For whom the tolls ring

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Toll collection is so rife with inconsistencies that it resembles a money-making racket.

They are like humps on a speedway, detractors say.

“Every 30 to 40 kilometers on average there is a toll station on national and inter-provincial highways,” said Nguyen Manh Hung, chairman of the Vietnam Automobile Transport Association.

According to Vietnamese law, state-invested toll stations must be placed at least 70 kilometers apart, but there are no such requirements for build-operate-transfer tolls.

Hung and association members are not isolated in their disgruntlement. Motorists all over the country are complaining they are having to pay an inordinate amount in toll fees because there are too many of them, many are located in the wrong places and most of all, the roads for which tolls are being collected are badly maintained.

“Many tolls should be closed,” Hung said, adding that the association has submitted to the Prime Minister and concerned ministries a request to review the profusion of toll stations as well as the rates charged.

“Many toll stations, especially in build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects, have been built in the wrong place,” he said. “For example, the station to collect tolls for a detour road to avoid Thanh Hoa Town (in north central Thanh Hoa Province) actually stands on another road six kilometers away.”

Dang Duc Tiep, director of Dang Tien Transport Company in Ho Chi Minh City, said, “There are up to five toll stations on 120 kilometers of road from HCMC to Binh Phuoc Province, and three on a distance of 120 kilometers from HCMC to Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. In Binh Duong Province, the Lai Thieu station is only 15 km from the So Sao station and 30 km from yet another one.”

There are 57 toll stations nationwide, including 19 on National Highway 1A, which have been constructed without any aggregate plan.

“We have to pay tolls very often, one after another,” said Mai Van Nam, truck driver with the Nam Trung Bac Transport Company in HCMC.

He estimated total tolls paid from HCMC to Hanoi at up to VND3.3 million (US$180) for a container truck and some VND1 million for a 30-seat coach.

Tolls have climbed in recent years to make up 10 percent of the total cost of each journey, he said.

And after paying all these fees, they still have to tackle rough roads.

Poor maintenance

Many long-distance drivers between the north and the south have said it is difficult to pass through a 35-kilometer detour to avoid Hue Town in Thua ThienHue Province.

The toll road has deteriorated over the past several years with a number of large potholes and no lights at night, but drivers have to pay up to VND120,000 at the Phu Bai Toll station each time.

A driver said he sometimes saw workers fill the potholes with stones, which are then scattered all over the road soon after, making it even more difficult to drive on.

In Phu Yen Province, all drivers have to pay toll at the Thach Ban station to use the 20-kilometer detour road that avoids Tuy Hoa Town. This road is also full of potholes because of poor maintenance.

The situation is the same at many other highways, including National Highway 14 which connects the southeast region with the Central Highlands, and the roads that run through the Tao Xuyen toll station in Thanh Hoa Province, the Deo Ngang and Cau Rac stations in Ha Tinh Province and Cam Ranh station in Khanh Hoa Province.

Wrongly charged

Transport firms in HCMC were upset recently on finding out that they were paying tolls at a station on Hanoi Highway for Dien Bien Phu Street, which is four kilometers away.

The station opened in 2002 under a BOT project invested by the HCMC Infrastructure Investment Company (CII) to widen Dien Bien Phu Street in Binh Thanh District.

Under the BOT model, ownership of an asset reverts to the government after a set period of time.

Despite strong reaction from the HCMC Goods Transportation Association, CII recently moved the station to another location on Hanoi Highway to collect fees from even more vehicles using the Road 25B.

Thai Van Chung, general secretary of the HCMC Goods Transportation Association, said many vehicles had to pay toll fees at the station even though they did not use Dien Bien Phu Street.

The ordinance on fees stipulates that these are paid for services rendered by one part to another.

“The toll collected at the Hanoi Highway station is unreasonable and against the ordinance, not to mention that it has caused losses to residents and companies for a long time,” he said.

Reported by Thanh Nien staff

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