Data protection body in talks on M50 tolls


The Data Protection Commissioner said today it is in discussion with the National Roads Authority (NRA) on how long the NRA can keep the personal details of motorists using the barrier-free tolling system on Dublin's M50.

However, the Commission said it was not conducting an investigation and that the NRA was co-operating with it on the issue of access to names, addresses and other personal information of car owners.

A spokeswoman for the Government’s privacy watchdog told The Irish Timesthis afternoon it was working with the NRA on issues such as how long photographs could be held on file without infringing on people’s privacy.

“The NRA has asked to keep photographs of cars using the motorway for six months. We are considering whether or not this is necessary and will be getting back to them,” she said.

The photographs of cars need to be kept on file in cases where disputes arise over non-payment of the toll, according to the NRA.

A spokesman for the NRA confirmed that it was in negotiations with the Data Protection Commisioner on data storage issues.

The new barrier-free tolling system on the M50 has passed its first test with flying colours today – coping well with the surge in traffic volumes as schools reopen after the summer holidays.

Conor Faughnan of AA Roadwatch said the new system was “performing beautifully” this morning with no major traffic problems reported. “To give credit where it’s due, the new system has gotten off to a good start, it’s going very well this morning,” he said.

Traffic continues to move well this afternoon, with no unusual delays reported.

Mr Faughnan sounded a note of caution, however, saying that traffic volumes were not particularly heavy yet.

“Even though the kids are back in school we’re not fully back into the traffic season yet. When we get a wet Monday in September when the traffic is heavy all over the city, then we’ll get a realistic view of how it is going.”

Mr Faughnan was critical of the tolling system saying it was a “very inefficient” way of raising money.

“The system will raise €80 million in revenue but costs €25m to run. It’s a very inefficient way to raise money.”

The Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has requested an urgent meeting with junior transport Minister Noel Ahern today to seek free access to the West-Link bridge of the M50.

The other two tolled roads in the city, the Port Tunnel and the Eastlink, are free for trucks.

Jimmy Quinn, President of the IRHA, said hauliers had been forced out of the city and onto a toll-paying motorway.

“We have no alternative route to take and these additional costs put additional pressure on the hard-pressed haulier. We simply wish to reactivate an existing agreement that sees us gain free access to the Eastlink and Port Tunnel,” he said.

The organisation will hold a council meeting next week to ballot its members regarding future action.

The National Roads Authority (NRA) pronounced itself satisfied with the performance of the new system after the barriers were removed at midnight on Friday. No major delays were reported on the motorway over the weekend, but traffic volumes were relatively light.

"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 an adjustment on Monday morning, there's going to be a lot more people on it, but it should be fine."

With work on dismantling the toll plaza due to continue for the next nine weeks, lane separators, "rumble strips" and speed limits are in place on the four lanes which are currently open. Motorists have to slow down to 60km/h or less, although they do not have to stop - as some continued to do over the weekend. There were some complaints about signage, but the NRA said speed limit signs were in place and a banner on the old plaza provided information for unregistered drivers on payment options.

It is still too early to know whether the system is operating efficiently in collecting tolls from drivers who have registered to use an electronic tag or to pay via video numberplate registration.

The NRA has warned of teething problems where motorists fail to install their tags correctly or where the system has difficulty reading numberplates.