It takes approximately an hour and a half, most times of the day, to travel from Blanchardstown (north city) to Newlands Cross(south city) on the Naas road, by way of the M 50. A distance of about 9 miles.The cost to a motorist to cross the "toll free" Liffey bridge, and sit in this nightmare traffic congestion, -3 Euros.!
There is no other practical way to go to Cork, Limerick, and similar destinations from the airport, or any part of the north of Dublin city.
In November 1999 the NRA, as the tolling authority for national roads, concluded a draft agreement with NTR to provide for the construction of the Second West-Link Toll Bridge. The Authority was obliged to enter into exclusive negotiations with NTR for the Second West-Link Bridge as under the 1987 West-Link Agreement concluded between NTR and Dublin County Council, NTR have the exclusive right to toll traffic travelling on the M50 between the N4 (Galway Road interchange) and the N3 (Navan Road interchange) until the expiry of the concession in 2020. The Second West-Link Bridge agreement provided for NTR to be fully recouped the cost of providing the Second Bridge through an increase in the car toll rate (approximately 20 cent).
The draft agreement was concluded on the basis that VAT was not applicable to tolls. In July 2000, the European Court of Justice ruled that VAT must be applied to tolls and the Finance Act, 2001 provided that this ruling be implemented as of September 2001.
The effect of the application of VAT together with the negotiated 20 cent increase on the car toll would have resulted in the private car toll charge rising from IR£0.80 (approx. €1) as of August 2001 to a car toll charge €1.60 on the 1st of January 2002. The NRA was concerned at a sharp rise in the toll charge in the space of 4 months, September 2001 to January 2002, particularly as there would be no improvement in the level of service at West-Link until September 2003 when the second bridge opened.
Despite the construction of the second bridge and additional lanes, and the introduction of electronic toll collection, the toll plaza is sub-optimal having regard to the daily traffic throughput to be catered for. The 14 lane West-Link toll plaza is, today, processing traffic volumes approaching 90,000 vehicles each day which represents an increase of almost 9 per cent on the 2003 average daily flows. Daily flows of 100,000 vehicles are now the norm at West-Link. These traffic volumes are significantly in excess of the traffic volumes that had been forecast to use the M50/West-Link and reflect the growth in the Irish economy and the extent of development in the Dublin area over recent years. In contrast, the Drogheda Bypass toll plaza, which was designed by the National Roads Authority and which came into operation in June 2003, is a 10 lane plaza (5 lanes in each direction) and processes approximately 24,000 vehicles per day.
In that government, which negotiated the original lousy deal for taxpayers,Charles Haughey was Taoiseach. Padraig Flynn was Minister for the Environment. George Redmond was the acting Dublin City and County manager.
Their advisors calculated that initially the Westlink toll bridge on the M50 would carry 11,000 vehicles per year, and by 2020 the figure would rise to 45,000. Now in 2007 the actual figure is a staggering 100,000 and the gridlock, caused in part by the barriers on the bridge, is beyond description. The state now gets 80% of all toll charges exceeding 90,000 for the year 2007 for example. The lousy deal originally negotiated has actually become a plus for the taxpayer at the very moment of betrayal and sellout by Ahern & Cullen.!
The present government's solution: transfer of ownership from National Toll Roads to the government at a cost of €600m and replacement of the barriers by electronic tolling. Destroy the unforeseen bonus for the state just as it surfaces.
While the Authority considers that the toll operator is managing the individual lane throughputs at the plaza efficiently, it is nonetheless the case that the toll facility at West-Link is not satisfactory for the current traffic volumes. It is both the NRA’s and NTR’s view that the solution at West-Link is to convert the West-Link Toll Plaza to a fully free-flow electronic toll collection system over time. By this is meant that road users would meet no barriers at West-link and would pass through at standard motorway speed. For electronic tag holders the toll fee would be deducted automatically from their account. It is envisaged that users without electronic tags would be able to make payments after their passage by means of telephone/internet/post. It is the Authority’s intention that this free-flow stage will be reached to coincide with the opening of the fully upgraded M50 in and around 2010. To this end the Department of Transport is currently preparing legislation that will support the introduction of barrier free tolling.
