Massive Don Muang Toll Hike Hard to Accept

Am I the only one who remembers when the toll on the Don Muang Tollway rose from 40 to 55 baht? If memory serves, this was a reasonably gradual increase over time, 5 baht here, 10 baht there. Now, the increase is simply impossible to understand. How can a 30 baht price hike be justified?

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this is taking things a bit too far, with traffic falling 31% on the first day of the hike. But that's not enough. People need to completely boycott the route. You see, even with a 31% drop in traffic, the Don Muang Tollway still hauled in an additional 10% in revenue. That's an extra THB 400,000 a day or THB 12 million a month!

So.... traffic on the Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, Ngam Wong Wan and Cheang Watthana roads is congested worse than ever, traffic on the tollway is light, and the company profit from the suffering of the people.

According to the Bangkok Post article, an attempt to stop the price hike was unsuccessful, given that the tollway is an "alternative route" and that motorists "could use other roads."

In typical cynical fashion for this sort of occurrence, the chairman of Don Muang Tollway, Sombat Panichcheewa, is fully aware of the fact that motorists will eventually give up and return to using the tollway despite the new pricing.

The Transport Ministry could still find a way to put a stop to this, but don't hold your breath.

The full Bangkok Post article is available here.

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The Transport Ministry is hoping to use a clause in its 2007 amended contract with Don Muang Tollway Plc to curb a steep hike in toll fees which have outraged consumer groups.

Transport Minister Sohpon Zarum yesterday said the Highways Department was examining Section 6 of the contract to see if the agreement could be revoked, effectively invalidating yesterday's toll rise.

The operator might have violated the contract, which allows it to extend the concession period and raise toll fees in exchange for scrapping any outstanding lawsuits and disputes with the government within 30 days of its signing of the amended contract on Sept 12, 2007, the minister said.

Walter Bau, a German firm and former shareholder in the operator, was recently awarded 1.4 billion baht in compensation by an arbitration body.

The German company sued the Highways Department for obstructing the operation of the Din Daeng-Don Muang tollway, in which the firm held a 10 per cent stake, after the government ordered tolls to be reduced.

Permanent secretary for transport Supoj Saplom said the amended contract was part of negotiations to clear lawsuits and to compensate the tollway operator for reduced revenues caused mainly by toll freezes and competing road projects.

But Mr Sohpon said he was confident the ministry could revoke the clause.

Thawalrat Onsira, deputy transport permanent secretary, has been appointed to study the contract. His findings are expected within a month, Mr Sohpon said.

"There is still a chance [of revoking the contract]," he said, while admitting it was not possible to freeze the toll rise."

The Administrative Court yesterday refused to grant an injunction on the toll increase.

It dismissed the petition for an injunction on grounds the hike was in line with the contract and the tollway was an alternative route for motorists who could use other roads.

But consumer rights groups, who said they would not give up their fight to prevent the toll increase, threatened the entire cabinet with legal action for failing to protect the public interest.

Don Muang Tollway chairman Sombat Panichcheewa yesterday distanced the firm from both the compensation payment and Walter Bau.

Walter Bau has sold its 10 per cent stake in the company and the dispute was filed by German investors whose interests were protected by a Thai-German investment treaty, he said.

On the Din Daeng-Don Muang section, tolls for four-wheelers will increase from 35 to 60 baht and for bigger vehicles from 65 to 90 baht.

On the Don Muang-National Memorial section, tolls for vehicles with four wheels were yesterday increased from 20 to 25 baht, and for bigger vehicles from 30 to 35 baht.

The toll rate for the entire route for four-wheelers rose from 55 to 85 baht and for bigger vehicles from 95 to 125 baht.

Traffic on the tollway fell by 31% on the first day of the hike while revenue rose by 10%, or about 400,000 baht, Mr Sombat said.

Motorists would gradually return to the tollway as traffic on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road is heavily congested, he said.

Traffic police yesterday reported heavy traffic on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road and congestion on the nearby Ngam Wong Wan and Chaeng Watthana roads.

Police said more motorists would use the tollway after the New Year's holiday, especially during the morning rush hour.

In a related development, members of the Inter-Provincial Passenger Vans Association said they would not raise fares despite the hike.

Samrueng Adisa, chairman of the Ayutthaya-based association, said van operators from 40 provinces would meet next week to discuss the hike, he said.