Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Electronic toll contractor offers refunds to public

YOUR MONEY BACK In the wake of a court ruling that has cast doubt on the whole project's future, the firm said consumers could get full refunds for OBUs

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

In a change from the company's previous hard-line attitude, the private contractor for the Highway Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system yesterday announced that full refunds will be given to consumers who have already installed the on-board units (OBU) required for the system.

Starting today, consumers who have doubts about the system can ask for refunds and no handling fee will be charged.

"Refunds for OBUs and the value stored in integrated circuit (IC) cards will be directed into their bank accounts within a week after consumers apply for it," said Chang Yung-chang (張永昌), president of Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co (遠通電收), at a press conference yesterday.

But this approach will not risk the rights and interests of its 70,000-strong users, as well as more than 100,000 drivers who have made appointments to install OBUs, he stressed.

Initially sold for NT$1,350, the price of OBUs was slashed to NT$680 in the promotional period.

The Consumers' Foundation yesterday hailed Far Eastern Electronic's decision, saying that this measure will better protect consumers' interests in the midst of the turmoil since the ETC system was launched on the nation's freeways early this month.

"However, before any disputes are settled, we still advise consumers to wait and not to purchase the e-toll equipment now," said Terry Huang (黃怡騰), secretary-general of the nonprofit organization, during a phone interview.

Far Eastern Electronic made the refund decision in response to the growing public furor after a ruling from the Taiwan High Administrative Court. On Friday, the court revoked the government's decision at the conclusion of a bidding process that Far Eastern Electronic was best candidate for the "build, operate and transfer" (BOT) project.

The court ruled that the Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications had failed to adhere to principles of public welfare and equality when choosing the best bidder to execute the project.

This ruling has thrown the project into turmoil, with the number of motorists applying for OBU installations falling by half in the last two days, and many with the units already in their vehicles worried they may have spent money for nothing.

Chang said only 1,000 drivers installed OBUs at its 350 locations nationwide over the weekend.

The Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau has decided to appeal the ruling, and Chang said Far Eastern Electronic will throw its full support behind the bureau.

If the appeal fails, Far Eastern Electronic will buy back all the OBUs at their original prices. Chang refused to say whether the company will ask for compensation from the government.

Chang reiterated that Far Eastern Electronic is an upright and honest company and that its financial conditions can stand up to public scrutiny. But the firm's credibility and trustworthiness have been called into question since rival Taiwan Yu-Tung Information Technology Co filed lawsuits challenging the project's legality.

Taiwan Yu-Tung came in second after Far Eastern Electronic in the ETC bidding process in February 2004. Faced with Taiwan Yu-Tung's constant challenges, Chang said the company does not rule out the possibility of bringing legal counteractions against its rival.

Also see stories:
Legislators oppose government's plan to control ETC

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