SHARJAH // Haulage and building firms who will have to pay the new Dh100 toll each time one of their lorries travels from the east coast along the Al Dhaid Road say their businesses will suffer. Al Bilal Transport, one of the country's biggest haulage companies, carries rocks from the mountains of Fujairah to building sites in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
About 250 of its lorries would pass each day through the new toll gate, situated on the Fujairah side of Al Dhaid, about 50km from the centre of Sharjah City. That would add up to a weekly cost of at least Dh150,000 (US$41,000). "It is very bad for us," said Satish Menon, Bilal's business development manager. "We are already talking to our clients about passing on the cost. "The market is so bad and we have already started talks with our clients who we are supplying with material from Fujairah. They should absorb it. It is either passed directly on to the customer or we have to increase our transport rates."
For Sharjah-based Al Twakkal Contracting Trading, who specialise in providing precast concrete, news of the new charge came as an unpleasant surprise. "It was a bombshell, reading the news this morning," said a company spokesman who did not want his name revealed. "We are bound to have very big losses as we transport most of our products from Fujairah and through Al Dhaid. In fact, we require about four to five trips in a single day, amounting to around 50 tons in total.
"The trucks that carry the precast items are not ours but belong to transport companies who will naturally raise their prices. "This will have an effect on the costs of our products, but because the market is very busy it is very difficult for us to raise our prices considerably, so our profit margins are set to decrease hugely." Khalid Abdullah, of Emirates Stone Company in Sharjah, a building materials firm, said: "We have many large trailers and we do a lot of business in the Eastern Emirates in such places as Kalba and Khorfakkan, so this will, of course, affect our business. But it is still too early to tell how and to what extent."
Mr Abdullah was reluctant to comment on whether the road toll costs would be passed on to construction companies. Sharjah Executive Council approved the toll system last week as a way of addressing traffic congestion and road damage caused by the around 5,000 lorries a recent study showed use Al Dhaid Road each day. It will launch on May 1, initially as a manual payment system, after a trial phase which starts on Thursday.
The Department of Public Works announced on Saturday that the fee for passing the toll gate - which is on the Sharjah-bound carriageway - would be Dh100. Several haulage firms said yesterday they would have no choice but to pay the toll, saying no viable travel alternatives exist for lorries coming from the east coast via Sharjah. Lorries are already banned from the narrow Al Dhaid-East Coast road, which runs through the town of Al Dhaid to Sharjah.
A detour is theoretically available via Ras al Khaimah's Manama Road but it is a longer route and a toll already exists. Lorry drivers have resisted taking this route in the past. A spokesman from Al Dhaid Municipality said yesterday: "You just have to make up your mind to pass through Sharjah and pay the toll, no options." The Department of Works said money generated from the new toll would fund work to maintain existing infrastructure and build new roads.
"It's not a money-making venture," a department spokesman said. "I wish you knew how expensive it is for Sharjah to maintain that road. It's billions of dirhams, not millions. "For us, as the Department of Works, we will channel the money into development projects, build more roads and bridges that will benefit the trucks and everyone." Officials and residents of Al Dhaid have frequently complained about convoys of lorries causing gridlock and danger.