Reopening of controversial tollgate in Vietnam delayed

By Doan Loan   March 24, 2019 | 07:42 am PT
Reopening of controversial tollgate in Vietnam delayed
Cai Lay toll station in Tien Giang Province in southern Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam
The resumption of toll collection at the Cai Lay tollgate has been deferred to review vehicles’ exemption list.

The Ministry of Transport said more time is needed for the review and therefore, collection at the Cai Lay tollgate will not resume Monday, March 25 as announced earlier.

The Cai Lay tollgate is located along National Highway 1 in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang.

The province and the ministry have yet to complete a list of vehicles that will be exempt from the toll.

The ministry said in a statement that it is still working with local authorities to review all vehicles subject to the exemption and will put the tollgate back into service soon. It did not specify a date.

Collection at the Cai Lay tollgate was suspended in December, 2017 following drivers’ protests.

In January this year, the ministry had decided that toll fees will be lowered by 63 percent, from VND35,000 ($1.51) to VND15,000 for cars under 12 seats and trucks under two tons. Toll fees for other auto types would also be reduced by the same ratio, it had said.

The time for fee collection, however, was lengthened from seven years to 15 years and nine months.

One week ago, when it was announced that the collection would resume at the tollgate on Monday, March 25, Tien Giang’s transport department said it had received more than 500 petitions from locals, asking that their vehicles are exempted from paying toll, but only 350 have been approved.

Transport Deputy Minister Nguyen Nhat had then clarified that residents within a radius of 10km around the toll gate will be exempted from toll, up from the previous 5km radius.

Built under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, the Cai Lay toll booth first opened on August 1, 2017.

The project to re-asphalt 26.5km of the highway and build a new 12km bypass road around a local town is estimated to have cost VND1 trillion (over $43 million).

However, angry drivers protested the station’s location, saying it should have been stationed along the new bypass. They argued that with the current location, anyone using the highway but not the bypass would also have to pay toll fees.

In protest, they used VND200 ($0.01) and VND500 notes, the smallest denominations in the country, to pay the toll fee, forcing staff to spend a lot of time counting.

With all the lanes blocked as the money was counted, traffic was jammed for hours. At times, the toll station had to close several times per day to allow all the vehicles through.

The station was then closed for three months.

It reopened in late November, 2017, only to see drivers promptly using stacks of small change to resume their protests.

Locals were not happy with the toll station either, saying they had to pay the fee just to travel around in their neighborhood.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc then instructed Tien Giang to suspend operations at the Cai Lay toll station. He called an emergency meeting where it was decided that no toll would be collected at the station until the government took a final decision.

There are toll stations every 62 km 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 km.

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