Motorist runs up €45,000 in unpaid M50 tolls and fines
Tolls cost drivers using route nearly €150m last year, as changes to VAT rules kick in
Nearly half of offenders ignored court summonses for failing to pay fines for not paying tolls on the M50. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
One motorist ran up €45,000 in unpaid tolls and penalties on the M50 last year, while nearly 50 per cent of offenders ignored court summonses for failing to pay.
The worst offender - who made 275 journeys in 2017 without paying - was one of 2.3m drivers to make 52m journeys on the toll road last year - up 4 percentage points on the year before.
In all, law-abiding motorists paid €149m in tolls, up 22 per cent - some of this is explained by the rise in traffic, but mostly it is down to a change in VAT rules last year.
Following a European Court of Justice ruling, publicly-owned tolls roads were no longer viable for VAT, though prices on the M50 did not fall - unlike those imposed on the Dublin Eastlink bridge.
Besides the driver who racked up €45,000 worth of fines, the next most prolific offender incurred €37,000 in tolls and penalties from 244 journeys. A third drove the route 213 times without paying, running up a bill of €33,000.
Last year, legal proceedings were issued against 6,510 motorists via registered post for non-payment of Toll Violation Notices (TVNs). However only 3,345 (51 per cent) of these motorists accepted they received the proceedings.
Out of the roughly 2.3 million motorists who used the M50 in 2017, 184,000 TVNs were issued. There were 121 criminal convictions for persistent failure to pay a fine.
Forty vehicles were seized by the Dublin Sheriff after motorists continually refused to pay the fines for avoiding the toll. This is a decrease from 2016 during which 65 vehicles were seized and 2015 when 59 were seized.
Among the cars seized were a Mercedes C-Class, a Volkswagen Jetta and a Toyota Avensis.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), the company which runs the M50 barrier-free tolling system, estimates about 4,000 Irish motorists are responsible for 40 per cent of the unpaid fines and penalties.
When motorists from other countries are excluded, this group accounts for 70 per cent of the total unpaid debts, it said.
The barrier-free tolling system photographs motorist’s number plates automatically as they pass.
Drivers have until 8pm the next day to pay the toll online or by phone to avoid a fine.
The size of the fines increase the longer they remain unpaid and persistent offenders can be prosecuted in court.
According to figures released on Friday by TII, 97.3 per cent of people pay the toll in time or have an account which debits their accounts automatically.
The compliance rate has risen every year since 2013, when it was 95.6 per cent.
The compliance rate among motorists with Northern Irish-registered vehicles is lower at 90 per cent, either because motorists are not aware of the tolling system or believe they can avoid payment.
While TII is able to issue fines to motorists in the North through a reciprocal agreement with the authorities there, it is more difficult to prosecute them for failing to pay the fines.
A company spokesman said it pursues every unpaid toll and engages with customers who cannot pay the full toll or fine, “with the objectives of obtaining as much of the outstanding debt as possible and of changing the customer’s behaviour”.
Motorists who fail to engage are referred to a solicitor for TII who attempts to collect the debt. “Repeat offenders that fail to engage with the resolver team or the enforcement service provider are pursued through civil or criminal proceedings,” it said.
Despite the introduction of barrier-free tolling in 2008, traffic congestion on the motorway has increased significantly in recent years. TII chief executive Michael Nolan said last month it is experiencing traffic levels which were not expected until the mid 2020s.
Since the end of the recession the M50s traffic levels have been growing by seven or eight per cent yearly.
The National Transport Authority has suggested additional toll points be introduced to discourage motorists using it unless necessary. This has been rejected by Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who favours investing in improved public transport to ease congestion instead.