Like a bribe that doesn’t get your work done, the Mumbai entry fee levied at the five toll nakas of Vashi, Airoli, Mulund, Dahisar and LBS Marg is money down the drain for most motorists. You keep paying Rs 60 a day — to and fro — and nothing gets done about the roads on either side.
In recent weeks, thanks to the poor maintenance of roads that resulted in potholes sprouting all over the city, the toll nakas have faced a subtle non-cooperation movement from car owners, with at least 1 in 20 refusing to pay the toll, according to a recent report in The Times of India.
In July-August, when the protests peaked just as road maintenance hit a nadir, The Mumbai Entry Point Toll Ltd (METPL) reported a 4-5% drop in the daily take – a drop of Rs 3 lakh a day from normal collections of around Rs 60 lakh.
In part due to this silent protest – thankfully, no one pulled a gun on the toll collector like some goons did in Gurgaon last month – the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) refrained from raising toll charges this time for cars, while hiking it for other vehicles like LCVs and trucks.
Conceived during the Sena-BJP regime, the so-called toll was intended to collect money to pay for the flyovers built in Mumbai and Thane by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation. But long after the flyovers will have been fully paid for, the toll will continue almost indefinitely, as the MSRDC has signed an agreement with MEPTL to collect toll till 2026.
But there is a very good case for either reducing or abandoning the toll altogether, and replacing it with a stiffer annual road tax. Here are five reasons why:
One, the toll is not a toll, but an entry-exit tax. Tolls are collected from people who either exit Mumbai or enter it from Thane and Navi Mumbai, and have no link to the use of the flyovers built during the Sena-BJP regime. This is simply iniquitous, for the flyover are used more by Mumbai residents, who pay no toll at all. The tax is paid by incidental users of Mumbai’s flyovers, not the real users.
Two, the entry-exit tax is levied only on four-wheelers and heavier vehicles. Two-wheelers and three-wheelers are exempt. This again makes no sense, when the population of two-and three-wheel vehicles has been exploding.
Three, very little of the toll money actually goes to maintaining roads in Mumbai or Thane or Navi Mumbai. These are maintained by their respective municipal corporations.
When money raised from road users does not go to improving their roads, the toll is clearly meant to serve collateral purposes – like keeping the toll collectors in business.
Four, the toll is a needless traffic hurdle at places which are already serving as octroi nakas. Since the toll nakas were envisaged at a time when the traffic volume was much lower, the toll nakas end up holding up commuter traffic needlessly. This, in terms of fuel wasted at the naka, is like a toll on a toll.
Five, all tolls have to have a terminal year. Once the cost of creating an asset is amortised, they should end. But this is simply not happening with the Mumbai entry toll.
Six, toll or no toll, Mumbai’s roads won’t improve till accountability is fixed. Currently the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority maintains about 75 km of road, the municipal corporation’s PWD department another 45 km and the MSRDC nearly 20 km. Little wonder, everyone is able to pass the buck for potholes and cave-ins.
Since this is no way to keep city roads in good condition, motorists of Mumbai and Thane, there is a strong case for joining hands to stop paying the toll.