MOTORISTS who refuse to pay their tolls on Dublin's M50 motorway have run up bills as high as €50,000.
Up to 2,000 motorists owe thousands of euro each after refusing to pay the €3 charge to use the country's busiest road, it emerged last night.
And the Irish Independent has learned that the National Roads Authority (NRA) has ordered sheriffs to begin seizing cars and goods in a get-tough approach to get the money owed to them.
Despite the NRA obtaining a court judgment obliging the offenders to pay the fines and penalties, many refused to show up in court, and have ignored the judgments.
Offenders range from drivers of high-end luxury cars to old bangers, the NRA confirmed last night, saying the decision to ask bailiffs to seize goods was only being taken as a last resort.
Almost 110,000 trips a day are taken on the M50, and 96pc of motorists pay the toll. Just a handful refuse to pay and longstanding offenders are now being targeted.
"There's a hardcore group of repeat offenders numbering about 2,000 people," a spokes-man said.
"A handful owe up to €50,000 but the vast majority owe between €5,000 and €10,000.
"These motorists are from across the board, driving everything from BMWs to older cars. It's a broad range of people, and they come from all counties but most are from Dublin.
"The sheriff has enforcement powers to seek payments on the value owed, or seize goods including cars. That enforcement action is going to happen early in the new year.
"These people have been using the motorway but are refusing to pay. On average, the violators would have got more than 20 letters seeking payment but have ignored them. There's also been court judgments and summonses. In some cases, they have not gone to court," he said.
Motorists using the M50 paid the toll at a barrier erected between the Blanchardstown (N3) and Lucan (N4) exits until August 2008, when the barriers were removed.
Since then, an electronic system has been used, with cameras mounted on a gantry above the motorway recording the number plates of all vehicles passing the tolling point.
Motorists must pay the €3 toll by 8pm the day after the journey is made. Late-payment penalties are applied, and if the amount is not paid within 70 days, legal action is taken.
A total of €103m would be generated in tolls for 2011, the NRA confirmed last night. This is €23m above projections when the motorway went barrier-free.
New figures also show:
• 1.8 million individual vehicles use the toll road every year, with 40 million transactions.
• 80pc of users have an account allowing them to pay lower tolls. The remainder pay €3 per trip.
• 96pc of all tolling transactions are paid without any need for legal enforcement.
• 4pc of users do not pay. Half are Irish-registered vehicles, and 2pc come from outside the State -- half of them from Northern Ireland and the remainder from other EU countries.
Since last year, payments can be sought from Northern Irish drivers. A pilot project seeking payments is under way. The remainder is pursued by an international enforcement agency.
Some €8m has been collected in penalties so far this year. Enforcement costs are €4m.
A total of 420 people had gone to court to defend being asked to pay extra penalties, and most cases had been settled, the NRA added.