Barriers come down but motorists face continuing charges

Sat, Aug 30, 2008, 01:00

Motorists are reported to be adjusting well to barrier free-tolling on the M50 but its first major test is likely to come during Monday morning’s rush hour. The Government today refused to commit to abolishing tolls on Dublin’s notorious M50.

At midnight the much anticipated barrier-free eFlow system came into effect on the traffic-clogged motorway with commuters now using one of three new methodsto pay.

The Government last year struck a deal with the Westlink toll plaza owner National Tolls Road (NTR) worth more than €600 million, ending NTR’s involvement and committing €50 million to them annually until 2020.

But at the opening of the new barrier-free system junior Transport Minister Noel Ahern said he would not speculate on whether tolls would be abolished when the state’s buyout is completed.

“We have to pay the over €600 million on this,” Mr Ahern said.

“This agreement goes for the next 12 years.

“I won’t speculate on what will happen after that.”

The barrier-free scheme faced criticism from some quarters but the National Roads Authority (NRA) said motorists have been coping well so far.

With rush-hour travel the length of the motorway almost hitting one hour, travel experts predict gridlock will be dramatically reduced with some commuting times possibly halved.

“It’s going quite well as expected,” an NRA spokesman said.

“The contractor is on site and is removing the outer perimeter of the toll barriers and everything seems to be going quite well.

“People seem to be adjusting. There’s going to be adjustment on Monday morning, there’s going to be a lot more people on it, but it should be fine.”

The NRA is warning there will be teething problems with the new system as motorists get used to it and construction work on taking apart the toll plaza and canopy gets under way.

“It’s an active construction site,” the spokesman added.

“You have a brand new electronic tolling system in place.

“You’re going to have a major commute start on Monday so that will be a full test of the system.”

But Independent Senator Shane Ross said barrier-free tolling would prove disastrous, branding the scheme a rip off.

“The removal of the barrier should have been cause for celebration,” he said.

“Instead, we have higher tolls, an administrative mess, and pending chaos.

“Many users who bought tags don’t even have them yet. We will have weeks of confusion on the M50, and drivers will be soon getting erroneous penalties.”

Even though removing barriers will help to end the daily gridlock, experts are predicting the move will not bring an automatic free-flow.

Road widening works along the 24km route will run until 2010, causing delays for commuters.

The NRA warned drivers using the M50 from today they must register for a tag or
video account or pay in shops or on the phone.

Drivers must pay the fee by 8pm the following day or face penalties.

The NRA has also warned drivers to expect a bumpy ride with problems including wrong number plate details being given, incorrect plate numbers being read by machines and tags mounted incorrectly.

Work on removing the toll plaza will take up to nine weeks before traffic lanes are finally laid out.

The removal will take place in three stages and a lower speed limit will be in operation at the toll plaza.

The last survey of journey times through the toll barriers, conducted by location software company Mapflow, saw drivers heading southbound reach their destinations five minutes earlier than their counterparts travelling the
opposite direction.

The group plans to measure the same journeys with barrier-free tolling to show how effective it will be in cutting commuter times.

PA