Vietnam to reopen controversial tollgate on southern highway

By Doan Loan   January 16, 2019 | 08:12 pm PT
Vietnam to reopen controversial tollgate on southern highway
Drivers argue with staff at Cai Lay toll station in Tien Giang Province on December 2, 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen
Closed for more than a year following protests, the Cai Lay toll station will reopen with lower fees.

The fee for cars under 12 seats and trucks under two tons will be reduced from VND35,000 ($1.51) to VND15,000, the Directorate for Roads of Vietnam under the Ministry of Transport has decided.

Toll fees for other auto types will also reduce by the same ratio, it has said.

Meanwhile, residents within a radius of 10km around the toll gate will be exempted from toll fees, up from the previous 4km radius, Nguyen Van Huyen, head of the directorate, said Tuesday.

But, he added, the time frame for collecting toll fees at the Cai Lay booth on National Highway 1 in the southern province of Tien Giang will be increased to 13 years from the initial period of seven years.

The transport ministry will sit down with Tien Giang authorities to discuss specific moves for the new toll fee plan. The meeting is expected to take place after Tet, the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls in the first week of February. The station is expected to be reopened on February 14.

The Cai Lay toll booth first opened on August 1, 2017 for investors to recover money spent on VND1 trillion (over $43 million) project to relay 26.5km of the highway and build a new bypass stretching 12km around a local town.

However, angry drivers protested the station’s location, saying it should have been along the new bypass instead.

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 their payments.

With all the lanes blocked as the money was counted, traffic was usually blocked for hours. At times, the toll station had to close several times per day to allow all the vehicles through before things returned to chaos again.

The station was then closed for three months.

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

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

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in December 2017 instructed Tien Giang to suspend 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.

Phuc concluded that even though using the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model for the Cai Lay station was justified and in line with government policy, public opinion and reactions must not be taken for granted.

He ordered the transport ministry to come up with a solution.

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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