31 August 2008

Highway Robbery - now online in Ireland

I am sure you are familiar with the phrase: Having your cake and eat it. It is used when any person in a situation of choosing would like to have both options simultaneously, even though only one of them is available. Well, as Ned Kelly put it so nicely a long time ago: Such is life. You cannot have it all and must make your choice or decision.

Except if you are the private company that runs the tolling system on the M 50 motorway around Dublin. Then you seem to have 'the right' to collect money from anyone using that road, without setting up collection stations any longer.

Yes, fellow victims of corporate extortion and legalised highway robbery, as hard as it is to believe, since yesterday midnight the toll plaza (pictured left) one had to feed with coins every time one passed it, stands now empty and has apparently no longer any purpose in the toll-road system.

Motorists are now controlled - or some might say spied on - with a system of video cameras and high-tech electronic. Even though the barriers have disappeared, the company expects to make even more money with 'barrier-free tolling', also known by the snappy name eFlow.

In order to be properly milked by the toll-road company that still wants to take our money, even though the government has bought out the contract, one is expected to register on the website of eFlow, which means of course giving a lot of very sensitive personal data to some faceless and in a way even nameless private company whose security level, qualifications and ethical standards we do not know.
Neither do we have any control or influence over it. Motorists are given the choice of carrying a permanent 'tag', which means that someone somewhere - without a name or face - can know any position of any participating car at any given time. Big Brother says Hello!

Alternatively one can 'open an account' (the 'Terms & Conditions' of which run to 28 paragraphs, all with many sub-paragraphs, which of course each motorist will read and understand to the very last t...) with them online and pay each time one's number plate is registered on the M 50 by their spy cameras. In order to comply with their rules one can pay in advance - in case one does know beforehand that one is traveling in the area and using the toll road - or afterwards. In the latter case one has one day to pay, as one "must pay by 8 pm on the following day". Must... well, one does wonder what the actual legal situation is.

What about tourists, as well as cars, buses and lorries from foreign countries? If they decide not to pay, how will eFlow get money from them? And how would foreigners know about this very odd system, not used anywhere else, in the first place? I have the strong feeling that we have been - once again - led up a very long garden path by people who grow rich and fat on the money earned by everyone else. And now they are not even prepared to make the slightest effort to get it from us any longer. Now Irish turkeys are supposed to vote happily for Christmas.

In case someone does not pay his € 3 (for once passing a 'toll point') within that set period, there will be a 'penalty' of € 3 extra. "If you fail to pay the toll and this € 3 penalty within the next 14 days, a further penalty of € 40 will be levied." So says the eFlow website. But it gets better. "Failure to pay the full amount due within a further 56 days will result in an additional € 100 penalty. Then, if you still have not paid the total amount due, legal proceedings will be initiated."

Which means that at some stage someone might end up in prison, simply because the toll-road company is too mean to pay any longer the wages of the people who operated the toll plaza in the past. What kind of Mickey-Mouse-State and Banana Republic do we actually live in? And why do we have toll roads in the first place? Don't we pay enough taxes?

It is interesting to notice that the toll road - then with money collecting plaza - was actually built at a time when money was available aplenty in Ireland, including in the government coffers. Why did we not just build the roads (and motorways) needed, like they do it in other countries? Well, I am sure some old pals of FF or PD were in need of extra perks. And good old Bertie - as we well know by now - could of course never say no. Not when someone gave him money, and not when those people then came for their compensation.

I wonder what kind of bureaucratic 'brain giant' came up with the eFlow idea in the first place. And I am waiting to read and hear of cases where false number plates are used on the M 50 and then unsuspecting people receive huge toll bills they have not run up themselves...
How would one proof this? And what would be one's rights in relation to a private company that feels entitled to our money and would certainly not shy away from making threats and using a heavy-handed approach?

Personally I have a very simple solution for the problem. I will never use the M 50, so therefore I will never be asked to pay those lazy and invisible fat cats of the toll-road 'industry' any of my hard earned money. There is also another and perfectly legal alternative to paying tolls: Just use a motorcycle on the M 50, since - for reasons unknown and not explained - they are toll-free. Well, maybe the bosses of eFlow are a bunch of wild bikers...

The Emerald Islander

For further information how eFlow works - or rather not works - have a look at my entry from September 12th and at the blogs of Eoin Brazil and John Browne. You find the links to their blogs in my entry from September 12th.


Chris said...

Heh. We have that in the US, it's called EZpass. Except there is always the option of paying by coins too. I've never seen one with only EZpass lanes!

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is proposing just such a system for midtown Manhattan. $8 payable via Visa or MasterCard and charged to your license plate. Lovely.


Hello Chris, and greetings across the sea from Ireland to New Jersey! (I do know your state quite well, as I had in the past some links to Princeton University.)

It does not surprise me to learn that the system now introduced to Ireland is also practiced in the USA. But at least you still have the option to pay with coins. This is no longer the case here.

The people who run the new system presume that everyone in Ireland has a computer and is e-literate. That is sadly not the case. And in the first few days there have been already plenty of attempts - as I predicted in my entry - to dodge the new system by covering up the cars' number plates.
The reaction of the company was a further threat of "fines up to 5000 Euros, or six months in prison" for those who try this.
As this is a private company - and not the state - I wonder if this would be legal. But it would not be the first time that some private company practices extortion and assumes the legal mantle of the state.

I am also not surprised to hear that New York's billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg has similar ideas. It appears that nowadays the rich and super-rich feel entitled to rob the poor and ordinary people where and when ever it is possible. Only people-power can prevent this, and I hope that New Yorkers will not be so easily robbed as the Irish are.

John Browne said...

The EZpass system was the old system being used on the M50 but not enough people used the tags. There were still lots of people paying by coins so the new system gets rid of coins alltogether.
I've only driven through the toll point at night and at speed so I didn't notice where the cameras or detectors were but it's pretty impressive that they can track 100 thousand cars a day passing the toll point at speed.
I agree that the €3 fee for casual users is a rip off. It's €2 for tag holders but it costs extra to have a tag; the actual cost of the tag and then account maintenance fees and the top ups.
This just makes it more expensive to have a tag if you're a casual user so you're stuck paying €3 on a website which crashes so you don't know if your payment has gone through.

I bet Bloombergg will call it a congestion charge just like London.


Thanks for your comment, John. In my opinion there should be no toll road system at all in Ireland, and I will not pay them a single cent.
Not that I am mean. It is more the principle that matters to me.

And I am even more shocked by your information that there are 100,000 cars going through the toll road per day. At a price of € 3 each (perhaps € 2.50 on average if one combines the different versions of payment) that is a sum of 250,000 to 300,000 Euros they rake in every day. That means an annual booty of between € 91 million and € 110 million!

I wonder how many people realise how much is taken off them by the highway robbers...

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