Charges on toll roads to fall after test case

 

TOLL CHARGES on a range of roads are expected to fall as a result of an undertaking in the Commercial Court yesterday.

The roads involved include the M8 toll at Fermoy; the N4 toll Enfield; the N25 Waterford City bypass and the M1 toll at Drogheda.

The undertaking was given by Celtic Roads Group – operators of the M1 toll, that it would cease overcharging motorists on the M1 route.

The case was seen as a test case as arrangements between Celtic Roads Group and the National Roads Authority were similar to those between the authority and operators of the other tolls.

In the case of the M1, Celtic Roads Group told the Commercial Court it would drop the tolls from midnight last night.

In the case of all others, the roads authority last night wrote to the toll operators formally notifying them of the outcome of the case and calling on them to fall into line immediately.

The court outcome has already been welcomed by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar who noted the “clear and final resolution this ruling brings to this issue”.

He said it represented “good news for motorists” as well as “common sense”.

The Minister also noted the three other toll operators would be affected by this ruling and that the roads authority had written to those operators “immediately seeking reductions in these tolls”.

The roads authority had accused Celtic Roads Group of overcharging motorists by as much as €6,000 per week since January 1st.

A spokesman for the roads authority said last night the outcome represented “ a substantial benefit for the road user”. The authority’s Michael Egan told The Irish Timeshe could “well understand” users of toll tags now producing their bills as evidence and seeking a refund from toll operators.

While those who paid in cash for their tolls would find it almost impossible to prove they had paid inflated toll charges, it should be possible, in theory at least, for tag holders to claim discounts at any of the tolls affected by the outcome of the M1 case.

The reduction in tolls is expected to amount to at least 10 cent for cars on the cheapest tolls such as the M8 Fermoy toll.

But it could be substantially more for users of heavy goods vehicles, particularly frequent road users.

The outcome of the case does not however affect the toll operation on the M6 Galway to Ballinasloe road because the operator had accepted the authority’s position from the beginning. Nor does it affect the M50, the East Link or the Dublin Port Tunnel which are subject to different agreements and where overcharging did not take place.

In the Commercial Court yesterday, the decision by Celtic Roads Group to give its undertaking on charges came after Mr Justice Peter Kelly indicated he was prepared to grant the roads authority an injunction directing the overcharging to stop.

The judge indicated he would do this unless Celtic Roads was willing to provide an undertaking to that effect. Maurice Collins SC, for Celtic Roads, said his client undertook the tolls would be reduced from midnight.

The judge granted a stay on his order for costs in favour of the roads authority for three weeks to allow Celtic Roads consider the judgment and decide whether it would bring an appeal.

The roads authority had claimed Celtic Roads Group would overcharge motorists by some €1.39 million this year unless the M1 tolls were reduced and applied in late January to have its action against the company fast-tracked by the Commercial Court.

The case had arisen over a dispute about the correct interpretation of the application of the Consumer Price Index on toll inflation.

The case centred on regulation 14 of the bylaws which provides for “appropriate tolls” and “maximum tolls”.

The judge noted the Consumer Price Index figured prominently in regulation 14.

The case concluded on February 23rd and Mr Justice Kelly gave his reserved judgment yesterday.