KUALA LUMPUR – Consumer groups are concerned that the increase in toll rates will put more pressure on the cost of living, which has already been escalating in recent years.
Beginning Thursday, toll rates at 12 major highways in the Klang Valley rose by between 10 sen and RM6.
Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations Deputy President Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman said the subsequent increase in transport costs would lead to higher operating costs for businesses which, in turn, would cause prices of goods and services to shoot up.
“The government cannot blame traders for any price hikes because they have no choice but to increase the prices of their goods and services when their operating costs go up.
“But I hope any price increase as a result of the toll hike will be reasonable as consumers are already being burdened by the high cost of living,” he told Bernama.
Federation of Malay Petty Hawkers and Traders Associations of Malaysia Deputy President Datuk Mohamad Mahmood had reportedly said that hawkers and traders were expected to raise their prices following the toll adjustment.
Commenting on this, Mohd Yusof said the government should closely monitor traders to ensure that they did not hike up their prices excessively.
He said after the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced in April this year, the government used the Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 to crack down on traders who tried to take advantage of the new consumption tax.
“I hope the same law is used against traders who use the toll increase as an excuse to inflate their prices because I’ve observed that the authorities do not step up enforcement activities against errant traders whenever the toll rates or fuel prices go up.
“I’m now worried that businessmen who use lorries as a means of transporting their goods may end up hiking up each unit price by 50 sen, which is actually a very steep rise,” he said.
Mohd Yusof also urged the highway concessionaires to improve their services, which he described as less than satisfactory.
“Before giving the green light for the toll hikes, the government should have made sure that the companies had complied with the necessary standards. They should be penalised if they fail to meet their Key Performance Indicators,” he said.
Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia Chief Activist Datuk Nadzim Johan agreed with Mohd Yusof, saying that the concessionaires should not only ensure the highways were safe for road users but also take the necessary measures to reduce traffic congestion.
“It’s upsetting when we have to pay steep tolls and be caught in traffic jams while travelling on the highway, particularly during festive periods,” he said.
He also said that while it was the government’s prerogative to increase toll rates, the timing was not at all conducive, what with the GST having been implemented barely six months ago and the Ringgit having declined sharply against the US Dollar.
“Not only the people but even the business community was taken by surprise by the toll hikes, which are rather substantial,” he said, adding that the government should have had dialogues on the matter with consumer and business groups before making a decision.
He said the government should have deferred the toll adjustment to a more appropriate time in the future to give the people some “breathing space”.
The Works Ministry has reportedly said that the government had postponed toll hikes on highways since 2008 in order to reduce the people’s financial burden. It said the government had paid RM1,108.91 billion in compensation to highway concessionaires from 2008 to 2013, while in 2014 it paid RM402.99 million.
ALTERNATIVE ROADS CONGESTED
Meanwhile, for administrative executive Najwa Azhar, 28, who works in the private sector, the increase in tolls would mean higher expenses for most office workers who commute to work using the tolled highways.
“I use LDP (Damansara-Puchong Highway) everyday to go to my office but fortunately for me, I can claim the toll from the company I work for. Others who can’t claim will definitely feel the pinch,” she said, adding that she found the new toll rates “quite shocking” and that most people were forced to use the tolled highways as the alternative roads were usually congested.
Besides LDP, the other highways affected by the new toll rates are the Kuala Lumpur-Karak (KLK) Expressway, Maju Expressway (MEX), Kajang Highway-SILK, Duta-Ulu Klang Expressway (DUKE), Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART), KL-Kuala Selangor Expressway (LATAR), Sungai Besi Highway (BESRAYA), New Pantai Expressway (NPE), Kajang-Seremban Highway (LEKAS), Western Kuala Lumpur Traffic Dispersal Scheme (SPRINT) and Cheras-Kajang Highway (GRAND SAGA).