Friday, February 26, 2010

First day of new user fees...ROAD TOLLS STAND-OFF...Kasoa drivers stage protest...Hot arguments at Kumasi booths (LEAD STORY, FEB 2, 2010)

Story: Emmanuel Gyamerah (Accra) & Kwame Asare Boadu (Kumasi)

There were initial protests by some drivers, particularly commercial drivers, when the new road and bridge tolls went into force yesterday.
At Kasoa in the Central Region, on the Accra-Tema Motorway and at Tabre and Aboaso in the Ashanti Region, the new tolls attracted protests from drivers who complained of the high percentage increase in the tolls. Indeed, some of them who spoke to the Daily Graphic threatened to increase lorry fares “to make up for the increase in the tolls imposed on us”.
On the Kasoa-Accra route, some drivers, especially commercial (trotro) drivers, displayed their displeasure by burning tyres in the middle of the road at Kasoa and also stopped other drivers from picking passengers.
The about 45-minute action of the drivers left a large number of passengers coming from Kasoa to Accra stranded. The passengers had no choice but to walk, some as far as beyond the toll booths to catch empty vehicles that had made U-turns back to Accra.
It took the timely intervention of the police to restore order.
The Commander of the Motor Traffic and Transport Union (MTTU), ACP Daniel Avorga, had to personally move to the area with his men to talk to the protesters to call off their action.
According to the drivers, the increase in the toll for trotros from 8Gp to GH¢1 was too high, as it was going to affect their daily sales.
Two of such drivers, Messrs Kofi Mensah and Abdul Karim, said they plied the Kasoa-Accra road about six times a day, noting that they normally returned to Accra with empty vehicles and wondered how they could meet their daily sales with the new toll.
They, together with other drivers, suggested that the payment of the toll be made only once, instead of each time a driver used the road.
At the time the Daily Graphic got to the toll booth about 8.30 a.m., there was a long queue of vehicles coming from the Kasoa end.
In an interview, the toll collectors noted that some of the drivers gave them big denominations to pay the tolls which resulted in delays because they (the toll collectors) spent longer time getting the drivers change.
For his part, the Supervisor of the toll collectors, Mr Thomas Hammond, said apart from the lack of change, drivers took some time to pay when they got to the toll booths, complaining of the new tolls.
He said some of the drivers complained that they were unaware of the new tolls and spent time complaining before paying the new tolls.
Mr Hammond said having been aware of the take-off of the new tolls, the collectors who were off duty were brought in to assist their colleagues who were on duty, adding that that was to quicken the process of issuing the toll receipts.
He expressed the hope that the situation was going to improve as the days went by, promising that he had made orders for smaller denominations for the issuance of change to drivers who brought bigger denominations.
For his part, Commander Avorga suggested to Mr Hammond to dispatch more toll collectors in the queue so that when the drivers got to the toll booths, they would only issue their receipts and move on.
He said more policemen were going to be sent to the area to ensure order, saying that the police would be there till order was restored.
At the Tabre and Aboaso toll booths, there was drama when motorists engaged in heated arguments with toll collectors, complaining that the increase was too high.
According to the drivers, the authorities did not take the present socio-economic situation in the country, especially current lorry fares, into consideration before coming out with the increase in the tolls.
Some of the drivers who spoke to the Daily Graphic threatened to increase lorry fares to make up for the increase in the tolls.
While the drivers delayed in paying to collect their tickets at the toll booths, many of them heaped insults on the collectors before driving away.
At the Tabre toll booth, vehicular traffic had jammed for almost a kilometre from the Akropong Junction to the collection point at the time Daily Graphic reached there.
While some drivers readily paid their tolls at the booth, others complained that they had not heard of the increase and, therefore, waited for some minutes before agreeing to pay.
There was heavy traffic at the Aboaso–Mampong toll booth in the Ashanti Region around 10 a.m. when the Daily Graphic got there.
The presence of armed policemen at both the Tabre and the Aboaso toll booths, however, prevented the drivers from overreacting.
The new tolls, which took effect from yesterday, followed an approval by Parliament of new road and bridge tolls under the Fees and Charges (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, Act 793, which has been signed into law by the President.
According to an advertisement placed in the media, motorbikes which previously were exempted from the payment of tolls are to pay 10Gp; saloon cars which used to pay 5Gp are now to pay 50Gp, while pick-ups and light buses will pay GH¢1, from the 8Gp they used to pay.
The others are mummy wagons, GH¢1; heavy buses and light goods truck (two axles), GH¢1.50; medium goods truck (three axles), GH¢2; heavy goods truck (four axles), GH¢2; heavy goods truck (five or more axles) GH¢2.50; agricultural tractors, 50Gp, and agricultural tractors with trailer, 50Gp.
The Minister of Roads and Highways, Mr Joe Gidisu, explained that the increases in road and bridge tolls were intended to mobilise more resources for the construction and maintenance of roads.
In an interview with the Daily Graphic, Mr Gidisu said the cost of maintaining roads in the country had gone up astronomically, hence the need for the increment.
He, therefore, appealed to drivers to accept the new rates, since it was with good intentions that they were being introduced, adding that road tolls had remained the same for the past 11 years, although the cost of road maintenance over the period had gone up.
The Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) last week urged the drivers to accept the new tolls.

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