|A worker instructs a container which does not use e-tag to run through a cash-collecting lane at Quảng Trị BOT toll station. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyên Lý|
HÀ NỘI — The Ministry of Transport (MoT) wants to proceed with automatic toll collection on highways, despite the project's main investor seeking to pull out.
The project for electronic non-stop toll collection (ETC) at all BOT (build-operate-transfer) plazas was launched in November 2014 with total investment of more than VNĐ2 trillion (US$87.6 million).
The investor, Việt Nam Electronic Toll Collection Company (VETC), recently filed a request to withdraw from the project over concerns about its profitability.
According to the MoT, the automatic toll project aims to improve traffic flow, modernise infrastructure, ensure traffic safety and enhance transparency of toll collection activities.
The project is divided into two phases.
The first phase will be implemented by VETC at 44 booths, 26 on a section of Hồ Chí Minh Highway passing Central Highlands and the rest on other expressways and national highways.
A joint venture of Viettel and other tech enterprises will be in charge of the project’s second phase at 33 other toll booths.
“To conduct the projects, the MoT and BOT investors need to negotiate and sign a contract appendix to implement the ETC system at toll booths while BOT investors and VETC need to sign a service agreement. Initially, each toll booth will have both ETC system-integrated lane and cash-collecting lane for vehicles which do not use the service,” said MoT.
According to VETC Chairman of the Board Phạm Văn Lượng, the company has signed contracts with only 11 of 44 booths as BOT investors are reluctant to hand over lanes to make room for the installation of ETC toll plazas.
Others, however, have not paid fees although the stations were completed and handed over.
Meanwhile, agreements on profit sharing rates have not been settled between VETC and BOT investors, delaying the whole project.
These obstacles would affect the deadline that would see non-stop toll collection systems operational at all booths nationwide, originally set for December 12, MoT said.
By the end of September, VETC was estimated to have incurred a loss of VNĐ300 billion ($12 million) due to low fee collections.
Tasco, an investor of the VETC, also spent the same amount of money to maintain station operation.
If the 36 booths come into operation by the end of 2020, the company is predicted to suffer an accumulated loss of up to VNĐ580 million ($25 million).
The loss discouraged shareholders from further investment into the project as they would not get dividends within five years, Lượng said.
Therefore, the VETC urged the MoT to seek other investors or ask the Government to take over.
The ministry said the number of vehicles using e-tags which allow free flow through ETC toll booths remained too low compared to the initial plan, accounting for under 30 per cent as drivers still preferred using cash, while the processes of topping-up and managing accounts were not user-friendly.
After considering the VETC’s request, the MoT refused to halt the project or hand it over to the Government.
The ministry asked the company to keep the signed contract and promised to work with it and other related agencies to resolve difficulties.
The MoT will implement traffic separation at toll booths on National Highway no.1 and gateways of big cities to encourage car drivers to use the service.
The ministry will also re-evaluate the project’s financial plan to determine the sharing rate for the ETC system’s operation expenses on highways managed by Việt Nam Expressway Corporation as a basis for early signing of service contracts.
For the project’s second phase, the MoT asked investors to work with agencies to establish a joint venture and carry on with the plan. — VNS