Thursday, July 16, 2009

20 Per Cent Toll Rebates is No Small Amount

Hurray! I'll be getting toll rebates effective 1 September 2009, along with thousands of other tolled road users who pay tolls 80 times or more a month.

While it has been decried by Opposition politicians, especially Uncle Lim the Elder (Lim Kit Siang), as being nothing but a populist measure, money is still money. And if the government of the day wants to give me back some of the money I pay to use tolled roads, I'm not going to be so silly as to look a gift horse in the mouth.

For someone like me who lives in Klang, who commutes to and from the PETRONAS Twin Towers, KLCC five times a week, I pass through at least 40 toll gates a week (eight a day multiplied by five days). In just two weeks, I qualify for the 20 per cent discount.

How much does that translate to? Each month, I spend about RM324 on toll charges. Twenty per cent of that would be RM65.60.

Now, that's a heck of a lot of savings. It's like nearly one week's worth of petrol.

Of course, Prime Minister Dato' Seri Najib's detractors say that he's being short sighted, but - come on! - haven't the Opposition been full of populist measures to increase their popularity?

Take the water bill rebates in Selangor, for instance. The amount is small but geared to be populist, as it supposedly alleviates the suffering of the poor, albeit the rich benefit too.

So, do I complain? No, I don't. if the government of Selangor wishes to empty its coffers faster than it can replenish it, then it will be to Pakatan Rakyat's own undoing.

With no long-term solution in sight, come election time, Pakatan would be thrown out of power for mismanaging Selangor.

Meanwhile, I get to spend about eight ringgit on a nice meal every month.

Similarly, I'm not going to complain about the toll rebates that I would be getting. Rather, I'll be holding Prime Minister Najib to his word when he says that it's only a temporary solution, in that the 20 per cent rebates would be handed out until a permanent solution is found on how to reduce the burden of motorists using expressways (see

If Najib fails to deliver, well, I'll just throw in my protest vote like in the last general elections.

Meanwhile, I'll be enjoying a nice family meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken each month using my RM65.60 toll rebate.
Addendum: The poor always subsidises the rich. That's the tragedy of our economic system.
Gas for power is subsidised, petrol is subsidised, diesel is subsidised, rice is subsidised, at the expense of, among other things, the nation's education system.
Threaten to take those subsidies away, and guess who are among the first to take to the streets? Populist politicians out to get cheap publicity and the poor whom they have rallied by stoking anti-establishment sentiment.
I admit, I don't agree with the one-sided deals from which toll concessionaires have been reaping what appears to be windfall gains. But that's a long standing issue that can't be solved overnight.
Meanwhile, whatever little consumers get is bonus. And as bonus' go, I'm not going to complain.
Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to turn a blind eye to better and permanent solutions.
What I suspect, instinctively, is that, in the end, the cruel reality would turn out to be that toll roads must only be for those who can truly afford it - the rich with private transport.
Those who cannot must take the public transport system that uses or doesn't use toll roads.
This is, of course, a chicken and egg scenario. People would rather take private transport than public transport because, well, because of subsidies.
The public transport system, meanwhile, languishes in a state of disrepair and poor upkeep because of the low profitability of the business.
But there will come a time when the government cannot afford to give as much subsidies and people will be forced to take the public transport system. As we've seen when the price of fuel at refuelling stations went up, people would just hunker down and do what they must.
Yeah, they'll be kicking and screaming about their happenstance, but they will take to the public transport system however rotten it is.
But then, as demand for public transport goes up, the profitablity of the business improves due to increase in volume . This would, in the long run, result in better buses, trains and taxis, just like in many European countries.
Should the government take over the bus companies that are providing services in city centres? Civil servants shouldn't be in the business of running buses. Generally speaking, it's just not the way forward for modern cities, be it in Malaysia or in Europe, or the US, due to efficiency issues, remuneration issues and market distortion.
While we want the government to be more benevolent in providing for an ideal public transport system, the imperitive would come more from free market forces as opposed to government intervention.
For as long as we have the subsidy mentality in Malaysia, people will not take to using the public transport system, no matter how good or efficient it may be or have the potential to become. We'd still clog the roads with our single occupancy vehicles.
Why? Because fuel is subsidised, gas for power is subsidised, cooking gas is subsidised, etc.
In the end, it's still the poor who suffer because of allocation of government funds to subsidies.
Instead of spending on quality education (by increasing teachers' pay and thereby attracting more talents), quality national health services (by increasing allocation to staff and infrastructure development), poverty eradication over and above hard core poverty eradication, the government is forced to spend more and more to subsidise this and that.

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