Q & A
Conor Popewith consumer information on the changes to tolling on the M50 Westlink Bridge.
What changes can motorists using the Westlink Bridge toll plaza on the M50 expect from the weekend?
The toll barriers are being taken away and will be replaced with an electronic tagging and video vehicle registration system so there will no longer be a need to come to a complete standstill at the plaza and, theoretically at least, traffic congestion will ease considerably.
So, that's good news then?
Yes and no. The M50 barriers have long been hated by motorists and have been blamed for significant delays on the motorway. Their removal will undoubtedly improve things, eventually. The National Roads Authority (NRA) which took control of the M50 toll plaza at the beginning of August, admits the new system will have "teething problems" and says congestion is unlikely to ease significantly until the toll booths are dismantled by the end of October. It has also said it will be two years before the full benefit is felt.
Does everyone who uses the M50 have to get an electronic tag?
No. From this weekend there will be three different systems and three different toll prices operating simultaneously. Road users can buy an electronic tag from one of eight providers. These tags will sit on their windscreens and motorists with them in place will be charged €2 each time they pass under new cameras installed near the Westlink Bridge. Alternatively, motorists can register with the NRA website and provide credit or debit card details so when they use the M50, their account will be automatically deducted €2.50. M50 users who don't register will have to pay €3 each time they use the road.
Eight companies? Is there any difference between them?
Yes, their business models and charges vary considerably. Some companies are selling electronic tags outright for a fee of between €29.99 and €35.20, while others offer lease-only options of around €1 a month. Three of the eight companies insist on deposits of up to €15 for their tags while all of them charge a monthly administration fee. Typically, the fee is between €1 and €1.25 a month. One company, TollTag.ie, charges 10 per cent of the toll charge in admin costs — something which might be attractive for someone using the M50 four or five times a month but won't make sense for someone using the M50 twice a day.
Can I swap tags between cars?
No, the tags are assigned to cars and not to individuals. If you change your car you must change your tag. If you have two cars you will need two separate tags.
Can I use the tags at other toll booths?
Yes, all the tags are fully interoperable so they can be used on tolls across the State's road network. The video registration system is only applicable for the M50 motorway.
I plan to use the M50 only twice a month. Should I get a tag?
No, virtually all the tags will be very poor value for money unless you plan to use the M50 more than 24 times each year. Setting up an account saves 50 cent per journey, but will cost a minimum of €12 in account management fees each year. It might be worth looking at one of the TollTag.ie options, but the best option would be to pre-register your car with the NRA on www.eflow.ie - it costs nothing to do and you are billed only €2.50 if and when you actually use the toll. You also won't have to worry about forgetting to pay.
How will those who don't register be billed?
Number plates will be recorded by the video cameras and drivers will have until 8pm the following day to pay over the phone, online or in one of 2,000 Payzone-enabled shops and garages around the country.
And if they don't pay?
If they miss the 8pm deadline a €3 administrative fine is imposed. This will be followed by a fine of €40 two weeks later and after 56 days, the fine climbs again, to €100, after which the debt collectors - a firm of solicitors based in Tralee - will be called in.
I plan to use the M50 only twice a year when I'm going to the airport, heading off on my holidays. Is there any allowances being made for people like me?
No. Saying you were on a two-week holiday will not be accepted as an excuse by the NRA for late payment. It says there will be Payzone outlets in the airport, although whether holidaymakers will want to add another queue to their Dublin airport experience is questionable - you might be as well off pre-registering before you travel.
Is everyone happy the move is going ahead?
Absolutely not. Consumers have been frustrated at delays in getting tags and getting through to the NRA call centre to have the tags activated. Business people have also expressed concern at tax changes which mean they no longer qualify for VAT rebates on tag charges, while road hauliers have complained about being asked to pay more to use the M50. And some lobby groups believe the toll should be scrapped entirely.