Harare-Mutare route said the increase is another nightmare for them after they already pay bribes to corrupt police officers nearly at every roadblock.
"This business is fast becoming a nightmare to run," said the operator who preferred not to be named.
"Government is doing nothing about its corrupt police officers who demand bribes from us every day and all it can do is to increase the burden on us."
Mpofu defended the increase saying government was only realizing $40 million from toll fees annually. He insisted this was not enough to fully rehabilitate the country's road network.
He added that Zimbabwe's toll fees remained the lowest in the region.
But motorists were neither persuaded nor comforted by Mpofu's claim they paid the least road levies in the region.
"I think the increase smacks of desperation by a clueless government," said Evans Mukarati of Harare.
"We saw this coming and trust me this is not the last of such nonsensical increases we are going to see from now.
"With one of the world's richest diamond reserves and other riches, our government should be looking for solutions in those areas as opposed to squeezing an already struggling population."
Mukarati said it was highly unlikely that the revenue realised from toll fees would be channelled towards its intended purpose but would be used to pay civil servants and finance endless foreign jaunts by government officials.