Tuesday, 10 July 2012

News briefs - France, Nigeria, Philippines, UK, Macquaries


Romania Insider reports that two Romanian truck drivers, contracted to Spanish company Giraud Iberico, (which itself is a subsidiary of French company Geodis, which is owned by SNCF (the French state owned rail operator)) are subject to legal action for toll fraud on French toll roads owned by concessionaire Vinci.  The drivers claimed they were under pressure to keep rates low, and it is alleged they were "leaving tickets with low tariffs at an olive tree next to a lay-by for other drivers to pick up".  The roads appear on motorways linking France with Spain.  The toll system is a closed toll system whereby tickets are issued to motorists at toll booths entering a motorway, and used to determine distance travelled and tariff at exiting toll booths.   The claim is that 1.25 million Euro (US$1.55 million) was evaded.


Congestion at toll plazas on the Lekki-Epe expressway (Lagos) is causing enormous frustration according to This Day Live. Delays are in part due to sheer volumes of people paying by cash and issues with the reliability of payment systems. Although there are electronic toll options (with a conventional DSRC tag system that allows free flow through barrier gates) one problem noted is that:

"of the five lanes on both sides, road-users revealed that those that opt for cash payments to purchase their tickets are allocated only two lanes, whereas three lanes are dedicated to those using the electronic payment option. They contended that since the majority of those plying the route use cash, LCC (Lekki Concession Company) should have dedicated more toll points to this category of road users"

Although no statistics is available yet on the number of vehicles plying the revamped Lekki-Epe Expressway and the figure for users of the toll plaza, over one million vehicles are believed to ply Lagos roads every day with about 500,000 of that number commuting between the Lagos Mainland and Lagos Island on a daily basis.

The obvious answer is to have a serious price incentive to move to the free flow electronic option, so that people make the transition, and to ensure that there isn't such a delay that it block people using that option from using the road.  If people are reluctant, make sure it can be prepaid and that it is tailored to be attractive to a greater proportion of users.

Lekke-Epe Expressway

According to the Inquirer (Philippines) the Filipino Government is considering privatising the 30-kilometer Kennon Road which is operated today as a toll road by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said that the government is thinking of privatising the road to improve its maintenance and the riding comfort of motorists and commuters.

We are looking at the best option for the government to improve the maintenance and riding comfort for Kennon road because there is an alternative non-toll road,” Singson said. “If you don’t want to pay a toll fee, you could take Marcos Highway.” 

It also plans to connect Kennon Road to the ongoing Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway, to reduce travel time from Metro Manila to Baguio City from the current six to seven hours to three to four hours. The big fear among locals is that the price will go up too much, so options to exempt residents are being considered.

Kennon Road (in red)

The London Evening Standard reports that the UK government is increasing tolls on its lucrative Dartford Crossing from October 2012 by 50p for most vehicles, except HGVs which will pay £1.30 more.  The reason?  To "pay for" conversion to fully electronic free flow operation.

I think this move is foolish and inequitable.  Why?  Well nobody should be "paying for electronic free flow" until it is up and running.  The appropriate step would be to borrow the necessary funds and have the people benefiting from free flow pay sufficient to pay back the debts over the depreciate life of the asset.  Pay As You Go is not how the government funds most capital, it shouldn't be how it funds this.

Secondly, let's not pretend that this increase will be dropped when the system is "paid for".  It wont be, and by linking the increase to that it creates a false impression that this is what should happen.

Thirdly, the whole point of freeflow is to generate both economic benefits from reduced congestion and savings in operations.  Charging people more counteracts those benefits, especially since net revenue from the Crossing is now surplus to the capital spent on the crossings (debt has been paid off) and the ongoing maintenance and operating costs.

There is to be another increase two years after that, but that doesn't have a justification.  It could be inflation, but the ineptness in communication shows up exactly what has been wrong with the political and  bureaucratic handling of road charging in the UK for the past 15 years.  Motorists think they are treated as cash cows to be milked on demand.  This step simply proves that this is exactly what Treasury thinks and the government is unwilling to take an alternative approach.

A far more strategic view of lessening the toxic noise around tolls would be to pay for the upgrade without an increase, by a combination of:
- Acknowledging the surpluses generated by toll users over recent years, and seeing this as a way of giving them back something because of the inertia in moving the toll system onto modern technology;
- Having new prices after the conversion that reward those with accounts, and charge more those who are occasional users;
- Charge peak tolls to manage congestion and significant off peak discounts.

In other words, actually let the price mechanism deliver optimised revenue when the system itself is optimised.  Let people pay more when they have improved service, not before and charge the most those who cost the system the most in how they interact with it.

Why does the UK government insist on treating motorists in a manner that sees them treat the tolls with utter contempt?

Macquarie Atlas Roads

Nine MSN reports that Peter Trent, Chief Executive of Macquarie Atlas Roads expects that revenue from the company's main asset the APRR motorway network, a 2,264km road linking Paris and Lyon in France, would be higher in 2012 than 2011. It was also expected that more motorists in the US would take to Macquarie's toll roads in Chicago and Virginia despite a slightly negative first quarter.

However, Macquarie does not expect to see an improvement in the low volume of traffic on its British M6 toll road, a major bypass north east of Birmingham. Chairman David Walsh flagged the company may consider selling the M6, but said there were currently no plans to do so.

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