Kochi residents who commute to the city from the suburbs would have to shell out more money as toll, since plans are afoot to introduce toll for more roads and bridges.
Toll is already in vogue for the past many years for crucial bridges – Aroor-Kumbalam, Kundanoor, Mattancherry BOT, Pullepady, Irumpanam, Varapuzha etc., and roads maintained by the Cochin Port Trust. Apart from the Aroor-Edapally bypass, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has planned a sizeable amount as toll for the Edapally-Angamaly-Mannuthy NH as well.
Most of the stretches are ill-maintained and ill-lit. The expansion joints of bridges like the one at Kundanoor are badly damaged and offer a bumpy ride. Even worse, the entry points to many toll booths are pot-hole ridden and motorists have to wait for long because of inadequate number of toll booths.
The PWD is expected to announce toll rates for vehicles using the two-lane Tripunithura mini-bypass, while the Roads and Bridges Development Corporation of Kerala (RBDCK) is expected to begin toll collection for the Airport-Seaport Road once the road is widened and extended from HMT Junction to the International Airport. Toll is also in the offing for the overbridges planned at the Ponnurunni, Atlantis and Pachalam level crossings.
The president of Ernakulam District Residents Associations' Apex Council (EDRAAC), P. Rangadasa Prabhu said that toll collection for most of the stretches is unjustified. “The Government agencies that collect toll are not ensuring that the roads/bridges offer a smooth and safe ride to motorists. Imposing toll without improving the infrastructure – carriageway, medians, footpaths, drains and street lights, is unacceptable. Moreover, the toll rate must be reasonable and accounted for, since even otherwise members of the public pay massive amounts as direct/indirect taxes, fees, cess. People must not be suffocated through further toll,” he said.
It is feared that ordinary people would suffer the most because of toll, since there would be an increase in fare for buses and goods carriers, causing an all-round price hike. “A lorry owner would have to pay Rs 3 as toll for every km on a toll highway. He would end up paying Rs. 53 for traversing four kms (the average mileage per litre of diesel) instead of the Rs. 41 that a litre of diesel costs,” said socio-environmental activist C. R. Neelakandan.
Referring to the NHAI's proposal to collect toll from motorists using the Aroor-Edapally stretch of the NH 47 bypass, he said that the highway is extremely congested, especially at junctions. “Even presuming that it is a national policy, the NHAI must build flyovers or an elevated corridor to decongest the highway and ensure street lights/other infrastructure all along the stretch, before collecting toll,” he said.
The convener of the NH Protection Samity Hashim Chendampilly said that imposing toll on the highway would clog narrow side roads since goods carriers and others who want to skip toll would ply through them. “The existing highways in the State were built using public funds and toll is unjustified. The national norm is to collect 70 paise per km as toll for four wheelers, whereas the amount specified for the Aroor-Edapally-Mannuthy NH is much more,” he said.