Mon, Jan 27, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Lunar New Year ‘toll-free’ hours going to the vote

APPEASEMENT:The KMT has proposed upping the holiday’s toll-free hours to 10 hours from seven hours, while the DPP wants the whole period to be toll-free

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote today on whether freeway drivers should be completely exempt from paying tolls or be given more toll-free hours during the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Thursday.

The vote is seen as a measure to appease freeway drivers angry about the technical problems with eTags — the devices used by Far Eastern Toll Collection Co to determine how much should be paid for each journey on the nation’s freeways.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus proposed that freeway drivers be given a break in paying tolls from Thursday through Feb. 4.

The Chinese Nationalist party (KMT) caucus suggested that the National Freeway Bureau adjust the hours during which it would collect tolls to between the hours of 9pm and 7am, from the original bureau plan of between 11pm and 6am.

The bureau said it was inclined to agree with the KMT’s proposal, because the DPP’s suggestion would encourage more drivers to use the freeways and thus make holiday traffic worse.

While late-night congestion might still occur on the freeways under the KMT’s proposal, the bureau said it would still be able to regulate traffic by using the strictest freeway-entry rules it has ever enforced.

According to the bureau, only 350 to 400 vehicles would be allowed to access a freeway every hour from each on ramp under its system, adding that the measure would keep the average flow of traffic to 60kph on the inner lanes.

Toll-free hours have been used by the bureau to discourage drivers from using freeways during the peak hours in past holiday seasons.

However, in the past, only seven hours have been designated as toll-free each day.

If the KMT’s changes are approved by the legislature today, it would be first time since 1981 that there would be 10 toll-free hours.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said that the ministry would consider adjusting the hours. He said that the KMT proposal was better than the DPP’s because it would not disrupt traffic too much and would also allow more people to benefit.

However, experts in transport management criticized the ministry for making decisions based on politics, rather than on technical judgement.

“Giving people three more hours is not going to help ease congestion. Instead, it will add to the unpredictability of freeway traffic flows during the holiday,” said Lee Ke-tsung (李克聰), an associate professor of Feng Chia University.

“Last year, serious congestion occurred on Tomb Sweeping Day when everyone was trying to get on the freeways during the toll-free hours,” Lee added.

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