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The right to fight the wrong way
The Saigon Times Daily
Monday,  Aug 14, 2017,20:38 (GMT+7)

The right to fight the wrong way

The Saigon Times Daily

Dramatic protests by drivers against the operator of a tollgate on National Highway 1 in Tien Giang Province have dragged on for days and intensified on August 13 as scores of drivers used bags of small-denomination banknotes to pay toll fees. They are doing so to vent their anger at what they claim as the wrong toll collection, saying they should not be forced to pay for the service they do not use. And they have very good reason to do so.

BOT Tien Giang Company, owner of the tollgate, built a National Highway 1 section that bypasses Cai Lay town, and did a facelift to a section of the national highway itself. Early this month, the company started toll collection, with the lowest fee being VND35,000 for a small car, with an aim to recoup its investment in Cai Lay bypass construction and National Highway 1 section upgrade. That has immediately triggered protests from trucking enterprises and drivers.

Drivers reason that the investor has built the bypass, so it only has the right to collect tolls on those vehicles using this road section. It is, they say, illogical to charge vehicles running on National Highway 1, let alone the toll fee is too high, almost the same as the fee for using the 40-km HCMC-Trung Luong Expressway.

The protests have resulted in traffic chaos around the tollgate, with vehicles queuing up several kilometers either side of the gate on some days, while thousands of other vehicles take on smaller routes in the countryside to avoid paying toll fees.

BOT Tien Giang Company says that in developing this project, it has gained approval from all relevant authorized agencies, including the Ministry of Transport and the provincial government of Tien Giang. The site chosen for setting up the tollgate, the toll fees, and the period for toll collection have all been endorsed. Therefore, protests by drivers, according to the company, are unacceptable.

Meanwhile, drivers reject that reasoning, saying the erection of tollgates has become rampant in all major transport routes around the country. Toll fees, say drivers and transporters, have become a huge burden for them, and even worse, such fees are also overlapping, since all vehicle owners have paid a big sum to the Road Maintenance Fund.

In fact, the Ministry of Transport launched the Road Maintenance Fund years ago, forcing all drivers to pay the maintenance fee whenever vehicles are periodically checked at Vietnam Registry’s agents. As per regulations, all the costs of maintenance for roads and bridges, except those developed by private companies, shall be covered by the Road Maintenance Fund. Therefore, it is unacceptable when the Ministry of Transport allowed BOT Tien Giang Company to repair National Highway 1 under the ministry’s administration, which gives the company a good excuse to collect the high toll fees.

Apparently, this is a tough task for the Transport Ministry to address, since it is illogical from the very beginning when the ministry allowed BOT Tien Giang Company to upgrade the highway. A suitable solution should be for the ministry to reimburse BOT Tien Giang Company the cost of upgrading the highway section, using funds from the Road Maintenance Fund. This is not only a legal, legitimate and logical measure, but also a right one to do to remedy the ministry’s wrongful permission given to BOT Tien Giang Company in the first place.

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