• Court order on Noida toll road brings user concerns back in focus

    The Allahabad High Court’s decision to stall toll charges for the DND road between Delhi and Noida has been welcomed by users, primarily the residents’ welfare associations of Noida. But, the legal tangles of the project are not expected to end soon, as the Noida Toll Bridge Company Limited, a listed firm, is approaching the Supreme Court. The company’s stocks closed down over 19 per cent on Thursday.

    However, the move is expected to spook existing and potential private investors in infrastructure projects — also termed public-private partnerships (PPP) — particularly at a time when the country is looking to attract investors for toll roads of national and other state highways.

    Many highway operators in India are trying to get funds from foreign investors, such as Brookfield, Macquarie, Canadian Pension Fund, Cube Investments, among others. Some have already invested here.

    According to reports, the Allahabad High Court has said the company is profitable, as it has started paying dividends. But, this stance is likely to discourage special purpose vehicles of infrastructure companies across sectors from paying dividend to the parent company.

    Such a decision also highlights the importance that the toll road operators give to users and the steps they take to facilitate their movement. These roads, after all, are almost like natural monopolies.

    But, sadly, many years after the toll gates in Noida opened, services have not improved for the users to reduce their waiting time. This calls for operators to define ‘quality of service’ in terms of seconds, or minutes for waiting, beyond which users should be allowed to zoom through the gates for free. Such solutions have been implemented at times by toll road operators in areas where there is strong local resistance. For instance, an operator has drawn a line on the road a few metres away from the toll booths. After the waiting vehicles cross that line, they are allowed to cross the toll road gates for free.

    Also, there could be technology-based solutions, including tag-based tokens being sold at multiple points and probably with incentives, or even allowing use of credit or debit cards to pay the toll charges.

    That said, users had to cough up toll charges on the DND road, with collecting agents feigning ignorance about the implementation of the court order.

    Finally, which stakeholder steps in at the ground level to ensure a consistent long-term solution and quality service for users remains to be seen. Vince Williams Authentic Jersey

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