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Govt won't be dropping motorway tolls as part of its plan to tackle the cost-of-living surge

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says he is not a fan of tolls but they do help pay for road infrastructure.

Fine Gael's Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd said toll charges are a
Fine Gael's Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd said toll charges are a "significant penalty" facing motorists in some areas around the country.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

GOVERNMENT HAS NO plans to reduce toll charges despite commuters facing crippling price hikes in fuel, according to a spokesperson for Transport Minister Eamon Ryan.

Pressure is mounting on Government to do more to help ease the rising cost of living, with calls for urgent action to be taken before October’s Budget. 

Irish consumer prices increased by an average of 7.8% in the 12 months to May — the fastest pace in nearly 38 years — up from 7% in the year to April, it was revealed yesterday.

It’s the largest annual increase in the Consumer Price Index since 1984 when annual inflation was marginally higher at 7.9%.

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys said this week that the Government did not have a ‘money tree’ to deal with the skyrocketing cost of petrol and diesel, which are now both reaching over €2 per litre. 

It’s understood October’s Budget will focus on attempting to keep money in people’s pockets by increasing State supports and reducing the cost of services.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín recently called on the Government to scrap or reduce the toll on the M50 in Dublin to help ease costs on motorists.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has 15 public private partnership (PPP) contracts with Government, which consist of eight road toll schemes. 

A public-private partnership is an arrangement between a public authority /Government and a private partner designed to deliver a public infrastructure project, such as a road or toll, and to service it under a long-term contract.

Typically a contract can run from between 25-35 years, after which the asset is meant to go into State ownership. 

In many cases, such as with the East Link Bridge near Dublin Port, the toll remains even after the lifespan of the contract.

Due to ministers distancing the Government from taking any further action on tax and excise on fuel, The Journal asked would scrapping or reducing toll charges for motorists be an option under consideration. 

‘No plans’

A spokesperson for Minister Eamon Ryan said the “Government is keenly aware of the impact rising inflation and the war in Ukraine has had on transport costs and has introduced a number of measures to help ease the pressure that people are under” but added: 

There are currently no plans to reduce toll charges.

Listing what Government has done to deal with the rise in the cost of living, the spokesperson said a 20c cut in excise on a litre of petrol and a 15c per litre cut on diesel which was introduced in March.

“In addition, Minister Eamon Ryan announced a 20% cut in public transport fares last month, as well as an additional 50% cut for young people aged 19 to 23 (bringing their total savings to 60%).

“These cuts form part of a wider package of measures aimed at easing the impact of inflation, including the €200 electricity credit, a cut in the rate of VAT on electricity and gas from 13.5% to 9%, increases in the fuel allowance and increased grants of up to 80% to insulate people’s homes,” they said.

‘Matter for the transport minister’

When asked this week in Dundalk if a reduction in toll charges should be on the table, Minister Humphreys said “that’s something that obviously is a matter for the Minister for Transport”.

She reiterated that the Government has already provided a package of 2.5 billion, stating “there is a limit on what Government can do”.

Toll charges on the eight toll roads actually increased this year. The TII blamed the increase on inflation. 

Tolls increased by 10 cents on seven of the roads – from €2.90 to €3.00 (M4) and from €1.90 to €2.00 (M1, N6, M7/M8, N8, N25 Waterford, Limerick Tunnel). Tolls have not increased for cars on the M3.

Those using the M4 five days a week can pay €120 per month on toll charges, while those using the other toll roads five days per week can pay up to €80 per month, not including any trips motorists might have to make through the M50 toll.

Government sources have said that while Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are not against looking at such a move, they do not think it would get past Ryan. 

One senior source said they would be open to reducing toll charges to help motorists who are facing skyrocketing fuel costs.

Another source said that Ryan would not go for the idea as it would encourage more driving in cars rather than encouraging people to take public transport. 

This source stated that tolls are private contracts, meaning it would prove difficult to tinker with the toll rate charged.

One TD, whose constituency is impacted by toll roads, says a toll reduction would go in some way to alleviating the costs to motorists.

‘Significant penalty’

Fine Gael’s Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd said toll charges are a “significant penalty” facing motorists in some areas, such as his own constituency, who are now feeling the pain of skyrocketing fuel costs.

“Take the one we have in Louth, it’s basically a toll for the town of Drogheda. People have always been very concerned and angry about it. But it was imposed on us by a government decision at that time,” he said.

O’Dowd said tolls are “very unpopular” and a penalty on commuters, many of whom have no choice but to get into their car and commute to Dublin for work. 

“Meath and Louth are badly served by tolls and it is a penalty for us,” said O’Dowd, adding that the Port Tunnel in Dublin at 10 Euro is “far too expensive”. 

“People would be delighted if the toll was scrapped or reduced even,” he said, while also acknowledging that such a move would come at a cost as there are private contract arrangements in place. 

“It would be very helpful for the individual commuter and whatever the Greens say, there is public transport, and in some areas, it is very very good, but some don’t have a choice particularly in rural areas, they have to get into work,” he said.

“I would absolutely be in favour of reducing the toll fares,” he said, stating: “I would love to see them gone, but I won’t hold my breath”.

Speaking in the Dáil recently, Toíbín said hundreds of thousands of commuters are paying massive prices on motorway tolls every day.

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“The Government often says that it cannot reduce the cost of living and that its hands are tied, but this is something it can do. This is infrastructure it owns,” he said.

‘Not a big fan’

In response, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: 

“I am not a big fan of road tolls, and the Deputy will be aware that that toll is in my constituency. Many of my constituents travelling south in the morning and north in the evening have to pay that toll. It would be remiss of me, however, not to acknowledge that in most cases tolls help to pay for the infrastructure in the first place, which has to be paid for.”

Tóibín made the point that many of the roads that have tolls are already paid for. 

Varadkar said in other cases the money is used to pay for additional road infrastructure elsewhere, so the money stays with Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

“To help commuters with the cost of commuting, we have introduced a reduction in excise on petrol and diesel and a very significant reduction in the cost of using public transport, which seems to have been a great success, given the increased numbers using buses and trains in the past few weeks,” he added. 

In an answer to a recent parliamentary question, the transport minister said that matters relating to the day to day operations regarding national roads, including toll roads and the establishment of a system of tolls, are within the remit of TII.

“More specifically, the statutory power to levy tolls, to make toll bye-laws and to enter into agreements with private investors are vested in TII under Part V of the Roads Act 1993.

Toll revenue is used by TII to fund essential services including the operation and maintenance of the national road and motorway network,” he said.

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