Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) yesterday reiterated the ministry’s plan to eimplement a per kilometer traveled charge for freeway motorists in 2013.
Tseng Dar-jen (曾大仁), director-general of the National Freeway Bureau, said motorists who have not installed on-board units (OBU) — a device needed to access the freeway electronic toll collection (ETC) system — or those who have not set up a prepaid account will be recorded using imaging technology.
He said the bureau would send these motorists a notice asking them to make payment within 14 to 20 days, adding that they would also be charged a transaction fee.
“If they fail to pay the tolls before the expiration date, they will be fined NT$3,000,” he said.
On whether the bureau would make installing OBUs or setting up prepaid accounts mandatory, Tseng said it would require public consensus and support from lawmakers on amendments to regulations.
The problems surrounding the ETC system resurfaced when the bureau said it would give a 10 percent discount on tolls to motorists who have OBUs or have set up prepaid accounts when they pass through the Taishan Toll Station on the Sun Yat-sen Freeway (National Freeway No. 1) during peak hours, because construction work on the freeway could slow down the traffic.
While the bureau said the measure was meant to speed up traffic flow, some have criticized it as a means to benefit ETC system users and the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co (FETC), the contractor that operates the ETC system.
About 1.1 million motorists own OBUs, accounting for approximately one-sixth of registered vehicle users. The average usage rate of OBUs is about 40 percent.
An OBU cost NT$1,199. To boost the number of ETC users, FETC has introduced “eTags,” which will be available to all motorists free of charge in February next year.
According to Mao, there are two conditions in the government’s build-operate-transfer contract with FETC that have likely hindered growth in the number of ETC users.
First is that motorists must pay out of their own pockets for the OBU, he said.
“The second condition is that the contract says the government will start charging freeway motorists by kilometer if the OBU usage rate reaches 65 percent, which means there will still be 35 percent of motorists who do not use the ETC system. We had estimated the situation would lead to a tremendous increase in operational costs,” Mao said.
“The conundrum facing the ETC system will never be solved unless we make OBUs free of charge. In addition, we should strive to raise the OBU usage rate to 90 percent to save on operational costs. To that end, at least half of 6 million registered vehicle owners should access the ETC system,” he added.