The implementation of the new electronic toll collection (ETC) system, designed to reduce delays on the nation’s roads, has become controversial as private investors operating the roads say they feel pressured to sign a contract with a single ETC builder-the only one the Government has approved.
The frustration of investors, who manage roads under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) scheme, came to the fore at a meeting on September 11 to discuss progress on the ETC system. The investors say they are effectively forced to sign contracts with VETC Ltd.Com to implement the new electronic fee collection at 29 toll booths.
Nguyen Van Huyen, General Director of the Vietnam Road Administration, said the investors have the right to choose a builder for the ETC system, but that all builders must meet Ministry of Transport requirements.
"However, the supplier must pass the ministry’s examination and be approved by the ministry," he said.
The only currently approved supplier is VETC. If the investors don’t build their ETC systems by the deadline of October 30, they will be forced to stop collecting tolls, the official said, leaving BOT investors little choice but to continue negotiating with the company.
ETC aims to eliminate delays on toll roads by collecting tolls electronically. The technology determines whether passing cars are enrolled in the program, alerts enforcers for those that are not, and electronically debits the accounts of registered car owners without requiring them to stop.
Tu Minh Nguyet, a representative of Can Tho-Phung Hiep BOT Ltd.Com, the investor in the Can Tho-Phung Hiep section of Highway No1, said the new technology would certainly make driving more convenient for road users. But how to best implement it remained an open question, she said.
She said her company had negotiated seven times with VETC on the terms to build an ETC system, but had still failed to reach an agreement. Nguyet said she thought the Government should assign VETC to supply and install software devices and then immediately sell the technology to BOT investors, rather than allowing VETC to operate the new electronic systems for extended periods of time.
She said BOT investors could manage toll collection through the ETC system on their own. Nguyet said the prospect of VETC managing tolls on roads operated by BOT investors could obscure the public’s understanding of who exactly is in charge of fee collection.
She questioned the fairness of a system in which 29 toll booths nation-wide are building ETC systems, but only VETC has been allowed to supply service.
Nguyen Van Ngoi, Deputy Director of Construction and Investment No.194 Joint-stock Company, which is the investor in the section of Highway No.1 across Khanh Hoa central province, said that after several rounds of negotiations, it still hadn’t received the service-price list from VETC.
According to Ngoi, VETC has demanded contracts that stipulate it will supply the ETC service for five years. But the BOT investors would prefer two-year contracts because the quality of services must be re-evaluated after every year.
According to the Government’s policy, service suppliers will be responsible for monitoring the toll collection, and then all data will be transmitted to the Vietnam Road Administration.
In a previous meeting on the ETC system, the Transport Minister had asked BOT investors to sign service-supply contracts with VETC before July 15. VETC was to finish the installation of the ETC system at toll booths before August 15. The disputes between VETC and BOT investors led those deadlines to be missed at many toll booths.