Phnom Penh Tollway Co Ltd’s short-lived administration of Veng Sreng Boulevard has come to an end.
City Hall yesterday scrapped all toll fees on the thoroughfare following a unilateral decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was acting on a slew of complaints on social media over high costs incurred by drivers using the road.
Hun Sen wrote in Facebook posts late on Sunday night that he had decided to order an immediate halt to all toll collections on Veng Sreng.
“Shortly after 12 midnight, I decided to take back Veng Sreng after being given the good idea from our people via my Facebook,” he wrote.
“I would like to clarify that there will be no payments for travelling on Veng Sreng Boulevard anymore. I only ask all our brothers and sisters respect the Traffic Law and avoid traffic accidents on Veng Sreng,” he added.
“I offer Veng Sreng Boulevard as a gift to the people to use free of charge.”
But the gift comes at a cost for one local contractor.
The $10.5 million contract to widen and renovate Veng Sreng was acquired by Phnom Penh Tollway in 2013.
The company is chaired by Choeung Thean Seng, a relative of Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin.
Attempts to reach the firm were unsuccessful yesterday.
Municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said that the city would now form a committee to determine how to pay Phnom Penh Tollway for the work done so far.
“We need to create a committee consisting of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, City Hall and other relevant institutions and the company to check the contract and to evaluate how the government will pay out the contract,” he said.
“The company has spent more than $10 million for the construction to widen the road and install a sewage system, street lights and other things.”
In a statement yesterday, City Hall confirmed that it would pay back local residents who had purchased cards to allow them to use the road without charge.
Toll collectors on Veng Sreng yesterday were seen packing away computer equipment as motorists drove by surprised at not being stopped and charged for using the road.
Phoung Sarath, 55, a truck driver who uses the road daily for his business, said he was happy to learn that the fee system had been abandoned.
“We were so happy when we learned that the company was stopped from taking money from our transports, because we used to spend a lot of money on this every day,” he said, adding that it was not unusual for him to spend more than 17,000 riel ($4.20) per day.
“It will reduce poverty for poorer people, because we do not earn a lot from transportation . . . We had to spend a lot of money before.”
Sarath said Phnom Penh Tollway began collecting fees in December, after City Hall instructed the company to double the rates.
“When they increased the price, we had to start taking other routes to avoid paying them,” he added.
While many shared Sarath’s opinion, one employee who was busy removing his belongings from a toll booth yesterday said that he was worried for the future.
“We are concerned about finding a job, because now we are unemployed, so we would ask the government to help us find a new job,” the worker said.
Phou Reth, a driver who ferries garment workers to the factories that line Veng Sreng, said the decision had “made all the drivers and workers happy”, but added that “the government did this because they want to get our votes and support”.
Hun Sen also announced yesterday during a speech to graduating students in Phnom Penh that he would consider changing the rules for toll collections on National Road 4 that runs between the capital and the coastal city of Sihanoukville.