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Repays millions after toll scandal

Toll stations Ferde scandalThe cover of an inspection hatch is removed and the wires have been burnt through in five toll station in North Jæren. Photo: Tom Edwinsen / NRK

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Ferde repays several million after toll scandal

A technical error in the North Jæren toll system has led to many motorists being billed too much in the peak hours. Tens of millions will be repaid to the victims, and the peak hour fee is put on hold.

 

Motorists on North Jæren are furious about the toll station wall surrounding all urban hubs. Now it turns out that they have been overbilled for the peak hour fee.

According to the Steering Group for the ”Urban Environment Package” (Bymiljøpakken), the number of errors is so many that it is considered unacceptable, and the entire peak hour fee is suspended for the remainder of the year while the system is corrected.

At the same time, all peak hour fees billed back to October 1st is refunded or written as receivable on the account.

The income from this fee to the North Jæren Urban Environment Package is estimated at NOK 16 million a month.

– What is happening now is that all that has been paid in peak hour fee since October 1st is paid back or written as receivable. This implies that no-one is overbilled, says Roads Director in the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, Terje Moe Gustavsen to VG.

Economic consequences

– Simply put, there is a lack of registration that causes people to be overbilled. It is impossible to say exactly how many are affected, Gustavsen informs. On top of this, the peak hour fee will be suspended from Monday 10th December until the error is corrected. According to Gustavsen, this is expected to happen sometime in January.

The toll roads package for North Jæren was introduced on October 1st, met with a great deal of resistance from the locals. Several demonstrate, and the day before the fees were introduced, five toll stations were sabotaged in Rogaland. The local action group has, to date, 70,000 followers on Facebook.

Activists also interrupted a city council meeting in Stavanger to protest the toll fees, something which is documented in this video clip from VGTV. The man who occupied the pulpit was later charged and fined in record time by the police.

Mayor of Stavanger municipality, Christine Sagen Helgø, says that there is trouble with both the hour rule [stating that you should be billed once within an hour] and the technical equipment.

– There is such a large number of incorrect invoices that the Road Directorate has decided that the fee must be temporarily suspended. the Steering Group concurs to that, Sagen Helgø tells VG.

As long as the fee is repaid, it will have as a consequence in terms of less income for the Urban Package. According to Sagen Helgø, it is not appropriate to reclaim the loss at a later date. At the moment, it is also not appropriate to extend the period of the tolls [which is capped by Norwegian law]. In15 years, a total of NOK 25 billion will be garnished from the road users, regardless of ability to pay.

– The toll road period will last for 15 years, so I believe we can manage the financing. How we achieve that, we must come back to at a later stage, the error must be sorted out first, the outgoing Mayor states.

Troubling hour rule

It is the regional toll roads company Ferde AS, which is the operator for the collection. The company has projects in several regions across Western Norway, but according to The Public Roads Administration, there is no indication that the error applies to other regions than North Jæren.

– Firstly, there are a lot of new toll stations erected here this autumn, in total 38, and it is not unusual with errors in implementation. Secondly, it is only in this area that the hour rule is designed exactly like this, Gustavsen rattles off.

The hour rule for the peak hour fee in the region is supposed to ensure that a motorist only pays the fee for the first toll station they pass and can thereafter pass all stations within the ensuing hour without paying any more. As long as you have passed the first toll station before 07:00 am or 3 pm in the afternoon, you will not be charged a peak hour fee for the stations you pass thereafter, even if they occur within the peak hours. This first passage has in many cases not been registered, Gustavsen explains.

– That constitutes one of the errors, but there are likely more errors to be found. I do not have the technical insight to comment on each and every one of them, he concludes.

Facts as provided by the Urban Environment Package North Jæren

  • The Urban Environment Package is a split responsibility for the municipalities of Stavanger, Sandnes, Sola and Randaberg, consisting of a number of measures to improve infrastructure and reduce car traffic in the region.
  • The package has a budget of NOK 30 billion, including the improvement of public transport, cycling and four-lane roads between, among other stretches, Stavanger and Randaberg. The largest part of the funding is by toll fees, supplemented by Government funding.
  • The Urban package has an hour rule. This allows you to be billed only once an hour, regardless of how many toll stations you pass. You pay the rate applicable at the first passing. Peak hour fees apply to weekdays between 7 and 9 am and between 3 and 5 pm.

The error has led to that many drivers have been charged a peak hour fee, even though they have passed the first toll station before 7 am or before 3 pm. The peak hour fee is twice the standard fare, currently NOK 22 / 44 for light vehicles, except electric cars.

Main Arguments against the scheme

  • The fee hits unjustly as those with a strained economy has to pay the same as anybody else. Public transport is sporadic at best in many places, and quite expensive to boot with prices increasing due to the tolls (!).
  • The motorists are already taxed far beyond what is used on infrastructure
  • The ”Bike Highway” between Stavanger and Sandnes, as well as the busway between Stavanger and Sandnes, are ”White Elephants” benefitting few at a ridiculous price.
  • The scheme violates the Norwegian constitution on several counts
  • There are no toll free alternatives as required by the EU (Norway has somehow secured a permanent exception, any place and anywhere, despite the intended exception for stretches with no viable alternatives).
  • The fee is not advertised, in a clear violation of Norwegian laws on pricing. Neither are you informed by lights or similar when you pass through a station.
  • The system is not working for many who inquire about the amount due before the invoice is issued.

Many, therefore, call for disputing not only the erroneous passings but the invoice as such.

 

© NTB scanpix / #Norway Today

 

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