Tue, Dec 13, 2016 - Page 4 News List

No promise on toll-free expiry: Hochen

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:The minister said that negotiations with bus companies resulted in the ministry offering subsidies for Lunar New Year holiday ticket discounts

By Cheng Wei-chi and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) yesterday said that the Ministry of Transportation and Communications would work toward maintaining its three freeway toll-free schemes until the end of 2018, but declined to promise that the schemes would not be canceled beforehand.

At a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬) asked Hochen to sign his name on an oversized “check” stating that the ministry’s toll-free schemes — a daily 20km toll-free distance, toll-free hours during holidays and free travel on the east-west freeways — would be maintained until Dec. 31, 2018.

“We are working toward that aim, but we cannot guarantee that we will not start charging drivers before the stipulated date. Nevertheless, we will avoid doing so too early and before supplementary transportation systems are ready,” Hochen said.

Hochen previously drew ire when he re-enacted freeway tolls that had been canceled for this year’s Dragon Boat Festival holiday, prompting commuters to complain that they had been deprived of a small benefit already promised to them.

Further controversy emerged when the ministry recently announced that it would reinstate fees for use of the first 20km of all freeways.

The ministry should deal with other issues already at hand, such as the struggling tourism industry and the demise of TransAsia Airways, instead of making more trouble by engaging in discussions about freeway tolls, Cheng said.

There has always been speculation that the ministry intends to cancel the toll-free schemes, DPP Legislator Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said, adding that such rumors do not emerge without reason.

“From your words I can hear that the desire to collect tolls has always been there. I hope you can exercise restraint,” Lin said.

Any discussions of traffic policy have to take into consideration driver safety and traffic congestion, Hochen said, adding that the ministry is still in the process of making evaluations.

Hochen said he appreciates the time afforded to the ministry by Cheng’s check, adding that the issue should not be solved hastily without communication with the public.

The time frame is likely to be enough, he said, but expressed his hope that a reasonable fee scheme could be implemented after 2018 in accordance with a “user pays” principle.

Given that east-west freeways are toll-free, DPP Legislator Chen Ou-po (陳歐珀) advised Hochen to also afford the same treatment to drivers traveling on the highway between Suao (蘇澳) and Toucheng (頭城) townships, which is the main traffic route for Yilan County.

Hochen said he would investigate the proposal and complete evaluations within two weeks.

Lawmakers also drew attention to allegations that several bus companies are planning to cancel discounts to tickets sold during the Lunar New Year holiday period, due to expected increases in personnel costs caused by the legislature’s recent amendments to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), which implement a policy of one “flexible rest day” as a supporting measure to a 40-hour workweek policy.

When the ministry canceled the toll-free initiative during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, it was done in coordination with the provision of discounts to travelers using buses in an effort to encourage the public to use public transportation, DPP Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said.

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