190903 al maqtaa bridge
Al Maqta’a bridge is one of the four points where toll gates will be set up in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The capital’s road toll system launched its first day of operations today (October 15), even though motorists will not face charges until 2020.

Traffic was fairly smooth in the morning, with the usual congestion downtown during school drop-off. In fact, there were no visible signs that the system was operational as motorists crossed the four toll gates.

On Sunday, transport regulator, the Integrated Transport Centre, announced a toll-free period until January 1, 2020. During this time, the system will be tested, and motorists will have a chance to register on the payment portal.

Many motorists had earlier reported difficulties registering on the portal. Now, with the toll system operational, Abu Dhabi motorists say they soon hope to receive by SMS their login details for the payment portal.

“I travel for work to Taweelah every day, passing by the Shaikh Khalifa Bridge. I have therefore been waiting to register on the toll payment portal, but haven’t yet received my login information,” a Sri Lankan engineer said.

Exemption applications

Other residents are awaiting further details on how they can apply for toll exemptions. The ITC expanded the categories of people exempt from the toll charges on Sunday, adding the elderly, retired personnel, individuals with special needs, families of the martyred and families with low income to a list that already includes, among others, public buses, taxis, and emergency response vehicles.

One resident said he had found it very easy to apply for an exemption from Dubai’s Salik Road tolls.

“I just had to send an email, attaching the birth certificate and disability certificate of my daughter who has Down Syndrome. About a little more than a week later, I received an email approving the exemption for my car. I hope Abu Dhabi’s system will be just as easy,” said S.P., a South African father-of-two.

Reduction in congestion

The ITC has stressed that the toll system is being introduced with the aim of reducing congestion downtown, and in the hope that commuters will opt for more sustainable modes of transport, such as public transit and carpooling. In recent months, the public bus system has therefore been enhanced, with 147 additional trips planned across the sites of the four toll gates, namely Al Maqtaa Bridge, Shaikh Zayed Bridge, Shaikh Khalifa Bridge and Al Khaleej Al Arabi Road, past Mussaffah Bridge.