There was a big announcement by the government over the weekend, and it concerns most of us living and commuting in the Klang Valley.

The PM’s office’s statement on Saturday noted that Pakatan Harapan has promised in its election manifesto to take steps to acquire highway concessions and abolish toll collection in stages, in accordance to the terms of the concession agreement. This is to alleviate the high cost of living for city commuters.

As a first step, the government has commenced talks with Gamuda Berhad to negotiate the acquisition of highway concessions in which the company has a majority stake. The highways are the Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP), Sistem Penyuraian Trafik KL Barat (SPRINT), Lebuhraya Shah Alam (KESAS) and the SMART Tunnel. Upon successful takeover of the highways, the government intends to abolish the existing toll mechanism, the statement said.

There’s a catch though. At the same time the government is also proposing a ‘congestion charge’ system where commuters will pay what’s equivalent to the existing toll charges for six hours of ‘peak period’ a day. In this proposal, during the ‘off-peak’ period between 11pm and 5am, commuters can travel on the highways for free, while rates for ‘normal’ hours will be discounted by up to 30% compared to today’s fares.

The revenue collected from the congestion charge will go towards the operations and maintenance of the highways and repayment of borrowings, and any surplus collected will be channeled into a public transportation fund to improve the quality of public transport, the statement said. Further details on the proposed exercise will be announced by finance minister Lim Guan Eng at the appropriate time.

Transport minister Anthony Loke explained that the congestion charge is to spread out traffic. “The congestion charge is imposed during the morning, during peak hours – at the same rate. What we are trying to encourage is for people to spread out traffic,” he said, adding that congestion charges was already practised in other countries.

Sweets for the upcoming by-elections? “None of the highways are actually in Semenyih,” Loke said, reported by The Star.

In November last year, works minister Baru Bian said that his ministry has been given six months to hold discussions and settle the “toll issue”. This was followed by the works ministry saying that it will appoint an independent auditor in January 2019 to study the issue of toll collection. This move’s aim was to assist the government in obtaining data and recommendations, plus analysis on the reduction of toll rates in the short, medium and long term.

“The analysis results are expected to be submitted to the cabinet for consideration and consent in May next year,” he told parliament then. But with pressure being ramped up by opposition figures such as ex-PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak and cost of living being a hot button topic, the PH government has decided to speed things up with the latest announcement.

Fulfilling this particular election promise won’t be cheap though. In December, Lim revealed that the government will have to fork out RM972.75 million in compensation to 21 highway concessionaires for them to not raise toll rates in 2019. And that’s just for them not raising toll rates.