Friday 6 December 2019

Catching more in tolls' net

In expanding the road tolling system, the Government will be helping history to repeat itself. Road tolls are not a 21st Century phenomenon. In 1854, a commission for the abolition of turnpikes -- the toll roads of the day -- listed the chief objections to the system, as "its vexatiousness, inequality and consequent injustice, the irresponsibility of its administrators and its consequent liability to abuse and its expensiveness and complete inefficiency".

The new plan will be greeted with some similar sentiments. Road users now face the prospect of multiple tolls on the M50 as part of a series of measures being recommended to the Government by the National Roads Authority in a pre-budget submission.

If the recommendations are accepted and the multiple toll system introduced, it will be contrary to the preference expressed by the Transport Minister just two months ago.

Noel Dempsey signalled his opposition to the tolling of national roads, although it was one of the key revenue-raising measures proposed in a Local Government Efficiency Review commissioned by Environment Minister John Gormley and a Bord Snip suggestion.

In August, Mr Dempsey said: "The benefit of tolling the national roads is to raise money . . . but an alternative that's been put to me is to move away from all of these motor taxes and put the tax on petrol and diesel as an all-in charge." A fuel tax would be transparent and open and would have environmental benefits, he said

The minister did say that the tolling of national routes would be considered, but that it was government policy that there would always be an alternative national route available to motorists.

The final decision will rest with his cabinet colleagues as they seek more than €3bn in savings and taxes.

The Automobile Association agrees that road tolls are an inherently inefficient and discriminatory method for raising revenue. The M50 collected €95m last year, but spent more than €20m doing so.

Three years ago, the Government paid some €600m to "buy back" the M50 from the National Toll Roads company. Now the 110,000 taxpayers who use the road each day can do the sums and make up their minds whether or not it all adds up to value for money.

Irish Independent

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