Somehow, somewhere, in the deliberations of Martin Cullen and NTR, a row between who would pay for the free flow traffic system apparently resulted in Cullen deciding instead to buy out the bridge for a whopping 600 million euros of taxpayers money. Considering that the state is receiving 80% of much of the current excess traffic revenue(They were already getting 50% of every toll in VAT and agreed profit division before the surge in traffic)-and that a modest increase in traffic volume in coming years would see the state(taxpayer) continuing to profit to the tune of 80% of the toll fees-why buy out a good thing and hand NTR 800 million euros. Corruption.? Incompetence.? Who knows.
According to figures on the (original) official web site of the NRA.
By way of example, for the year 2004 average annual daily traffic was in the region of 86,500. As such the Exchequer Share is calculated as follows:
|Annual Average Daily Traffic||% Payable as Exchequer Share|
|From 0 to 27,000||0% of toll revenue payable as Exchequer Share|
|First 8,000 over 27,000 i.e. 27,000 to 34,999||30% of toll revenue payable as Exchequer Share|
|Next 10,000 over 35,000 i.e.35,000 to 44,999||40% of toll revenue payable as Exchequer Share|
|From 45,000 to 2004 Band 4 figure (88,000)||50% of toll revenue payable as Exchequer Share|
|Greater than 88,000||80% of toll revenue payable as Exchequer Share|
I AM lucky. My two children in Dublin are lucky. But the nightmare that is the commuting experience is taking away our luck and gradually eating away at a lifestyle that was worked out with considerable thought. The children are lucky because they are bright, talented teenagers who have parents who spend time with them and love them. This is despite the fact that their mother and I have been been separated for some years. When this happened, we agreed the children would stay in the family home with their mother, a couple of miles away from their secondary school. Two days a week, they would stay with me, and I would take them to school the next day.
This worked well for the first couple of years but then I moved to a house by the Liffey, just six and a half miles from the city centre. The children had incredibly fond memories of the house and it would give them and me some space to live, develop and enjoy life a bit more . . . OK, it would mean a bit more driving; but without complaint, every week they decamped to me and then packed up their things a couple of days later. Now though, despite their protestations, I know life is changing. The nearest bus route is half an hour's walk away, and though I often cycle to work, I'm not going to make them ride the eight and a half miles to school. The road outside the house isjust too dangerous, for one thing.
A journey to school that should take 30 minutes is now often taking at least 90. We have to wait to join the traffic outside the house, we move at walking pace to enter Phoenix Park, we then might be stuck outside the polo grounds for an age, we then queue to join the traffic on the quays, then to turn at Christ Church . . . and on it goes.
The children are getting tetchy, I am increasingly frustrated and at any moment sparks might fly from any of us. Two teenagers are going to be late for school, their names will be taken for detention, they might be letting down their partners for cookery or science. And later that day, we have to do it all over again to get home. Homework then has to be done, meals made and eaten - and if we're lucky, we might have time to relax . Last Monday, I spent eight hours driving just three 17-mile round trips.
The kids wonder why should they put themselves through it. I agree. Travelling those wasted hours screws up the start of their week and mine. We are not enjoying our life together as we should. And if we are not - and we are privileged middle-class people who have worked out a way of living based on two houses, two cars and two open minds - then thousands more must be having their family lives mutilated because of horrendous traffic policies. It is making me upset - and very, very angry.
(From a report in the Irish Independent)
The buy out of the Toll Bridge is a scandalous waste of money.The state will shortly, according to their original contract ,be benefitting from a revenue take of almost 100% of all extra vehicles on the M50.
The simple solution of sufficient booths, pre-paid, and electronic tolling, is being discarded .Every vehicle using the road could have an obligatory on line pre-paid account with NTR and the bridge could be opened tomorrow using scanning technology.
Instead 800 million euros is being paid to the NTR syndicate of wealthy farmers and big business just when the bridge is reaching its optimum benefit for the state. This is Martin Cullens greatest ever betrayal of the taxpayers of Ireland.
Every other country in Europe can operate an efficient toll plaza on a two or three lane highway-why not in Ireland.?
So much for 800 million in NTR,s pockets, plus a few billion for the Port Black Hole.This is a scam which none of the media or opposition parties have picked up on. It is of course possible that after the pay-off and after the election, three new toll booths may emerge along the length of the entire M-50,and ALL the revenue may accrue to the state.!!
