The freeway “pay as you go” scheme is scheduled be launched on Dec. 30, although there will be a transitional period when motorists will be able to drive on freeways for free, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said yesterday.
Yeh made the announcement at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, where he was scheduled to brief committee members about the budget plan for the National Freeway Construction and Management Fund for the next fiscal year.
“The launch date I approved was Dec. 30, but the Executive Yuan will make the final decision,” he said.
National Freeway Bureau Director-General Tseng Dar-jen (曾大仁) said that the bureau plans to give drivers a grace period of one to three days when they can use the freeways without paying tolls.
The transitional period will give drivers time to adjust to the new way of paying tolls. If tolls are not charged after a three-day period, the fund would lose about NT$60 million (US$ 2 million) per day.
Under the new toll system, drivers are charged by the distance they drive, rather than by the number of toll booths they pass through. Each vehicle will be able to travel 20km a day without incurring a toll.
Yeh said the traditional late night toll-free hours would be offered during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.
“The bureau had previously planned to cancel the 20km toll-free distance and toll-free hours during the holiday,” Yeh said. “However, the traffic might be heavy during the six-day holiday, so toll-free hours will be offered, but we have yet to finalize the details.”
The bureau has used toll-free hours as a way to ease traffic congestion on holidays.
Meanwhile, committee members criticized Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) after more than 10,000 passengers were delayed on Sunday because of a malfunctioning rail switch at its Greater Taichung station.
According to the Bureau of High Speed Rail, there have been 54 recorded incidents involving railroad switches since high-speed rail operations began in 2007. Seven of them occurred this year, including Sunday’s.
The high speed rail’s performance is “intolerable,” Yeh said.
“I think the public, including myself, is very disappointed in the high speed rail’s performance,” he said.
“I will ask the bureau to form a special taskforce within a week to conduct a thorough inspection of the system. This matter [of switches] is really intolerable. I hope that [THSR] chairman Ou [Chin-der (歐晉德)] will take full responsibility and improve operations,” he said.
Yeh also said that it was regrettable that the Ministry of Civil Service ruled that Taiwan Railway Administration train driver Tsai Chung-hui (蔡崇輝) died because he did not have time to escape after a collision, not because he risked his life trying to save passengers by attempting to avoid a truck at a railroad crossing.
The Taroko Express train driven by Tsai collided with a gravel truck that was illegally crossing the tracks near Pushing Station (埔心) in Taoyuan County on Jan. 17 last year.
Tsai’s hands were still gripping the brake when rescuers found his body.
“We will ask the Taiwan Railway Administration to assist his family,” Yeh said.