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June 26, 2017

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Freeway No. 5 congested as ever despite new toll scheme

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Traffic jams on National Freeway No. 5 did not see much improvement yesterday as a peak-hours toll increase trial scheme was implemented on the most congested highway in Taiwan over the weekend.

Morning traffic from Taipei to Yilan could only move in a stop-and-go manner on most of the stretches before entering Xueshan Tunnel, according to transport authorities.

Long lines of cars were building up starting early in the morning at the highway entrances at Shiding and Nangang.

The National Freeway Bureau (NFB) said the toll increase only managed to reduce traffic by 3 to 5 percent, far lower than the new fee scheme's target of 3 to 19 percent.

Motorists will have to pay 50 percent more tolls during peak hours between 6 a.m. and noon on Saturdays in the four-week trial scheme, which has been strongly criticized by the Yilan County Government as a useless measure.

The Yilan government, which had predicted that the trial measure could not ease traffic on the highway, said a toll increase could only dampen the county's economy without solving the traffic problem.

It said the measure would not only reduce the willingness of tourists to come to Yilan, but also violate the county residents' right to using the highway.

It proposed instead toll reductions during off-peak hours as an alternative, offering motorists incentives rather than punishing those who have to hit the road during peak hours.

Though admitting that traffic did not improve as much as expected, the NFB explained that the good weather played a role in encouraging people to go on trips before summer vacation ends.

The trial scheme also reduces the toll by 50 percent for northbound traffic on National Freeway No. 5 during the Sunday morning hours between 6 a.m. and noon, an encouragement for tourists to return to Taipei earlier.

A car-pool measure has already been in place for northbound traffic on Freeway No. 5 since July 2012, banning vehicles carrying less than three people (driver included) from entering between 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

Freeway No. 5, with the almost 13-kilometer Xueshan Tunnel, has significantly cut the travel time between Taipei and Yilan since its opening in 2006, boosting tourism in the northeast county as well as in Hualien. But traffic on the highway is a nightmare during holidays and weekends.

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