There is either magnificent incompetence and waste in this buyout-or plain old corrupt cronyism.
The Soldiers of Destiny and Martin Cullen had another scheme to place three new tolls on the M-50 only 2 years ago which A spokesperson for the A.A. (Automobile Association) Mr Faughnan described as " madness".
Mr Faughnan,s analysis may be somewhat ingenuous.
Perhaps the "row" with the N.T.R (National Toll Roads). over the installation cost of a new electronic toll system at the Westlink tollbridge is nothing but a clever ruse to pay big taxpayers bucks to the toll bridge owners now and eventually bring a highly lucrative, multiply tolling system to the M-50 motorway which will cost sommuters dearly.? This has been an unforgotten objective in the minds of Fianna Fail Ministers for many years and was only postponed heretefore because of widespread indignation.
They have angered and antagonized many commuters with this proposed stealth tax, and it has been quietly dropped-for now. Paying off big business and removing the toll booths will do little but move the congestion to further exits a few miles down the road.
Will the host of harried motorists who are compelled to use any stretch of this chaotic public highway on a daily basis, give Waterford,s "Dick Turpin" and his cohorts among the "Soldiers of Destiny", their own quiet response, at the polling booths, in the coming General Election 2007.
(They did not.!)
Note for Martin Cullen: Please send my consultancy fees to Soldiers of Destiny.org, Gran Canaria,Spain.
Total due: 300,001 Euros. (5% discount if paid within 7 days)
You may be wondering about the odd 1 euro,well it's a point of principal. Cause I'm worth more than Monica Leech.!
Sunday May 25 2008
What do Dustin the Turkey and Dempsey the Minister have in common? Each gave another excruciating performance last week. But Dustin was booed in Belgrade, while Dempsey got away with his appearance in Dublin.
Minister Dempsey gave another rendition of that old Fianna Fail favourite, Any Day Now Dublin Will Have A World Class Transport System. He was launching a public consultation on traffic and public transportation. Beats buying more buses.
It is only two weeks since Noel Dempsey's party colleague and chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Frank Fahey, was singing the same song.
The day ministers and TDs park their cars outside the canals of Dublin, and travel into the city by public transport, is the day that I shall believe that we actually do have a world class system.
The day that civil servants in the Department of Transport have to pay the kind of money that some workers in the private sector pay to park their cars near their places of work will be the day when we might actually see park-and-ride facilities on a realistic scale and at a realistic price.
Meanwhile, people who have no real choice but to drive to work in our cities will be taxed and obstructed until it hurts. Park-and-ride is mostly a fantasy. Disconnected and unreliable transportation systems make taking the bus or train in many cases a fraught or impractical experience, especially from outlying areas.
Higher charges on the M50 and new charges in central Dublin mean in practice that the government is discriminating against Dublin workers who have to pay for the privilege of getting to work, when employees in most other Irish cities drive to work toll-free.
Congestion charges in present circumstances are like the speed checks along straight, safe stretches of motorway. It is largely a form of revenue raising.
Dempsey reportedly said last week that he was "not talking about banning traffic in the city centre but rerouting it"! Where, Minister? On "planned" new bridges across the Liffey, he suggests. But there are no new roads to meet those bridges, so traffic will just go around in circles and get stuck on the same congested thoroughfares.
If there is a transport plan, then it looks like a plate of spaghetti. There are various kinds of trains, which do not join up. Cheap and nasty stations are envisaged for a new metro, while those who travel by Luas or Dart know that penny-pinching means fewer seats and sweaty discomfort. Style is not a part of Mr Dempsey's world class system.
When you are whisked about by a Garda driver in a government limo, like Noel Dempsey, or when you get paid a whopping €19,535 extra on top of your salary just to chair a Dail transport committee, like Frank Fahey, it is easy to lose touch with the everyday experiences of people. When you are allowed to cover the lawn of a major historical building like Leinster House with a hideously ugly cement car-park, then it is clear that the ordinary rules of getting to work and parking (never mind planning) do not apply to you and yours.
"Trying to provide a world class public transport system does entail some inconvenience and disruption," Dempsey said last week. This from a man who is ferried around by a chauffeur. He is the latest in a line of Fianna Fail Ministers for Transport who cannot even deliver integrated ticketing so that commuters could move easily and cheaply from one form of public transport to another and so make a journey coherently.
