x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Truckers and firms wary as Dh100 Sharjah road toll is introduced

Fee aimed at reducing congestion on Al Dhaid Road, but drivers said it remained unclear whether their companies would reimburse them.

Tollgate officer Hussain Ahmed Mohammed prepares to hand a brochure to a lorry driver that explains the route and fees for travelling on the new toll road near Al Dhaid. The toll starts today.
Tollgate officer Hussain Ahmed Mohammed prepares to hand a brochure to a lorry driver that explains the route and fees for travelling on the new toll road near Al Dhaid. The toll starts today.

SHARJAH // Transporting goods by road is about to get more expensive. All lorries passing through one of the emirate's major thoroughfares will have to pay a Dh100 (US$27) toll from 6am today. Less than a month since Sharjah's executive council approved measures to introduce a toll for heavy goods vehicles on Al Dhaid Road, the booths have been built and the attendants are ready to start collecting fees.

The opening of the toll booths comes after a media campaign and a two-week trial that, every day, saw as many as 5,250 lorries passing through the gates, where drivers were handed brochures explaining the scheme. Omran al Humairi, the director of the tollgate project for Sharjah's Department of Public Works (DPW), said the trial had been a success and that most lorry drivers and their companies were aware of the new fees. The executive council said the move was designed to help to ease congestion in the emirate.

All lorries up to 49 tonnes in weight will have to pay Dh100, with Dh10 for every tonne thereafter. Sheikh Khaled al Qasimi, the director general of Sharjah DPW, told the executive council last month that the fee would remain at Dh100 until weight sensors are installed. All drivers must have the right amount of change to pay at the tollgate, and anyone found to be blocking traffic at the gates is liable to be fined Dh2,000.

Mr al Humairi said the DPW received an average of 10 queries a day from truck companies and drivers in the past two weeks. "Most truckers were asking if we had some discounts or special offers but our answer has repeatedly been, 'No'," he said. Drivers and companies are already bracing for the financial impact of the changes. Some drivers who regularly use the route estimated that they might have to pay up to Dh3,000 in tolls every month. While most companies are expected to absorb the cost, some drivers might have to pay for it out of their own pockets.

Emad Abduli, 55, from Syria, has been working as a private lorry driver for 10 years, and earns between Dh15,000 and Dh17,000 a month. "Now I am supposed to pay Dh3,000 for the toll, then another Dh3,000 for the fuel, about Dh2,000 for service and repairing - what is my balance?" he asked. He said he was also renting an apartment and had to pay for his five children to go to school. Other drivers said it remained unclear whether their companies would reimburse them for the toll.

Sharif Imam, who works for the Yasir Heavy Truckers Company, said: "We are yet to receive any communication on the payment from our bosses. We don't know if they are paying or we are paying from our pockets." Even though the tollgates were initially said to be a solution to traffic congestion, few alternatives exist for those seeking to avoid paying the Dh100 fee. Lorries are already banned from the narrow Al Dhaid Sijji to 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 is also subject to tolls. Lorry drivers have resisted taking this route in the past. Ahmed Rashid, the owner of Ahmed Rashid General Transport, said: "It looks like we shall have to give Dh100 every day to a driver. The risk is some drivers may start misbehaving and passing through Ras al Khaimah after collecting that money from us.

"Dh100 means a lot to some drivers and some could do everything they can to see if they can save some money from it." @Email:ykakande@thenational.ae