Lawmakers at the legislative transportation committee yesterday proposed that the government should either stop charging motorists for taking the Sun Yat-sen Freeway (Freeway 1) or at least halve the toll charge on the grounds that it has overcharged motorists for too long for using the facility.
According to the lawmakers, the law mandates that the government has the authority to charge motorists freeway fees for 20 years. As the Sun Yat-sen Freeway was opened in 1974, the government's mandate to charge tolls on the freeway expired in 1994.
However, the government continues to charge motorists who use the road, meaning that motorists have been charged for an additional 12 years beyond the mandated time period, they said.
The overcharged amount has already exceeded NT$70 billion (US$2.12 billion), the lawmakers said.
Independent Legislator Chen Chin-ting (
People First Party Legislator Lee Hung-chun (
When maintenance fees were deducted, there was still a surplus of NT$193.6 billion.
Lee also said that the freeway was fully paid for by 2000, when revenue surpassed all outlays for construction, maintenance and expansion projects.
Lee suggested that instead of paying NT$40, the current toll charge, motorists should pay a nominal fee of NT$5 to NT$10.
In response, Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪) said the legislators' calculation failed to factor in expenses related to reconstruction after the Sept. 21, 1999, earthquake.
She said the ministry would not deny that the toll collected along the Sun Yat-sen Freeway has fully covered all expenses. Total revenue, in fact, had increased from NT$20.4 billion in 1994 to NT$33.2 billion last year.
Kuo added, though, that eliminating the freeway tolls was not viable at this point.
"The ministry needs to manage all of the freeways," Kuo said.
"Even though the National Highway Construction and Management Fund [the account created to store the collected fees] has an annual surplus of NT$18.2 billion, we still need the revenue from freeways 1 and 3 to support other new freeway construction projects," she said.
The minister said that the fund had been allocating over NT$20 billion per year for new freeway construction since 1999, including expansion projects for Freeway 3 (Formosa Freeway) and Freeway 5 (the freeway connecting Taipei and Ilan Counties).
The debts accrued on these constructions amount to nearly NT$190 billion.
The government has to continue charging motorists for driving on all national freeways until at least the year 2037 to reach a self-liquidating ratio (SLR) of 78 percent, Kuo said.
SLR is an indicator often used to evaluate the financial feasibility of a public construction project and is calculated by dividing the net cash flow of a project by its total costs.
From now until 2015, the ministry estimates that approximately NT$240 billion will be used to build new freeways, Kuo added.
The minister also noted that the law dictates that freeways in parallel should not have different charges.
If no tolls are charged for those taking the Sun Yat-sen Freeway, then the same rule should apply to those driving on the Formosa Freeway, the minister said.
This, however, would not be an efficient solution, Kuo said, because traffic would simply transfer from one freeway to another.
While not all of the motorists are against the policy of toll collection, some of them suggest that the government should charge less.
Dennis Hsu (
"Some people might take the freeway and get off immediately, and they still have to pay NT$ 40," Hsu said. "This is unreasonable."
Hsu suggested that motorists should be charged based on the kilometers they drive on the freeway.
"They can get tickets at the ramps and pay the fees when they exit toll roads, just like it's done in the US," he said.
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