Transports: Brazilian government raises tolls of federal highways on auction block in order to attract private investors

Government raises tolls of federal highways on auction block

By Leandra Peres Brasília
Tolls charged from users at federal highways that will be handed over to the private sector are likely to become up to 62.33% more expensive than initially planned by the government. The increase in values set in tender rules, which are in final discussions, was the option found by Brasília to offer a higher return rate and attract investors to the auctions.
This percentage will be applied to those who bid for the concession of BR-153 in Goiás and Tocantins states. The maximum toll was R$5.84 for 100km stretches in the public hearing that released the auction notices. After the latest revision, the government estimates maximum toll at R$9.48 for 100km stretch.
The lowest increase among the seven stretches that will be auctioned is of 33.38% for BR-153 in Mato Grosso do Sul. The initial government estimate was a toll of R$7.10 for 100km stretch, raised to R$9.47, according to a report by the National Land Transport Agency (ANTT).
In the road-concession auction model, the government sets a maximum value for the toll and the winner is the company offering the biggest discount, or the lowest rate for the auctioned stretches.
This means that users may pay a lower toll than those set in the invitation for bids. But the value gives a measure of what the government considers acceptable in each stretch and by how much it accepts to remunerate investors.
ANTT director Natália Marcassa says toll values may still be altered because of fine tuning. “I don’t believe there will be big oscillations,” she says. But the definition will only happen after analysis by the Federal Audit Court.
“The toll value is simply the result of assumptions we’ve adopted. Since we’ve changed some assumptions, this affects the rate,” Ms. Marcassa says.
To have an idea of what the new toll rates mean, it’s possible to compare them to already-privatized roads. Although this doesn’t allow one to conclude if the set rate now is low or high, it’s possible to gauge what will leave the user’s pocket in each of the models.
The toll price is a direct function of required investment, financing conditions and volume of cars that run in each highway. This way, it’s natural that when the government requires big investments in building additional lanes, as is the case of the current model, the toll value is higher.
A car that travels from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro on Rodovia Dutra pays R$49.80, which means R$12.38 for 100km stretch. The highway was privatized in 1996, during the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The model, in which the auction winner was the company offering the highest upfront payment to the government, is criticized by the current Workers’ Party (PT) government because of high toll rates.
In 2001, when President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva privatized Fernão Dias, road that connects Minas Gerais to São Paulo, the idea was to have low toll prices. Today, who travels there pays R$1.99 per 100km stretch.
The rules set by President Dilma Rousseff end up, in some cases, closer to the toll charged by concessions granted in the PSDB model than in the PT model. Among the seven lots that will offered in the next auctions, tolls vary from R$11.51/100km to R$4.66/100km.
“It’s necessary to know what is being offered to the user. In the second-stage concessions [which include Fernão Dias] lane expansions had already been made by the government. Time conditions are also different. In the 1990s, the regulatory risk was much higher than now,” Ms. Marcassa says.
Since the notice was released, in August last year, the government has already revised twice the maximum toll rates. Initially, it kept the internal rate of return at 5.5% a year, but increased the concession timespan and improved project-financing terms, including interest rates of 1.5% above the Long Term Interest Rate (TJLP), now at 5%.
These changes reflected on toll prices, which rose. The maximum toll at BR-262 in Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais states, for example, was raised to R$10.15/100km from R$7.82/100km.
Since this return improvement was not enough to ensure the auctions’ success, the government decided to change again the terms and this time increase the return rate of investors to 7.2% a year from 5.5%.
According to this latest revision, the highest toll may be charged at BR-101 in Bahia — R$11.51 per 100km stretch; and the lowest is of BR-153 in Mato Grosso, estimated at R$4.66.
The government also kept the demand that all lane expansions have to be performed in the first five years of concessions and that toll charges start only after 10% of planned investments are made.

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