KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government's decision to freeze toll charges at 21 highways next year has drawn relief from motorists, but concessionaires say this will have an impact on their finances.
The country's finance minister Lim Guan Eng on Thursday (Dec 27) announced the freeze as part of efforts to ease the burden of rising living costs.
In a statement, Lim said the freeze, which will apply to all vehicle categories, would cost the government RM972.75 million (US$232.8 million) in compensation payments to the relevant highway toll concessionaires.
The 21 highways include the North-South Highway, the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link Highway and the East Coast Highway Phase 1, among others.
Mohamad Shawal Zulkufli, 29, who frequently travels along the highways, said the freeze in toll charges would give some "breathing space" for people and tackle the increase in the cost of living.
“The toll freeze will lighten my burden and, in fact, the government should just abolish all tolls," he said. "It could be done in stages. However, the announcement has a positive impact on consumers like me who use the highways to get to work."
Mohamad Shawal, who travels from Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, told Bernama that he uses the New Pantai Expressway and the Sungai Besi Expressway to get to his place of work in the city every day, and pays RM17.40 a day in toll charges.
“The government's announcement has helped reduce my daily toll expenses,” said the private sector employee.
Another motorist, 35-year-old Nurliza Shaari, said it would be better if the toll freeze was a long-term measure.
"If it is only for six months or less than a year, there would not be much impact on motorists who use tolled roads," she said.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for highway management company Kesas said the announcement would have a financial impact on the concessionaires' cash flow as they would only receive compensation from the government at the end of the year.
"For instance, if the toll is RM2.50, but the charge has been frozen at RM2, the extra RM0.50 will be paid by the government," said the spokesperson. "This will affect the cash flow of the concessionaires as the compensation will be late."
"We have drawn up estimates of how much we need to repair and maintain the highways, so we have to postpone those plans."
Added the spokesperson: “Motorists would be happy as there is no toll increase, but it would have an effect on the government as it has to bear the toll rates, and compensation that is paid to the concessionaires could be used for rural development."
The decision to freeze toll rates is one of a series of measures recently announced by the Pakatan Harapan government to tackle the burden of rising living costs.
On Wednesday, Lim announced that the government would resume cash handouts to low-income families next month, with the first tranche of the Cost of Living Aid - worth RM300 per household - to be paid on Jan 28.
Meanwhile on Friday, the minister announced a free national health insurance scheme for low-income recipients, calling it the first of its kind in Malaysia.
The scheme will provide coverage against 36 critical illnesses, and will begin on Jan 1 next year.