Uncertainties surround re-introduction of tolls on Albania-Kosovo highway

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 5, 2018 15:28

Uncertainties surround re-introduction of tolls on Albania-Kosovo highway

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  • "As the tolling date approaches, civic tension against the tolls is growing. What remains unclear up to now is the way citizens will oppose these tariffs. Will it be opposed like on March 31, over which there is pressure to happen again or will there be other forms," says Sokol Kolgjini, the head of the Business for Business association based in Kukes, northeast Albania, whose residents violently opposed the fees five months ago

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TIRANA, Sept. 5 – Uncertainties surround the reintroduction of tolls on the highway linking Albania to Kosovo following a late March protest that turned violent, temporarily suspending the operation of country’s first toll road after local residents and businesses in Albania and Kosovo opposed the tolls as too high.

The government and the Albanian concessionaire have announced the application of the new revised toll fees on the so-called Highway of Nation will start on Sept. 17 following a five-month suspension after the toll booths were burned down at the violent protest and a new reduced fee was set for residents of the Kukes region, northeastern Albania, the country’s poorest. The re-introduction of the tolls was delayed for September to allow residents of Kosovo get to Albania at no extra fee during summer and prevent a possible boycott from the country with highest number of tourists to Albania.

The reintroduction of tolls also comes after the government renegotiated fees with the concessionaire to apply a 100 lek (€0.78) toll for Kukes residents, compared to average tolls of €5 for other highway users, and apply discounts for regular business users.

Uncertainties come at a time when the opposition is boycotting Parliament amid allegations of lack of rule of law, government links to gangs and growing corruption and at a time when several opposition MPs have called on local residents and businesses and to refuse paying tolls.

A local business association in Kukes region, says the re-introduction of tolls risks bringing back a new March 31 scenario when the protest turned violent and tolling equipment were destroyed and set on fire, leading to the arrest of 23 local residents, several of whom still remain in prison.

“As the tolling date approaches, civic tension against the tolls is growing. What remains unclear up to now is the way citizens will oppose these tariffs. Will it be opposed like on March 31, over which there is pressure to happen again or will there be other forms,” says Sokol Kolgjini, the head of the Business for Business association based in Kukes, adding that Kukes residents cannot accept such imposed fees for decades.

Two of Albania’s largest companies, which the opposition labels as oligarchs, are behind the 30-year concession that will manage and maintain the highway linking Albania to Kosovo.

Tolls ranging from €2.5 for motorcycles, to €5 for passenger cars, €11.2 for buses, and €16.2 and €22.5 for mid and high-tonnage trucks have been described as too high by the Albanian and Kosovo business communities, who fear trade exchanges between the two ethnic Albanian countries could receive a severe blow.

The new revised fees offer up to 40 percent discount on regular users with 10 to 60 passes a month.

The highway concession saves the Albanian government an annual €4 million in maintenance costs but the government will still pay the consortium through taxpayer money in subsidies for traffic guarantees in return for investment and maintenance for the next 30 years.

Tolls on the 114 km highway that will be collected on the 5.5 km twin-bore Thirre tunnel.

Operational since 2009 on the Albanian side and from 2013 in Kosovo, the Highway of Nation linking the two ethnic Albanian countries has given a strong impetus to trade and human exchanges in the past decade following Kosovo’s independence.

Albania-Kosovo trade exchanges, often marred by trade barriers, are dominated by Albanian exports which rose by 31 percent to hit a historic high of 29.4 billion lek (€230 million) in 2017 after fluctuating at about the same level of about €160 million in the past five years, according to Albania’s INSTAT statistical institute.

Meanwhile, the number of Kosovo tourists to Albania dropped by about 20 percent to 1.75 million in 2017 following a consecutive hikes in a decade, apparently negatively affected by constantly rising prices in Albania’s main summer destinations.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 5, 2018 15:28