Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Ou-po (陳歐珀) said yesterday that dozens of Yilan County residents would protest against the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ (MOTC) new freeway “pay as you go” policy, adding that drivers should not be asked to pay tolls when they drive between Suao (蘇澳) and Toucheng (頭城).
Many drivers would take the highways parallel to National Freeway No.5 to avoid paying tolls after the government launches the pay as you go policy, which would cause congestion, Chen said.
He added that the parallel highways are not connected to National Freeway No. 5, so drivers would have to take different routes to reach the freeway, which would worsen traffic.
He urged the ministry to make the Suao to Toucheng section of the freeway toll-free, particularly the 24km section on the Yilan plains.
Chen and DPP Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) met with MOTC Minister Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) yesterday in last-ditch negotiations before the protest next week.
Before the meeting began, Yeh said it would be impossible to allow drivers on National Freeway No. 5 without paying tolls.
Based on the ministry’s plan, which it recently announced, each vehicle is given 20km of toll-free distance per day. Only drivers on north-to-south freeways would pay the tolls, including Freeway No. 1, No. 3 and No. 5.
Those driving on east-to-west freeways are not required to pay at this point, but the ministry said it would reassess the situation after the new policy has been implemented for two years.
Chen argued that the Suao to Toucheng section functions more to connect local roads, which are similar to most other east-to-west freeways in the country. Therefore the toll-free privilege should also apply here, he said.
The National Freeway Bureau’s chief engineer, Hsu Cheng-chang (許鉦漳), said Chen’s proposal would only place the burden on taxpayers.
Hsu said the nation collected about NT$600 million (US$20 million) in fees from Freeway No. 5 per year and spent about NT$500 million per year maintaining the freeway, adding the Directorate General of Highways is also funding the county in building connecting roads from the highway to Freeway No. 5.
Freeway drivers will not necessarily be charged more once the government begins charging drivers by distance traveled, he said.
If each vehicle is given 20km of toll-free distance, a round-trip drive between Nangang (南港) and Toucheng would cost NT$49, which is lower than the current fare of NT$80. The trip between Suao and Toucheng costs NT$30 one-way and NT$31 for a round-trip.
“All taxpayers would have to pay for freeway construction and maintenance if drivers do not pay tolls. It is better that whoever uses the freeways pays for them,” Hsu said.