Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said yesterday that the ministry would spend two months reviewing the government contract for the freeway electronic toll collection (ETC) system before deciding whether to charge motorists for on-board units (OBU).
“This is one of the toughest issues I’ve had to deal with since I took office,” Mao said. “It involves a lot of technical issues.”
Mao said despite controversies over the terms of the contract, the ministry would “just have to accept them as they are,” while striving to adjust them to “help the ministry meet the 2012 goal of charging the motorists by the distance they travel while protecting the interests of motorists at the same time.”
“We will discuss the possibility of making the OBU free of charge in our review and it is one of the directions we are working on,” Mao said.
The ETC system is now operated by Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co (遠通電收) under the build-operate-transfer business model. Each of the OBUs costs NT$1,199.
About 750,000 motorists have installed OBUs in their vehicles. The nation has 6 million registered motorists.
Meanwhile, ministry policy requires that 65 percent of the nation’s motorists must use the ETC system before the nation can start charging motorists by distance, rather than by the number of toll gates they pass.
The company has tried to encourage the purchase of OBUs through various package deals. However, the price of OBUs remained the focus of a question-and-answer session at yesterday’s legislative Transportation Committee, where lawmakers were briefed by the ministry about the ETC system.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) and several other lawmakers proposed a resolution demanding the ministry charge motorists for installing OBUs.
“The contract itself is an embarrassment to the government and the people,” Yeh said. “People are the ultimate victims in this case.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chu Fong-chi (朱鳳芝) supported the ministry’s decision to fix what she said was an unjust bill.
“You have to say no to this corporate fat cat,” she said.
Yeh also said that the ministry cannot possibly start charging by travel distance by 2012 with a contract like this.
The government cannot ask every motorist to use the ETC system to pay freeway toll fees either, she said.
Yeh quoted Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau director Lee Tai-ming (李泰明) as saying those without OBUs could choose to pay before they hit the road or to pay after they receive a photo and a bill, so those measures would generate a new set of issues.
“Motorists figure they shouldn’t have to pay for OBUs, nor pay in advance. They can just sit at home and wait to get the photo and the bill,” she said.