EDITORIAL COMMENT: Zinara managing to convert tolls into roads

THE Zimbabwe National Road Administration has been improving rapidly over the reign of the Second Republic, cleaning up its act, getting rid of corruption and improving its administration so that the money motorists pay in licence fees and toll charges is spent on roads, not on administration.

Last year, the percentage of revenue spent on roads hit 88 percent, that is 88c in every dollar collected. The amount raised in licence fees and tolls comes to about two thirds of Zinara revenues, with toll charges a little bit ahead of licence fees largely because despite the efforts by Zinara and the police, there are still a lot of unlicenced vehicles.

Now Zinara appears to be eager to move the toll collections to an e-payment system, with cards or, better still, a tag so that a driver does not even have to stop, the toll charge being automatically deducted from an electronic wallet as the vehicle goes through the gate and a signal is given to make the payment.

This has the benefit that the driver is not inconvenienced, unless they have forgotten to fill the electronic wallet. But there are two other benefits.

First of all administrative charges can be contained further, since there will be a lot less human activity in collecting and banking the money; it will just arrive in the bank account. So as traffic continues to increase, the staff at the 29 toll gates can stay constant.

The second advantage should not be important in this modern age, the fact that corruption is basically impossible when there are no humans in the chain since you cannot bribe a machine.

Zinara have made major efforts, including seeing some former senior staff in jail, to eliminate corruption, but many will be glad to know the system has gone from eliminating the crime to making it impossible.

The tax authorities did note that the upgrade of the Beitbridge Border Post with its greater reliance on electronic clearance for customs duties done in advance had eliminated levels of manual operations and increased the revenue as a result.

There will be a number of additional factors that could be considered when the system goes live. Toll gates have also been useful as check points to ensure that the vehicle going through has the local road licence or the temporary licence issued to visitors.

Technically this could remain, the licence disc combining with the gadget that activates the toll wallet and transfers the cash to signal that the licence is live and paid for.

Again the honest motorists would suffer zero inconvenience as they drive through the toll gate and licence check, in fact would not really notice it was there, but those taking a chance would be stopped.

These sort of systems do exist in other countries. Singapore, for example, has automated just about everything and being a large city as well as a country, has different tolls for different routes over the day, and congestion charges in parts of the city, which again vary frequently.

Drivers have to keep adequate funds in the electronic wallet, so the signals reaching the vehicle trigger the electronic deduction, and they are fined if they keep driving after their wallet is empty.

Zinara is unlikely to ever need something as complex as that, but it is quite likely that within a very few years, Harare Metropolitan at least will need to think seriously about congestion charges, at least at some times of the day, and it would be handier if the hardware and reading software was the same for all systems.

Zinara does complain in the licensing arena that a large slice of vehicles in Zimbabwe are not regularly licensed, despite the checks made by Zinara and despite the posting of licence officers who can accept instant payment when a motorist is caught.

While we agree that checks need to be kept at a high level, which is why we hope licence checks can be amalgamated with the toll gate system, we do recognise that there are a lot of vehicles still formally registered in Zimbabwe, but which are non-runners and never likely to become a runner.

It is fairly easy to see old cars gathering dust in backyards and car ports that obviously have not been used for over a year, and in some case they are just quietly rusting away.

Many of these are never likely to be ever licensed again but the complexities of scrapping them are not seen as worth the bother, many of who in any case hope against hope that the car may still have some value.

Zinara’s reorganisation and administration upgrade has seen the authority now paying its debts on time.

The major debt is for the loan taken to rebuild the major east-west highway, the Mutare-Harare-Bulawayo-Plumtree road. Zinara is now up to date and gradually cutting it back, but it is absorbing around a quarter of Zinara revenues.

The switch for the main north-south highway, the Beitbridge-Masvingo-Harare-Chirundu route, to using local contractors with cash progress payments seems a better if moderately slower solution.

At least when that highway is finished it will basically be paid for, except for the continuous maintenance costs, and the big item on the roads budget can then be extended to other major highways that need to be upgraded, without need for a pause.

We note that in the last budget, now implemented, the toll charges were raised on that est-west highway and the almost completed section of the north-south highway, the Beitbridge-Masvingo-Harare section.

Obviously no one likes higher charges, but the complaints have been muted on the grounds that if a high-grade highway is provided then people at least see themselves getting value for money.

The fact that Zinara is now able to turn close to 90 percent of that money drivers and operators pay into roads, will keep the objections muted. The money motorists spend comes back to them with something to drive on.

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