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Dempsey supports increase in tolls across motorways

TRANSPORT Minister Noel Dempsey last night signalled his support for more tolls across the motorway network, including the controversial M50.

But deep divisions emerged among the main opposition parties in relation to more tolls.

Mr Dempsey said the current system, where some motorists using the M50 paid a toll and others using the same motorway avoided paying was "unfair".

His comments followed the revelation in yesterday's Irish Independent that motorists face the prospect of paying a string of tolls under a plan drawn up by the National Roads Authority (NRA) for the Government.

A report to be submitted in the coming weeks says motorways and dual carriageways in Galway, Kildare, Cork and Wicklow could be subject to a charge; while Dublin's M50 could be divided into sections that would be tolled.

That would mean that more motorists would pay a toll as they would be charged on how much of the road they use.

Speaking in the Dail yesterday, Mr Dempsey said changes to how the M50 was tolled needed to be considered.

"There's one section of the M50 tolled so people using one section pay the toll charge," he said. "People that use the other end don't pay at all, so it's not a fair and equitable system. You might catch more people at a lower rate. These are issues that need to be talked about.

"Road pricing has a role to play, particularly in urban areas, in relation to reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality."

He added that the number of motorists choosing alternative routes to avoid tolled motorways was "very low".

But the opposition remain divided on the issue. The Labour Party said that tolls on motorways were "subject to being looked at", and that multiple-point tolling system on the capital's ring-road should be considered as the current system was "unfair".

"It doesn't reflect the traffic entering and exiting the city," Labour's transport spokesman Joe Costello said. "A whole swathe of people in south Dublin can enter the city without passing it (the toll). It's a serious issue. People should have to pay one toll, but there should be a variety of other tolling locations. It's not fair. You need a fairer system.

"I wouldn't be in favour of tolling secondary roads," he added. "I think the nature of motorways is they're all subject to be looked at, but tolling could drive motorists to secondary roads."

Fine Gael sharply criticised the move, describing it as "fundamentally flawed".

FG's transport spokesman Simon Coveney said it was wrong to penalise drivers for using better, faster and safer roads and that unleashing a swathe of tolls across the country would push drivers back into bypassed towns.

"Why has the State invested millions in a nationwide motorway network, only for the Government to persuade motorists that the older single carriageways are more cost effective," he said.

Irish Independent