Disgruntled drivers jam up newly reopened toll station again in southern Vietnam

By Hoang Nam, Quynh Tran   November 30, 2017 | 10:51 pm GMT+7
Disgruntled drivers jam up newly reopened toll station again in southern Vietnam
Drivers gather to protest in front of the Cai Lay toll station.

Police were forced to detain two disobeying protesters, and cars were eventually allowed to pass through for free twice as chaos ensued.

A toll station along National Highway 1 in the southern province of Tien Giang was reopened on Thursday morning after disgruntled drivers had forced it to close three months ago. However, drivers promptly returned with stacks of small change to resume their protest against the Cai Lay station.

In the morning, despite the presence of dozens of traffic police officers and security guards, drivers still tried to pay the tolls with stacks of low denomination notes. This eventually resulted in a 30-minute traffic jam, which forced the station's staff to let cars pass through for free for an hour.

"We protest against this station because it's placed at the wrong location, not because of the toll fees," driver Vo Thanh Hao said. "We drivers will continue our fight against the station's investor."

At around 3:30 p.m., drivers resumed their protest by using VND200 ($0.01) and VND500 notes, the smallest denomination in the country, as well as VND500,000 notes to pay their tolls, forcing staff to spend extra time counting them. Some even choose to pay with coins, which are no longer in common use, or pay VND25,100 for VND25,000 tolls and demand their VND100 back.

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A man tries to pay the toll using a stack of VND200 and VND500 notes

Arguments soon broke out between drivers and the station's staff, with drivers demanding that the staff accept their small changes or let them pass for free. Drivers also refused the police's request to move to a newly built parking lot nearby and pay their tolls there instead of staying on the highway.

Chaos broke out by 4:30 p.m. when hundreds of curious locals gathered around the station as drivers started arguing with the police. Dozens of mobile police officers were quickly called to the scene to restore order. A tow truck was also mobilized in a failed attempt to tow cars that were refusing to move away.

At around 5 p.m., the station's staff finally agreed to let cars pass through for free for 45 minutes as the drivers' protest had led to a two-kilometer (1.25-mile) tailback in both directions. Police also detained two men who were arguing with the law enforcement officers. Authorities are still tightening security around the station.

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Mobile police officers were called to the scene to restore order.

By 1 a.m. on Friday, drivers resumed paying VND25,100 for VND25,000 tolls and demanded their VND100 back, which is not in circulation in Vietnam. Unable to meet their request, toll collectors gave up and left the station. Despite the traffic police being present, drivers insisted they would not move unless they were paid back or the station let them go free. By 2:30 a.m., the station gave in as the road was jammed for 1 kilometer. 

A traffic policeman is trying to convince a protesting driver to move, but to no avail.

A traffic policeman is trying to convince a protesting driver to move, but to no avail.

Cai Lay toll station was opened along National Highway 1 on August 1 for investors to recover the money spent on a project to resurface the highway and build a new bypass around a local town. However, drivers soon started using small changes to pay the tolls in protest against the station, claiming it should have been placed along the new bypass instead.

The protests resulted in heavy traffic jam for days, forcing the station's operator to temporarily close it from August 15.

The Transport Ministry disagreed with the drivers' claim that the station should have been placed along the new bypass, but agreed to cut the toll fees and let locals living near the station pass through for free.

Luu Van Hao, deputy chairman of the company investing in the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) project, also stressed that the toll station is operating in accordance with regulations.

"Cutting the toll fees is the last solution. We cannot relocate the station as requested by the people," he said.

There are toll stations every 62 kilometers along the highway, according to a report released at a meeting of the legislative National Assembly last year. The standard distance set by the government is 70 kilometers.

Footage of the protest at Cai Lay station in early August. 
 
 
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