Toll Gates Inside Cities - Are They Fair?

August 04, 2008

Many of you have might have noticed the toll gates on highways which collect a fee from each vehicle that passes through. Probably you’re irked because despite paying road tax you’ve to pay extra to these robbers, or maybe you’ve got used to it thinking, since the road is nice and we can cruise it is OK to pay.

The idea of collecting toll fee on highways was justified on the grounds that vehicles will be able to reach their destination faster, with better fuel economy and lesser maintenance expenditure. Many of us were annoyed earlier about paying this toll fee, now everyone has got accustomed to it.

So far the toll gates have only been on highways, on the roads connecting big cities. (You get four toll gates between Chennai and Bangalore) What I don’t like is that the Tamil Nadu government is bringing these toll gates right inside the city, for a small stretch of 20 kilometers. Two main toll gates are being erected near Perungudi and Siruseru in Chennai on the IT corridor, the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and another five satellite toll gates on the connecting roads to ensure that no one escapes unpaid.

Soon commuters will have to cough up extra money if they wish to cross these points, but for no or little extra benefits as such. That includes an expected Rs 6 for autos, Rs 17 for cars, Rs 44 for buses and so on — one way — totaling nearly Rs 1000 per month under normal usage for a car user. On top of that comes administrative charges of Rs 1000 per year for On Bosrd Units (OBU), which will be irrespective of usage, equaling Rs 13,000 per year, per car.

The project is being commissioned on a BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer) basis by IT Expressway Limited, a subsidiary of TNRDC. The IT corridor project as such looked quite promising and roads today are far better than what they were two years ago. No questioning that, but I have a few concerns about the idea of paying at toll gates even for city driving.

If I am wrong somewhere/misinformed correct me, else let me know your views.

Taking A Toll On Drivers

Toll gates on highways would affect only those traveling to other cities and that usually will be a once-in-a-while expense. But toll gates within a city mean paying extra every day, an additional burden amounting to several thousands of rupees each year. Can’t the TN government fund a Rs 300 crore project? Is collecting toll fees the only option? A small cess on petrol and diesel will earn this amount in a few months. Also, I feel it not quite viable to have toll roads in the heart of the city and even if built and commissioned, motorists won’t derive many benefits out of it.

It has been learned that the government is making a list of local residents around this toll road (Kottivakkam, Perungudi, Sholingnallur and so on) and will be giving them free passes, so that they won’t have to pay every day. Though that is a small relief to local residents, what about those who hail from elsewhere but stay in these localities?

On highways usually vehicles will travel inter-city, and would use the entire stretch of toll road. That may not be the case in cities. People are forced to pay, just to cross the toll gate, not necessarily to use the road. If my destination is just 100 meters on the other side of the toll gate, why should I pay the full fee? I should have an option of paying a proportional fee. Do they have that provision?

Someone having his office and residence both within the toll road will use the road all his life but will never pay a penny, because he is not required to pass through the toll gate. Already we need to pay at the ECR toll gate just to go to Mayajaal / MGM or other places that are just a few kilometers on the other side.

Where's the Fuel Economy?

On highways, the number of vehicles will be less and if the road is good cars can cruise at higher speeds to save time and achieve fuel economy. In city limits, even if the roads are improved, there will not be any time or fuel advantage due to the following reasons:

• Unlike the elevated expressway in Bangalore, which facilitates non-stop movement from Madiwala to Electronic city, Chennai’s IT corridor project is on ground level and with offices located across the road, vehicles will be changing lanes either to take an exit or to make a U- turn, forcing other vehicles behind to slow down.

• I've learned that buses will drive on right-most lane. If that is so, they will have to cut two lanes to move to left-most lane and stop at bus stops

• No ban on bullock carts, manual carts and carts powered by 50 cc TVS engine. Because the road falls within a city banning these vehicles is not viable as that will affect the livelihood of many people. These vehicles will haunt the drivers all the way. It seems one lane will be reserved for these non-motorized vehicles, but lane just means a white line. I don’t think those driving these vehicles have slightest idea what a lane is and moreover we all know how lane disciplined Indians are.

• When carriage roads like this are commissioned, one will have to go several kilometers before finding a U-turn. Many of us hate this and prefer to drive across the edge of the wrong side of the road instead. So of the 3 lanes, 1 lane will be used up by those driving in the wrong direction, one other by slow-moving vehicles and the last one by buses. Cars can struggle in between.

• On inter-city highways 2- and 3-wheelers will be almost negligible in number, as few people travel intercity on a bike. Within city limits the 2- and 3-wheeler count will be significant and with their zig zag driving, they are capable of causing nightmares to other road users.

• The IT corridor was supposed to be 3 lanes all the way-but at places it converges into 2 lanes, due to non availability of space. If the third lane goes missing at multiple places it will create bottlenecks and slow down the traffic further.

• Since the toll road falls in a dense civilian population, the number of people walking across the road will be very very high. Will I be permitted to knock them down? Few Foot Over bridges are being built, but many find it more convenient to jump over the barricade and cross the road — nevermind the risk involved. The probability of cattle and stray dogs coming in the way of speeding vehicles is equally high.

• Work is incomplete at some places and service roads do not exist at all. When construction work is in progress it will add to the inconvenience and in the absence of service roads, those supposed to be using them will use the main carriage road.

Given the above conditions, I am pretty sure it is near impossible to have any time or fuel advantages by using this IT Expressway. During peak hours, given the number of vehicles involved and above factors, I doubt if anyone will ever be able to cruise on this road. Just pay and crawl.

