Motorists in Kenya are headed for tough times as the government prepares a new law ahead of the financial year in July to guide the introduction of toll fees for use of highways.
Parliament has directed the Treasury, the Ministry of Transport and the Attorney-General to urgently table a Bill that will guide the imposition of toll fees on major national roads and establishment of a toll fund.
MPs want to approve the toll fee legislation ahead of Parliament’s long recess in May, setting the stage for the introduction of the fees in the new financial year starting July 1.
The list of highways, where motorists may soon start paying includes Nairobi-Nakuru, Nairobi-Mombasa, Nairobi-Thika and Nairobi’s Southern Bypass.
“This committee is giving you only two weeks and we expect that you will table the Bill on March 12 when we meet,” David Pkosing, chairman of the National Assembly’s Transport committee directed Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani and his Transport counterpart, James Macharia.
The top government officials had been summoned to provide a status report on the progress made in the preparation of the legal regime for the toll after an earlier Bill that had been approved by the National Assembly lapsed in the Senate in 2017. The new Bill will include the toll fees, which will be based on distance and capacity of the car.
If implemented, the new charges, which amount to a new layer of taxation, will see motorists pay toll charges on top of the fuel levy despite the fact that roads are funded using tax revenues. The roads maintenance and fuel levies were also introduced in the place of toll fees.
Roads tolls were initially introduced in Kenya in the late 1980s, but were scrapped in the mid-1990s in favour of the Roads Maintenance Levy to eliminate corruption at toll stations. The levy is currently charged at Sh18 per litre for petrol and diesel.
Road tolling was conceptualised in the developed world as a form of taxation through which governments could recoup the cost of road construction and maintenance given the huge rise in the number of vehicles. The system allows a private entity that has built a road to charge a fee – better known as tolls – to recoup its investment before eventually handing over the highway to the State.
In October, Kenya launched the construction of a double-decker road that is set to link Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the Nairobi-Nakuru highway.
The Sh59 billion project will be financed under the public-private partnership (PPP) model, according to the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA).
“We attracted investors who have committed to build road infrastructure including the expressway because we promised a tolling regime and a tolling fund in place,” Mr Macharia said.
The special tolling fund will be used to finance maintenance of the highways and repayment of other roads built by private contractors but fail to generate enough funds to repay investors due to low number of users.
The charge, also called user fee, has, however, faced many hurdles in the past, including a demand that the government provides alternative routes for those who are unable to pay, or those who do not want to use the new roads.