PM orders closure of southern Vietnam’s toll station amid renewed protests

Tuesday, 2017-12-05 12:16:53
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Cai Lay toll station
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NDO - PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered the closure of the Cai Lay toll station in the southern province of Tien Giang, for a period of one to two months, after continuous protests from drivers forced for the station operator to allow free passage multiple times in recent months.

The government leader emphasised that an issue must be corrected when it is not compatible with reality and goes against the people’s wishes, although it is legally permitted.

He underlined the necessity of projects implemented under build-operate-transfer contracts in improving Vietnam’s transport infrastructure, while calling for a review into the fees and locations of toll stations to ensure that such projects are effective and do not lead to social unrest.

The decision was made on December 4 at a meeting between the Prime Minister and the leadership of Tien Giang province following days of drivers’ protests after the Cai Lay station operator resumed collecting fees.

The station reopened on November 30, with fees slashed by 20%-30% and an exemption for residents living near the station, after more than three months of closure due to earlier protests by drivers.

But the protests soon returned as drivers demanded toll collectors to give back change worth VND100, the lowest denomination of the Vietnamese dong banknotes, which has virtually disappeared from daily use because of its negligible value.

Toll collectors failed to meet the drivers’ demands and were forced to let them pass the station free of charge in order to avoid traffic congestion on a key road connecting Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta provinces.

Drivers said the station, currently installed on National Highway 1, must be relocated to where it should be, on a road bypassing the town of Cai Lay, complaining that they have to pay the fees whether they use the bypass or not.

The incident broke out in August soon after the investor of the Cai Lay station began collecting tolls as drivers rolled small-denomination banknotes in plastic bottles as a way to protest against the improperly positioned station, causing vehicles to clog up the entrance to the station.

The investor, Tien Giang National Highway 1 Investment Company, said the project to build Cai Lay town’s bypass also includes resurfacing National Highway 1, therefore fees must be collected but the drivers disagreed.

They argued that the maintenance costs for National Highway 1 should be covered by the state fund that vehicle owners already pay annually.

Some drivers stated that the fees at the Cai Lay station are not only unreasonable but also even higher than the fees charged for using the Ho Chi Minh City-Trung Luong Expressway.

According to the initial scheme, drivers would have to pay between VND35,000 and VND180,000 depending on the type of vehicles but these payments were later reduced to VND25,000 and VND140,000 respectively.

Construction of the 12-kilometre Cai Lay bypass began in 2014 and cost more than VND1 trillion (US$44 million), while the maintenance component of a 26.5-kilometre section of National Highway 1 costs VND300 billion (US$13.2 million).