Traffic Congestion And Other Problems

Imagine the number of vehicles that would accumulate near toll gates during peak hours. Even if each vehicle needs to spend 20-30 seconds max (to slow down, stop, pay/swipe, and move on) that will result in the accumulation of 100s of vehicles near toll gates. What is the convenience?

I understand that the idea of On Board Units is being pushed through. Those vehicles that have them installed will be automatically debited and they can zip through. Will these OBUs be free? What number of drivers will opt for this is something yet to be seen. Anticipating the rush as much as 10 gates are being built, still it might be tough during peak hours.

Government is trying to pose as if they are willing to go soft on private vehicles (by issuing smart cards, etc.) and will primarily target commercial vehicles. Commercial vehicle owners won’t do any charity - they will pass on the entire fee (maybe even more) to the commuters who hire those vehicles, eventually burdening the common man.

Rs 17 one way for cars is just too much. Probably one of the highest per km. Between Chennai and Hosur a car driver pays Rs 140 for about 320 kms = 45 paisa per km (That's more expensive than a general class train ticket). Even at that rate it shouldn’t be more than 8 Rs for the 20-km road. Further, I don’t think those manning the toll gates care to keep change. If the car driver doesn’t carry exact change he will be forced to pay Rs 20 on the excuse of "change illai."

The original idea was to complete the project, with service roads and landscaping, and then start collecting money. The current statement is “we’ll build service roads and other things as money starts flowing in." Why should I pay in advance? What if they don’t complete the work on time with promised quality? Will the money be refunded? Governments change and priorities may change - leading to compromise on the project's execution, but this daylight robbery of money collection will continue. When the money is collected from vehicle owners by promising certain services, vehicle owners should be in a position to question ITEL in consumer forums and demand compensation if what is promised is not delivered.

Why is the cost of OBUs and administrative charges passed on to road users? It's government that wants to collect money - let them bear the cost. None of the existing smart card mechanisms (like Petro card of BPCL, iMint card, etc.) charge any maintenance charge to its consumers, except a onetime fee. Administrative charges of Rs 1,000 per OBU will be charged annually irrespective of usage. Even if the owner goes abroad or for other reasons doesn’t use the toll gate for say six months, he will be forced to pay admin charges. Unfair.

Problems Will Spread

This may look like a problem to those living in Chennai only, to those regularly using this particular stretch of road. But this can happen anywhere. Soon other states and cities will catch up with this idea of bringing more and more roads under a “pay and use” scheme and in a few years we might be required to shell out money just to hit the main road in front of our homes.

Opposition does the ritual of holding protests every time there is a hike in fuel prices (after a day they will settle down, though) Why is the opposition is keeping quite in this matter?

I very much understand the need to have good roads. The money needed to build these roads comes from nowhere else but citizens. In other words, governments have to collect the money from its people, one way or the other, and a toll gate is one of them. Still, erecting a toll gate in the middle of the city and troubling everyone — there has to be a better alternative to ensure development.

Business Analyst with leading IT company. Read my blog http://www.enidhi.net
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Toll Gates Inside Cities - Are They Fair?


Author: enidhi


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Chaitanya S
August 6, 2008
11:05 AM

"we all know how lane disciplined Indians are. one will have to go several kilometers before finding a U-turn. Many of us hate this and prefer to drive across the edge of the wrong side of the road instead".

I think this is a bigger problem which has to be addressed. Especially on highway.

As far as the places near the gates are concerned, a line has to be drawn somewhere. You can't keep pushing the threshold as it will continue to irk someone or the other.

I feel car pooling would be a viable solution here. Or maybe you could just take an alternate route which may be longer but where no toll needs to be paid.

Temple Stark
August 6, 2008
09:24 PM

Curious, would there be a horrible resistance to car-pooling in India?

August 6, 2008
11:45 PM

@ Temple,

Car pooling hasn't been tried on a noticeable scale in India, so not sure to what extent it will be successful. There may not be any resistance as such, but car pooling is only viable to those who have a fixed work hours and can leave exactly on the scheduled time...

If at times one is required to stay back little late, his car pooling friends can't wait...

Shrinidhi Hande
August 6, 2008
11:49 PM

@ Chaitanya,

No alternate routes available in this case... Toll gates are erected on all connecting roads as well, to ensure that no one escapes unpaid...

Shifting to bikes will be more practical solution. No toll fee for bikes.

Also if practical one can shift residence such that his home and office both lie either inside the toll road or outside it. You pay only to cross the toll gate-if your home and office both lies within 2 toll gates you can use it lifelong for free...

Chaitanya S
August 6, 2008
11:54 PM

Temple, I don't think there will be any resistance to car pooling. The only issue is that it reduces flexibility after office hours. The passengers have to make alternate travel arrangements if the driver has any plans for the evening.

Back in Mumbai the only time we car pooled was when we went out partying (thrice a week). It worked out pretty well.

Chaitanya S
August 7, 2008
12:03 AM

Shrinidhi, I feel shifting houses is the best option. But considering the toll works out to only 34 bucks a day ie. around 12,500 a year, economic viability of buying/ renting a house should also be taken into account. Even if a bike costs around 60,000, you'll break even only after 4 years. So I still think paying the toll is a better option.

August 7, 2008
12:07 AM

Well, bikes are available from 30k onwards (second hand ones even cheaper), and when you use bike, you save heavily on fuel compared to a car. Even this needs to be accounted while calculating ROI.

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