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Protests erupt around Taiwan over eTag

TAIPEI--Dozens of protesters took to the streets and national freeways yesterday to show their displeasure at Taiwan's new distance-based electronic toll collection system, with some calling for the nationalization of the system if problems persist.

Led by Wang Dingyu, a member of the Tainan City Council, up to 100 motorists from the southern city drove up National Freeway No. 1 without an eTag, a small piece of vehicle ID card fixed to the windshield or headlight for electronic toll collecting.

Instead, their cars sported stickers declaring they are “Too Pissed for eTag.”

Similar freeway protests led by local politicians took place in neighboring Kaohsiung City and Yilan County in the northeast.

In Taipei City, dozens of protesters gathered in front of a Far Eastern department store, which is run by the parent company of the toll collection system's operator Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co. (FETC). The protesters put stickers on the store's glass doors.

They were supported by advocates of workers' rights and some toll collectors who have lost their job since the new tolling system was launched in late December.

The protests came after local media reported numerous problems, albeit exaggerated in some cases. The problems include erroneous eTag detections and calculations, shoddy customer service and a cellphone application that proved totally unable to handle the millions of highway users in Taiwan.

During the protest in Tainan, Wang listed the advantages of driving without an eTag, including paying after receiving an itemized bill to avoid mistakes.

He also called for putting pressure on the government as well as FETC, a private company contracted to build and operate the e-tolling system before turning it over to the government after 20 years.

Wang said the government should take over the tolling system if FETC fails to solve the problems. He added that a second wave of protests is planned for sometime after Chinese New Year, which begins on Jan. 31.

As of yesterday, there were still reports of a long wait to get through to a customer service representative, but few other problems have been reported in the past week.

Yesterday's protests may reflect public anger fanned by the comments made by FETC parent company Far Eastern Group's Chairman Douglas Hsu two days earlier.

Speaking to reporters for the first time on the new tolling system, Hsu apologized four times for the problems, but said also that the glitches represented a “very tiny percentage” of the service provided and that they have been “blown out of proportion.”

While apologizing and promising to work hard for improvements, he asked reporters to “give me a break” and added: “It's a free world. If they don't like it (eTag,) then don't use it.”

His comments prompted calls by transportation officials for FETC to work hard to meet the people's expectations, an appeal which the company promised to heed yesterday.

In comments to the press, FETC said the company has heard the public's calls and will work hard with a humble heart to improve its service to regain the people's confidence.

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A person places stickers on the rear window of his car in protest against the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co. (FETC) in Taipei, yesterday. The FETC has recently come under fire for a series of glitches in its electronic toll collection system. (CNA)

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