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September 25, 2017

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eTag controversy being driven by business, political interests

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- It doesn't take a degree in economics or political science to understand how capitalism or democracy is supposed to work. Businesses that provide inferior services and inferior goods at a higher price are supposed to cede their market share and/or fail. Officials who are either unclear on or negligent of their responsibilities, i.e. grossly incompetent or corrupt, are supposed to be reprimanded and/or replaced.

Amid the seemingly never-ending string of controversies surrounding the nation's newly launched electronic toll collection system, National Freeway Bureau Director General Tseng Dar-jen (曾大仁) had the good sense to request "repeatedly" that he be reprimanded.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) rightly pointed out that although Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co. (FETC) is responsible for the recent eTag glitches, the government cannot remain passive by saying that it has no legal recourse to remedy the situation; it has to take action to protect public interest and the rights of consumers.

Last time anyone checked, Taiwan was still a democracy, managed — at least in theory — by a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Freedom of Choice, Incentives

FETC Chairman Douglas Hsu (徐旭東) also rightly pointed out that motorists reserve the right to return their eTag stickers if they want, triggering a well-deserved public relations catastrophe for his company.

Etags are not necessary for highway usage.

Despite apologizing for the glitches, Hsu also requested that the public show him some sympathy. Why should the public be sympathetic when his company was handed a deal — a deal that his company fought for — reportedly worth at least NT$10 billion. Why the chairman should feel sorry for himself is anyone's guess.

It is widely known that motorists who install eTags are given a 10-percent discount. What a lot of people don't know is that the 10-percent undercharge, estimated at NT$2 billion per annum in total, is reimbursed through the Ministry of Transportation and Communication's funds. Last time anyone checked, government funds are generally raised through taxes. If one is not mistaken, what all of this means is that motorists are given an incentive — by means of a "discount" — to install eTags, but that taxpayers, which include the aforementioned motorists, end up picking up the tab anyway.


The premier requested that FETC take up its responsibilities and that the MOTC clamp down on the NFB, while Transportation Minister Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said that his ministry will consider terminating the government's contract with FETC if the company doesn't improve its services by year-end.

  The MOTC, however, is not exactly an innocent party. According to a report released by the Chinese Institute of Transportation, the ministry dispatched 10 vehicles between Feb. 6 and Feb. 29 last year on National Highway No. 1, 3 and 5 to test the eTag system's accuracy. The MOTC concluded that the system was 100-percent accurate. According to at least one professor at Feng Chia University's Department of Transportation Technology and Management, such tests are usually carried out for a period no shorter than six months, more than six times the length of the MOTC's test.

  With Chinese New Year coming up in two weeks, that time of the year when highway traffic is at its peak, one is rather apprehensive about it all.

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