The Legislative Yuan yesterday passed a resolution extending the toll-free period from seven to 10 hours on highways nationwide during the six-day Lunar New Year holiday and demanding an improvement in the eTag system from the electronic toll collection (ETC) contractor, Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus used its majority to pass the proposal in an extra legislative session, which stipulated a toll-free period between 9pm and 7am the next day from tomorrow through Tuesday for all vehicles on the highways.
The resolution also asked the company to keep improving the efficiency and precision of its distance-based toll collection system, as well as the technology of the eTag — a device attached to a vehicle that allows the ETC system to calculate the toll amount for the vehicle — or it would be subject to heavy penalties for contractual violations.
Separately yesterday, Leu Wen-yuh (呂文玉), director of the National Freeway Bureau’s traffic management department, said that extending the toll-free hours from seven to 10 hours is set to present a major challenge to freeway traffic regulators and the toll collection contractor, adding that the bureau cannot gauge exactly how the resolution would affect traffic because the nation has never done this before.
However, Leu warned that the longer toll-free period does not necessarily mean that traffic flow would be smoother.
She said that southbound passengers should avoid going on freeways between 6am and 7am on Thursday and Saturday, which are Lunar New Year’s Eve and the second day of the holiday.
“In the past, traffic started to decrease when the toll-free hours ended at 6am. Now that the toll-free period does not end until 7am, traffic will definitely be heavier between 6am and 7am,” Leu said.
She added that southbound travelers should also try to avoid using the freeways between 9pm and 11pm today. She said that congestion is likely to occur because some people have just left work, while others may start their journeys when the toll-free period starts.
“If you do not want to get stuck in traffic, you should try leaving at 12pm rather than at 3pm today. Otherwise, you might want to nap a little and hit the road after 11pm,” she said.
Northbound travelers, on the other hand, should avoid traveling on the freeways on Sunday and Monday — the third and fourth days of the holiday — between 9pm and 11pm, Leu said, as most people are scheduled to return to work and some might take advantage of the holiday’s last days to travel.
“The traffic volume on these two days could reach 3 million and 2.9 million respectively, which far exceeds freeway capacity,” she said.
“The increase of the toll-free hours will increase the traffic,” she added.
According to Leu, historical records showed that the peak traffic hours on the third and fourth days of the Lunar New Year holiday were between 3pm and 8pm. With the toll-free hours beginning from 9pm, it could help divert the peak-hour traffic, she said.
Asked whether the travel time between Taipei and Kaohsiung could still be kept at six hours, the bureau said this remains its goal.
To ensure that cars on the freeways can maintain a speed of 60kph, the bureau would enforce strict regulatory measures, Leu said. The worst scenario would be that a meter on a feeder road only allows 400 cars to enter a freeway per hour, she said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said he has started testing the customer service line of Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection to see if it has the capacity to handle a possible surge in customers’ requests for help with problems.
The company said yesterday that freeway drivers are exempt from paying a NT$5 processing fee when they pay their toll-fee bills at convenience stores during the Lunar New Year holiday.
Additional reporting by Chris Wang