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Tuesday,  Jan 16, 2018,14:59 (GMT+7)
Second thought for BOT
The Saigon Times Daily
Monday,  Jan 8, 2018,18:44 (GMT+7)
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Second thought for BOT

The Saigon Times Daily

Protests, traffic jams, and chaotic confrontations are emerging again these days at some tollgates where investors collect fees to recoup their capital spent on developing roads under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) format. Can Tho-Phung Hiep Tollgate in Can Tho City and BOT Song Phan Tollgate in Binh Thuan Province are where the road rage is taking place these days as driversdemand that the fees be recalculated.

Unlike protests late last year at some tollgates where the investors collect fees from vehicles running on highways to recoup investment for bypasses developed elsewhere, the turbulences in Can Tho and Binh Thuan mainly stem from disagreement by the people living or working in the vicinities of the two tollgates.

As covered in local media, traffic congestion at Can Tho-Phung Hiep Tollgate on National Highway 1A has worsened these days as drivers refuse to pay toll fees. The investor has upgraded a 22-km section of the highway, and began collecting fees in late 2017 at VND35,000 a standard vehicle, which was deemed too high and unfair for local residents who had to pay for the full service fee when they traveled just a few hundred meters.

The protests have simmered since months ago, and the Transport Ministry has asked the investor to cut the standard fee to VND30,000. The move fails to soothe protesters, who demand that the fee be exempted for all residents living nearby, and that the investor have a technical solution to collectfees proportionate to the distance they travel. They shall not pay the full service charge if they travel just one-tenth or one-fifth of the road length.

The demands by drivers at BOT Song Phan in Binh Thuan Province are just the same. In both cases, it can be seen drivers’ demands are legitimate, but the investors have brushed aside the demands, explaining their projects’ financial viability will be hampered.

As observed, protests by drivers have lately multiplied and spread to various parts of the country, so an overall strategy instead of separate solutions for each tollgate needs to be worked out.

Central authorities have pledged not to allow for new BOT projects on existing artery roads, and BOT investors will be encouraged to build new roads only so as to avoid social instability. Such a move shows a right approach.

However, there remain several problematic BOT road projects stemming from the wrong approach taken in the past that need to be tackled. A more agreeable solution should be for the State to reimburse those BOT investors and make such roads toll-free to ensure benefits for all.

To have sufficient funds for making reimbursements and for financing more upgrade projects in the future, the National Road Maintenance Fund needs to be replenished, and this can be done by charging all road users, not by raising monthly charges on automobiles, but by imposing a surcharge on fuel consumption.

Certain groups may feel the impacts, but social stability will be achieved, smoother traffic circulation ensured, and public equitability guaranteed. A good strategy should ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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