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Legislature to review freeway ETC proposals

The Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau has produced a spate of toll collection proposals for when electronic toll collection (ETC) goes live across all national freeways in the first half of 2013. The bureau will report on the proposals today at the Transportation Committee of the Legislative Yuan.

Under the ETC system, all vehicles using national freeways are subject to tolls based on the distance traveled, and all freeway users will be granted a certain amount of toll-free mileage.

One of the proposals allows toll-free mileage of 10 kilometers for freeway users, while unit toll is set at NT$1 per km after the first 10 km.

Another proposal allows 15 km of toll-free mileage. Under this plan, unit toll is NT$1.15 per km for the first 100 km and NT$1 per km for mileage beyond that.

A third plan sets toll-free mileage at 20 kilometers. Unit toll is NT$1.3 per km for the first 100 km and NT$1.05 for additional mileage.

Lawmakers at the Transportation Committee have stated that “the greater the toll-free mileage, the better.” Some legislators have proposed a toll-free mileage of 50 km.

In response, expressway bureau officials said that “the greater the toll-free mileage, the higher the unit toll for additional mileage must be” to keep the 2013 freeway budget in the black.

The officials said that under the lawmaker-proposed formula, the unit toll must pop up to NT$1.85 for every km of additional mileage. In other words, the unit toll will double.

At the moment, there are some 2.5 million vehicles running on freeways per day. About 1.4 million of them travel toll-exempt because they do not pass through toll stations on their short-distance drives. But these short-distance freeway users will face freeway toll after the ETC system is in full swing in 2013.

Just two weeks ago, Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo told lawmakers that the annual income budget for freeway tolls in 2013 will stay unchanged at the current level of around NT$22 billion.

Accordingly, the national coffers won't see additional freeway toll income after the ETC system is fully implemented next year, said Mao. He also noted that long-distance freeway users won't suffer heavier toll payments, but will instead pay less than they do today.

In related news, expressway bureau officials projected that the number of vehicles using the freeways will drop as a result of short-distance freeway users choosing to drive on the general highways instead in order to save on tolls.

At the moment, there are 6.76 million registered vehicles around the island, and it's not necessary for all the vehicles to be installed with the on-board units (OBUs) needed for ETC use, the officials said.

The bureau will come up with complementary measures to smooth out the across-the-board implementation of the freeway ETC system. For instance, for vehicles that seldom use the freeways, the bureau will make OBUs easily rentable.

So far, the total number of users of freeway ETC system has exceeded the 2.4-million mark, with 1.25 million of these using eTag devices. The number of total users is expected to hit a high of 3.3 million by the end of the year, according to statistics released by the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co., Ltd., the contractor administering the freeway ETC system.

After the ETC system is fully enforced, all the toll booths on the freeways will be removed, and the existing practice of exempting all freeway users from paying tolls during consecutive holidays will be dropped.

As a result, freeway users can save 20 minutes between Keelung and Kaohsiung, bureau officials estimated.

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