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|Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc ordered the temporary postponement of fee collection at the Cai Lậy Build-Operation-Transfer (BOT) toll station in the Mekong Delta province of Tiền Giang for one to two months at a meeting held yesterday in Hà Nội.- VNA/VNS Photo Nam Thái|
The meeting was held between the PM and leaders of the Ministry of Transport (MoT) and relevant ministries, agencies and authorities of Tiền Giang Province following drivers’ recent protest against the toll booth’s high fees and inappropriate location.
PM Phúc said fee collection at the toll will be suspended so relevant ministries and agencies have time to solve the ongoing problems at the booth.
He affirmed that the policy to build transport infrastructure using the BOT model was appropriate and needed to be continued to build a modern transport infrastructure system.
The PM asked ministries and agencies to review the fee levels and location of BOT toll booths to ensure the interests of citizens while contributing to promoting BOT projects and to not let any economic issue turn into social disorder.
He also instructed the transport ministry to review the investment mechanism for BOT projects and promote the application of automatic fee collection.
After the Government decides the final plan for the Cai Lậy toll booth, it will be publicly announced, according to the PM.
He said decisions had been taken in line with laws and procedures that failed to meet reality and people’s needs, urging authorities to listen and fix the problems.
Minister of Transport Nguyễn Văn Thể said the Cai Lậy bypass was one among 88 transport routes built under the BOT model. These projects were built following Party and Government resolutions on mobilising social resources to modernise transport infrastructure.
Inspectors from the Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Sate Audit had already inspected and audited the project and inspectors from the transport ministry are inspecting the project following guidance from the PM, Thể said. Any violations detected after inspection will be strictly punished, he said.
Drivers used small currency notes to buy tickets at the toll as a protest against the high fees after the booth reopened last Thursday after fee collection had been halted for three months, causing traffic jams for hours.
By yesterday afternoon, nearly 100 hours since fee collection was resumed, the toll booth had to open its gates freely for vehicles to pass through due to the protests.
Although it started collecting fees from August 1, the toll station was temporarily suspended from operation from August 14 because of strong opposition from drivers.
They complained about the high fees, from VNĐ35,000 ($1.5) to VNĐ180,000 ($7.8) and the toll station’s inappropriate location.
The booth is on National Highway No 1, however, it collects fees for a 12-km bypass of Cai Lậy Town while some drivers only travel on the highway, not the bypass.
Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Tiền Giang Province, Phạm Anh Tuấn, told VnExpress online newspaper yesterday that the province took some responsibility for the incident at the toll booth.
The province previously had proposed investment in the Cai Lậy bypass from the State budget but then it was invested under BOT due to limited State fund, he said. “No one could foresee such an incident and the province should take part of the responsibility for this,” he said.
Experts recommend booth removal
To alleviate the dispute over Cai Lậy BOT toll station, comprehensive solutions are needed that focus on relocating the booths, experts have suggested.
Economist Vũ Đình Ánh told Thanh niên (Young People) newspaper that the problems stem from the inappropriate location of Cai Lậy toll station.
“The adjustment of fees, which has been attempted by the transport ministry and investors to address the issue, is not a workable solution. Because of the toll booths’ inappropriate location, they have to move it,” Ánh said.
Agreeing with the idea, National Assembly (NA) deputy Trần Quang Chiểu told Tuổi trẻ (Youth) newspaper that it was possible to move Cai Lậy toll station to the bypass.
“Since drivers have already paid for the road maintenance fund annually, the Government has to allocate VNĐ300 billion (US$13 million) to refund the investment to improve the quality of a 26.4-km section of National Highway No 1,” he added.
On the 12-km bypass of Cai Lậy Town, he recommended that the MoT, Tiền Giang Province People’s Committee and investors collaborate to consider alternatives, including prolonging the payback period and restricting time frames for heavy vehicles to travel on National Highway No 1.
Additionally, according to Ánh, to guarantee the rights of investors, the project financial blueprint has to be re-calculated based on the new location, traffic influx and payback period. Therefore, it is essential to change most contract contents.