Jamaica wisely decided some years ago that a major highway upgrade from Kingston to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios would be commissioned as a PPP concession using tolls. The resulting highway – Highway 2000 – has had 46km completed so far, with another 85km under construction or subject to land acquisition. The total project will be 233km long and form the backbone to the country. It is being tolled with DSRC technology and cash at toll plazas. Clearly, electronic free flow systems were not thought to be worthwhile for Jamaica, or perhaps Bouygues (with little experience) took a cheap, low risk approach.
The first phase has a very positive cost/benefit ratio, the second does not but is more about economic development. However, the Jamaican government has a problem. The concessionaire Bouygues included in its contract that no competing mode can be established to compete directly with the toll road. This, of course, should have been restricted to roads, as it may be seen to restrict aviation, but the issue is not that. It is rail.
Jamaica’s railways have been long neglected and mothballed. However, they are also being revitalised, with passenger services expected this year according to Go Jamaica. I’m not going to express a view on whether that is a good idea or not, but it does raise one issue toll concessionaires often want reassurances over – competition. My view is that as long as competition is not state subsidised, then it should not be restricted. Private roads shouldn’t be seen as a right to a perpetual monopoly. Nevertheless, it does seem that Jamaica’s government might want to have a more integrated approach to transport policy.