While toll has become a politically and socially sensitive issue across Maharashtra, traffic experts and former public works department (PWD) officials feel that options like cess on motor fuels and a one-time tax on vehicles can be alternatives to the much-hated tax.
Officials said joint surveys by private developers and state officials to assess the actual number of vehicles and a proportionate reduction in the toll along with installation of automated machines to keep a count of the number of vehicles crossing toll nakas could help ensure transparency.
A PWD official said after a project was commissioned, the department and the contractors could conduct a joint survey of vehicular traffic and collections to adjust the toll rates accordingly and ensure contractors did not make windfall gains.
"Toll is an internationally accepted system," said a former PWD secretary, adding that the state government take steps to reduce the number of toll plazas on individual roads by paying out operators. The distance between two toll nakas must also be increased, he stressed, however, adding that "people must be willing to pay road usage charges".
"Private road developers can be allowed to commercially exploit government land," said a former MSRDC official, adding that the idea had been considered during construction of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Automated Traffic Count and Classification System (ATCCS) machines can be installed at toll plazas for exact details of numbers and types of vehicles passing through.
He suggested that a one-time tax on motor vehicles or a cess on motor spirits like the Re1 levied on every litre of petrol in Mumbai to make up for costs of flyovers could be alternatives to toll.
The Planning Commission's Model Concession Agreement (MCA) for public private partnership (PPP) on highways also specifies that toll collections above a specified traffic volume will accrue to the implementing authority. The concession period (toll collection period) will rise or decrease if the traffic volumes are lower or higher than expected.
"Toll is necessary, but honesty is needed," said transportation activist Ashok Datar, adding that apart from recovering road costs through toll, congestion charges could be levied electronically in high-value locations on private vehicles. This will discourage private vehicles and encourage public transport, said Datar, adding that this was part of the transport demand management (TDM) philosophy.