Tue, Apr 11, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Lawmakers call for lower or no toll charges

OVERCHARGED The government is said to be charging tolls on the Sun Yat-sen Freeway beyond its mandate, arguing that it needs the money to subsidize other roads

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

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 (陳進丁) said the government should stop collecting tolls on the freeway, or hold a referendum to allow the public to decide for itself how long the collection should continue.

Surplus

People First Party Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said that as of last year, a total of NT$265.7 billion had been collected from the Sun Yat-sen Freeway.

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).

Debts accrued

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.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top