|The Ministry of Transport (MoT) had decided to stop collecting tolls from build-operate-transfer (BOT) roads that had quickly fallen into disrepair after opening
The action taken by Transport Minister Nguyen Van The has been applauded by experts and drivers whose money is going straight into the pockets of BOT investors.
Several BOT highways have raised public concern after experiencing problems even in their trial periods.
For example, a section of the Da Nang-Quang Ngai Expressway funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was opened to traffic in August last year, but after 14 months of operation, cracks and holes have appeared on the road surface.
The damage has caused risks for vehicles traveling at high speeds on the expressway.
The minister has asked the Vietnam Expressway Corporation (VEC) – the investor – to stop collecting tolls on the road until the damage is repaired. Toll collections would resume 16 days after repair work was completed.
A BOT project to upgrade and widen a section of road on the National Highway in Binh Dinh province has also been hit with the same sanctions.
The 28.6km road was completed in May 2016 but local people and authorities have already lodged complaints about the project quality.
The investor was forced to halt toll collections at Bac Binh Dinh Toll Station on the National Highway.
The minister has asked expressway corporations and project management boards to inspect projects and repair any damage.
Economic expert Nguyen Minh Phong said that “the authority’s decision to stop toll collections on roads that were damaged and had not been repaired by investors was correct and necessary.”
“The BOT roads have been badly damaged but keep collecting fees in a direct violation of the legitimate interests of the people,” Phong said.
“In other words, the people were "pickpocketed" in open. They were not offered good services but still had to pay as usual. It’s unacceptable,” he added.
Former director of the State Assessment Department for Construction Works (under the Ministry of Construction) Tran Chung said management authorities should establish why the roads had been damaged as well as the consequences to the whole road.
According to Chung, no matter what the damage is, the investors should take all responsibilities due to loose monitoring and inspections.
In some recent cases, investors had been unwilling to deal with the problems, he said.
He supported the MoT’s move to punish staff involved in low quality road projects.
President of Hanoi’s Automobile Association Bui Sinh Quyen has also applauded the MoT’s decision. “This was a necessary move to deter irresponsible investors,” Quyen said.
Collecting tolls on damaged roads was contrary to business principles, he added.
Additionally, investors who refused or just patched up damaged roads would have to take responsibility, even criminal action, for accidents relating to the quality of roads, Quyen said.
However, Quyen was unsure how many roads would be sanctioned under the decision, how the ministry would monitor its progress and whether the losses from halt to toll collections would be borne by the investors or added to the duration of the project.
According to experts, the MoT should listen to drivers because they are the ones who pay the tolls.