Electric vehicle users forced to wait for toll discounts

Full rate being charged at tolls despite scheme to incentivise use of electric cars

Drivers of cars powered only by batteries were to be given a 50 per cent discount on tolls, while those buying a plugin hybrid electric vehicle   would get 25 per cent off. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Drivers of cars powered only by batteries were to be given a 50 per cent discount on tolls, while those buying a plugin hybrid electric vehicle would get 25 per cent off. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Drivers of electric vehicles (EVs) are finding that the promised discounts on motorway tolls are being either incorrectly applied, or held back for an inordinate amount of time.

Last April, Minister for Transport Shane Ross announced that drivers of electric cars and vans would be given discounts on toll road usage, as another avenue to incentivise the take-up of emissions-saving battery-powered vehicles.

Drivers of cars powered only by batteries were to be given a 50 per cent discount on tolls, while those buying a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) would get 25 per cent off. To encourage off-peak usage of Dublin’s M50 orbital motorway, that discount would swell to 75 per cent during off-peak hours.

Those making maximum use of the scheme were estimated, according to the Department of Transport’s own figures, to be able to save as much as €1,000 on their toll costs every year (which is a bit of a departmental misnomer – that figure is the maximum, capped, amount for commercial vehicle users – the scheme is capped at €500 worth of rebates annually for a private car user). Experience, however, seems to be showing something rather different.

One EV driver, who preferred not to be named, said he has been charged the full toll amount at each time of use so far, and has not received any post-fact rebate.

Confusing

The driver, who runs a Volkswagen e-Golf, said that: “It’s very confusing to try and figure out. When I first got my car, I ordered a new tag for it, and logged in with the details of my e-Golf, assuming that the system would automatically recognise that the car was an electric one. The first couple of times that I drove through the tolls, on the M1 and the M50, I was charged the full amount but I put that down to needing a tag. Since getting the tag, though, I’ve still been charged the full amount, and haven’t had any rebate.

“Am I supposed to tell the tolling company that I have an EV now? Am I supposed to ring them up or something? The online Frequently Asked Questions section is pretty unhelpful, I have to say, and I’d pride myself on being someone who’s switched on about cars and motoring in general, so it must be worse for someone who’s less clued-in. I actually think it’s a little disingenuous – you seem to have to jump through so many hoops to get the discount.”

Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) manages the tolling setup on behalf of the department, and a spokesperson said they are aware of the concerns regarding the information on EV tolling discounts. “There is a review currently taking place on EV tolling information provided by the Department of Transport to the tolling operation across the network. The outcome of this review should improve EV car users’ experiences.”

On the subject of refunds, the spokesperson said that if the vehicle qualifies under the regulation of the scheme the motorist should be refunded, but did not elaborate on how long that refund may take, nor what other efforts an EV driver may have to go to in order to get that refund.

In the fine print of the EV toll discount scheme, it says that: “Each of the toll tag operators operate differently in the context of applying refunds to accounts. Some tag providers will apply the discounts to your toll tag account on a live basis, while other toll providers will apply refunds to the following month’s invoice.”

Another issue, possibly more worryingly, seems to be confusion in the ranks over exactly how the discount system should work. One representative of TII told The Irish Times that: “Please note that if people were travelling during peak time there is no discount.”

Incorrect

That, though, is incorrect according to the department’s own official rules on the scheme, which say that at peak times, the discount is reduced from 75 per cent to 50 per cent on the M50 for battery vehicles, and from 50 per cent to 25 per cent for PHEVs. The only toll on which the discount does not apply at all at peak times is that for the Dublin Port Tunnel. On all other toll roads, there is no distinction between on-peak and off-peak as far as the scheme is concerned.

As far as the department is concerned, the scheme has been a roaring success, with some 4,000 EV owners and users signing up. Between them, they’ve completed a claimed 145,000 reduced-toll journeys since. The department is claiming that such incentives are driving EV demand, quoting the fact that in the first three weeks of January, 519 new EVs were registered, compared with 51 in the same period last year.

No one from either the department or TII was willing to respond, directly, to a question of how disgruntlement with the current scheme could affect the success of future EV incentives. Beyond what the department can do for EV owners, though, there seems to be one inescapable benefit – that of fuel costs. Annoyed by the lack of an applied discount our EV driver might be, but he’s well happy with the overall cost of motoring. “It’s staggering how much money I’m saving” he told The Irish Times. “That’s €60 a month on diesel that I’m just not spending anymore.”