Complaints down for M50 tolls

 

The company that runs the toll on the M50 in west Dublin has changed the way it manages the system, resulting, it says, in fewer errors and better service. David Labanyifinds out how

THE NUMBER of fines issued to M50 users for failing to pay tolls on time has halved over the past year, according to BetEire Flow, the firm that operates tolling on Dublin’s orbital route on behalf of the National Roads Authority (NRA).

Simon McBeth, BetEire Flow’s communications director, said improved technology and additional checks prior to the issuing of late-payment letters had contributed to the reduction.

He admits the firm made mistakes in the 10 months after the M50 barriers were removed, when “clearly we hadn’t got it right”, resulting in complaints about billing errors and poor customer service.

This prompted the firm to change its customer-service provider in June last year to Cork-based Abtran, resulting in a steep decline in complaints and a rise in M50 usage and the number of eFlow customers.

The volume of calls has dropped 36 per cent, to 93,000, in the 12 months to July, which is evidence, he says, of fewer customer issues.

Incorrect charges were one of the primary causes of driver frustration with the M50 toll; McBeth said the company’s improvements mean many issues now stem from customer error.

BetEireFlow says misreads – when the wrong motorist is charged for passing the toll point – have fallen from 9,724 per month to 450, a 95 per cent drop.

“In July, there were 331 complaints for motorists claiming that they had already paid the toll before we contacted them. When we checked we found in 298 cases they had paid the toll on the wrong licence. For example, we have an issue with people putting in O instead of a zero.”

While errors and complaints have fallen, the number of prosecutions has not, and so far this year the NRA and its legal team have issued 4,272 summons for the non-payment of fines. McBeth says a small group of motorists simply refuse to pay, adding that the number of summons issued this year is likely to be higher than in 2009.

Drivers have tried to evade the toll, he says, by fitting plates that are false or have been stolen from a written-off or crashed car. Cruder measures include taping over the plate. So far this year 189 vehicles with tampered plates have been identified.

The cameras have also recorded cases where a driver tailgates a lorry to avoid the cameras. “For this to succeed you have to be just two or three feet from the vehicle, which, given the risks, seems ridiculous to evade a €3 toll.”

McBeth says that tampering with a number plate is a specific offence, separate to non-payment of the toll, and that details of these cases are put on a watch list and passed on to the National Vehicle Driver File (NVDF), which will liaise with the Garda to find the vehicle.

Because of the vast quantity of data collected during the 739,500 weekly vehicle journeys on the M50, it is no surprise that the Garda has requested access to the records on 192 occasions. Following agreement with Data Protection Commissioner, the information on vehicles passing through the M50 is held for six months.

“They can give us a number plate, and we can check our records and tell them if a vehicle passed through the toll.

“The National Vehicle Driver File and the gardaí are very interested in this sort of stuff. They are also interested in vehicles that are not taxed.”

Barrier-free tolling on the M50 was introduced on August 30th, 2008, following the sale of the toll bridge by National Toll Roads to the State for €488 million.

Drivers from Northern Ireland make up the vast bulk of foreign vehicles using the M50. McBeth says there is no significant difference between rates of toll payment and evasion between drivers from Northern Ireland or the UK and those registered in the Republic. A recent agreement by the Irish and British governments means drivers from Northern Ireland can be pursued for non-payment of tolls.

McBeth says the cameras have an accuracy rate of 99.95 per cent, adding that 100 per cent is not attainable for the reasons outlined above.

The fact that there has been a 53 per cent increase in eFlow registrations over the past 12 months indicates “that people are giving us a second chance”, he says.

One ongoing issue, and the cause of about 70 per cent of the 5,600 customer disputes to date this year, involves recently sold vehicles.

“There is a lack of understanding about what drivers need to do when they sell a car. In many cases, with a trade-in, the car will sit on a forecourt and the dealer will not process the paperwork until he sells it.

“That car might then be used as a courtesy car, and if the driver goes on the M50 the previous owner gets a letter.”