Judgment reserved on alleged overcharging of motorway tolls

 

A HIGH Court judge has reserved his decision on proceedings by the National Roads Authority (NRA) over a toll operator’s alleged overcharging of motorists using a stretch of the M1 motorway. The case has implications for users of other motorways.

The NRA had applied late last month to have the proceedings fast-tracked before the Commercial Court. Mr Justice Peter Kelly agreed to do so after noting there was no mechanism for compensation of motorists if the authority was correct in its claims of overcharging. The case concluded yesterday before Mr Justice Kelly.

The authority claims toll operator Celtic Roads Group (Dundalk) Ltd has overcharged motorists by some €26,000 weekly since January 1st last and will overcharge by some €1.39 million this year unless the tolls are reduced.

Celtic Roads Group, which entered into a contract with the authority in 2004 to operate tolls, is alleged to have breached the relevant bylaws in the toll charges for 2011 on the stretch of the M1 motorway from Gormanston to Monasterboice. It has denied the claims and, among various pleas, says it had a legitimate expectation based on statements by the authority and former minister for transport Noel Dempsey that tolls would only rise.

The court was told the Consumer Price Index – used to calculate the maximum toll allowed – fell in 2009 for the first time in 50 years.

The bylaws allow for a “cushion” of a year, so tolls did not fall, but, as the index rose only slightly in 2010, the authority claims the toll should have decreased from January 1st last.

In submissions yesterday, Maurice Collins SC, for Celtic Roads Group, said while his side contended the bylaws provided for upward-only revisions of toll charges, it was open to toll operators to charge less than the maximum.

While that had not happened to date, it was “not an unrealistic possibility” as road users could seek non-tolled alternatives, he said.