Taipei, Dec. 27 (CNA) Taiwan's freeway toll collection entered a new era Friday as a formal ceremony was held to mark the completion of a distance-based electronic toll collection system, which is scheduled to begin on Dec. 30.
Under the new system, freeway tolls will be calculated according to the distance traveled by motorists.
The first 20 kilometers traveled in a day will be free, after which drivers of small vehicles will be charged NT$1.2 (US$0.04) per kilometer, or NT$0.9 per kilometer for distances exceeding 200 kilometers.
And instead of paying at toll booths, motorists will be charged by an electronic toll collection (ETC) system which automatically deducts freeway tolls via electronic scanners mounted over freeways.
"The task is completed at last," Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Yeh Kuang-shih said at the ceremony jointly held by the Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau (TANFB) and the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co., which is contracted by the bureau to construct and operate the new system.
It has been 10 years since the government began in 2003 a project to scrap the existing manual, charge-by-times toll collection system and change to a charge-by-distance system, Yeh said.
During this period, his ministry and the TANFB each underwent four changes in management, the minister noted, as he tried to describe how complicated and difficult it has been to change to the new system.
Now, Taiwan has a freeway toll collection system which is the first in the world to have been converted from a charge-by-times system to charge-by distance system, Yeh said.
In celebration, drivers will not have to pay tolls during the first three days of the new system's launch on Dec. 30.
Then as soon as the clock strikes 12 a.m. on Jan. 2, the system will be activated on Freeways No. 1, No. 3 and No. 5.
With the launch of the electronic toll system, more than 900 toll collectors who are now working at toll booths on the freeways will have to leave their jobs.
Yeh said they will receive assistance in switching to other jobs.
Yeh reiterated the assurance during the inauguration ceremony, in which many toll collectors voiced fears that they will become jobless as soon as the booths are demolished.
The relevant authorities plan to dismantle existing toll plazas during the three-day toll-free period.
Yeh touted the system as time and fuel-saving since motorists do not need to stop at a toll booth to pay a toll. This would save around 10 million liters of fuel each year, he estimated.
The new system would help generate a social benefit that is valued at NT$1.8 billion to NT$2 billion each year, Yeh added.
(By Wang Shu-fen and Elizabeth Hsu)