The AA has never been a fan of tolls and with good reason. They are an extremely messy and inefficient way of collecting money and they do not even make that much profit. They also cause all sorts of problems for neighbouring roads because they cause traffic to divert.
It is deeply disappointing to see that Minister Varadkar appears to be falling for the same old smoke-and-mirrors tricks from whoever is currently briefing him on the subject. Dazzled by the prospect of an extra €50m available for 'free', he is now indicating that he favours the idea of a toll on the whole length of the M50 instead of just at the bridge.
Make no mistake, this would be a massive setback for businesses and residents right around the suburbs of the city from Finglas to Foxrock and at all points in between.
Put a toll on any road and you will immediately cause a significant portion of traffic to leave it and take a different road instead. We know this because we see it every day of the week in places such as Fermoy and Drogheda.
Those towns remain very congested, particularly with trucks, because people ignore the tolls in droves. This might not matter to the Department of Finance, but it matters a great deal to the citizens in the affected areas.
There is no clearer example than the M3 motorway from Dublin to Cavan. That route was very controversial while under construction because it runs close to the Hill of Tara. It now looks as if the effort that went into it was largely wasted because it has two separate tolls on it. The road is being ignored. It is practically empty.
In the meantime, the old road that it replaced is still as busy and as dangerous as it ever was. To make matters worse, the NRA is having to pay millions of euro to the toll operators to compensate them for the fact that nobody is using the motorway. The whole thing has become exactly the sort of cock-up that the AA predicted.
We are now predicting that again for the M50. If this daft idea is not stopped it will cause far more problems than it solves. Just like turning on a tap, it will immediately recongest suburbs including Cabinteely, Sandyford and especially Dundrum.
It will also affect areas such as Castleknock and Blanchardstown in the minister's own constituency. I hope that he starts listening to the people in those areas soon because it is starting to look like this is a mistake that he is determined to make.
Residents and businesses who remember what those areas were like before the M50 was finished will be horrified at the prospect. Traffic congestion will again strangle businesses and frustrate the life out of ordinary people. Those real costs will add up to more than the money that the toll raises.
What's the upside? What on earth does the minister think he will achieve by imposing this mess on us?
In theory, the answer is money. The figure being touted is an extra €50m a year. I can tell you that this is an extremely optimistic projection, but, even if it is true, we will still see most of that money lost.
The toll bridge currently collects €80m per year, but it costs €20m to run the system. Add to that the fact that diversion may not cost the M50 money but it does cost everyone else. Businesses are affected by the traffic jams, the local authority has to spend more money on the management and maintenance, and of course the unfortunate motorist has to stump up the cash.
Call a halt to this madness before it goes any further, minister.
There are better ways to raise money.