Sun, Feb 26, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Ruling on ETC dispute leaves motorists hanging

QUANDARY With the Taipei court rejecting Far Eastern's bid to operate the electronic toll system, motorists who have bought equipment may find it to be quite useless

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi says ``No comment,'' in reply to questions about the electronic toll collection system, on her way to the memorial service for former premier Sun Yun-suan yesterday morning.

PHOTO: LIU HSIN-DE, TAIPEI TIMES

"To buy or not to buy [onboard units]?"

That's a question that has been haunting highway motorists around the country since the formal launch of the Highway Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) System two weeks ago, when two of the lanes of the Sun Yat-sen Freeway were turned into ETC-exclusive lanes.

The pressure, however, shows no signs of easing, as the Taipei High Administrative Court issued a verdict on Friday disqualifying Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co (遠通電收), the manufacturer and designer of the onboard units (OBUs) used in the systems, as the best candidate in the "build, operate and transfer" (BOT) project.

The court has further decided that the second-best candidate in the bidding process, Taiwan Yu-Tung Information Technology Co (宇通光電通訊公司), could not replace Far Eastern as the best candidate to execute the project.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪) said yesterday that the administrative lawsuit is now in legal proceeding, and that the ministry will take further action once it receives the official documents from the court.

Douglas Hsu (徐旭東), chairman of the Far Eastern Group, said that it is regrettable that the court only took into consideration questionable evaluations on a few items and decided to disqualify his company from the bid.

In reply to questions about the scandal surrounding the project, Hsu said that Far Eastern and the four other firms involved in the project had obtained the government's approval legally.

The verdict has now put the interests of some 70,000 motorists who have purchased OBUs at risk, as the government might have to open the project to a new group of bidders, whose system might not be compatible with that of Far Eastern.

MOTC made a late-night announcement on Friday that the public can now determine themselves if they want to install OBUs. The consumer's interest will remain the ministry's top priority, it said.

The price of the OBU, valued at NT$1,343, remains the most controversial issue both before and after the implementation of the policy.

Before the ETC system's implementation, some motorists tried to launch a massive e-mail campaign urging people to boycott the use of OBUs. They cited MOTC's regulation that one ETC lane would be canceled if the OBU usage rate failed to reach 4 percent within three months. Moreover, Far Eastern will be fined NT$500,000 daily if it fails to raise the usage rate to 16.3 percent within a year, the e-mail indicated.

"So please tell everyone you know not to install an OBU now," said a motorist who identified herself as "Demi" in the message. "When the time comes, Far Eastern will get down on their knees and beg you to buy it."

However, some now say that the pricing should not be an issue, referring to the proposal that Far Eastern had submitted to the MOTC earlier, in which it clearly stated that motorists would not have to pay anything during the promotional period. And in the long run, with the company considering changing the IC card into a co-branded card, the installation cost may not exceed NT$499.

But some people warned that focusing the discussion on the pricing is missing the mark.

Jason Chang (張學孔), professor of transport systems at National Taiwan University and former chief of the MOTC's information technology division, said that a consumer boycott of the OBU has not been altogether reasonable, as it has failed to consider both the price and the quality of the service it delivers.

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