Two weeks ago, RTE and other media were lamely reporting "plans" for a car-free city-centre in Dublin. There are no "plans", just a series of disconnected half-baked ideas that arise form the need to do something once they start tearing up O'Connell Street to build an underground rail line.
Do we have to sympathise with Minister Dempsey, given the great increase in the number of cars in recent years? Well, no, actually. Dublin's transportation problems have been long foreseen and are not extraordinary. The political party of which the minister is a leading member has dithered and dodged for years, unwilling to make hard and consistent decisions on Dublin traffic or transport.
Congestion charges might be a very good idea if we had a convincing public transport system. There might still have to be exceptions for workers for whom public transport would still not be a viable option. But at least congestion charges would be part of of a coherent whole and not a desperate attempt to stop the city being seized up by traffic jams once they begin to tear up College Green and O'Connell Street for the metro.
O'Connell Street was meant to be car-free after major alterations were made to it two years ago. But cars continue to drive down it, and tour buses park there. Pavements were broadened to look good, narrowing the roadway. Then extra bus stops were added to ensure that it takes a bus the same time to drive down the street as it always did.
One of the "plans" is for some kind of rail link between Pearse and Heuston. There is talk of it stopping at points on each side of Leinster House. This may be a ploy by its promoters to keep TDs happy. It would look good when EU visitors come to town.
They have for years been picking at the city's transport problems but not getting on top of them. Yet more consultants have now been employed, and we have something called 2030 Vision. The survey (at www.2030vision.ie) clearly shows that they already know what citizens want, because the most common statement in its tick-box questions is "People have said".
If talking about solving the problem of city transport actually solved it, then the minister would not be in the traffic jam that he is in.
- Colum Kenny
Sunday Independent January 29 2006
SO THE West-Link toll bridge is to be scrapped. The State will buy it out. A year ago, Bertie said he would never do it. Popular opinion has forced his hand.
Bravo. Relief is on the way for the poor motorist at long last. We hope that we have played some small part in the first success of this campaign on these pages.
The mistakes have been legion. How did any Irish government agree the original deal with National Toll Roads, allowing themto manufacture money out of the Liffey air until 2020?
Everyone knows that in 1987 there was an unhealthy alliance between big government and big business. The original West-Link contract was signed by two highly colourful characters - former minister Padraig Flynn and Dublin council official George Redmond.
But if the birth of the bridge was a mystery, the conduct of this government in conniving with National Toll Roads to fleece the motorist has been unforgivable. Both culprits have put their hands in commuters' pockets while obstructing them going about their daily business. Two sets of highwaymen, acting together, make a powerful gang.
The result was human misery, personal stress and, ultimately, public protests.
Politicians have only now responded because they do not want to face an electorate next year which includes 100,000 angry motorists living in key marginal constituencies. It took a couple of by-election defeats to wake them up to the misery on the motorway.
So Transport Minister Martin Cullen has been forced into a U-turn. His dilly-dallying over the West-Link in the last year has been a mark of his ministry. The long overdue decision to open the toll plaza will not be activated until 2008, although the problem could have been attacked last year.
Instead of being decisive, the Minister asked the National Roads Authority to negotiate a deal with National Toll Roads.
A babe in arms could have told him that the greedy monopolists on the M50 would stall the talks. Which they did for more than six months, another six months of easy money for NTR and daily traffic jams for drivers.
To their great credit, the National Roads Authority cried "enough". They called off the talks, wrote to National Toll Roads and told the minister of their detailed plans.
Cullen conceded, recognising that he could no longer procrastinate. Today he is trying to spin his way out of trouble.
Mr Cullen's ministry has not been a distinguished one, but this episode shows him being led by one of his agencies rather than vice-versa. The same could be said of semi-states Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta - both under Mr Cullen's nominal charge, but in reality run by the unions or the Taoiseach.
It has been open to the minister to set the M50 tolls at zero at any time. He has postponed this move until 2008, in order to buy time to replace them with other tolls on approach roads.
He should have decided to do this on his first day in office, but his most charitable admirers plead that he could not even visit the boys' room in Government Buildings without the permission of the Taoiseach. The sense of urgency on the issue has come from the National Roads Authority, not the elected minister.
Two years of even worse delays now beckon us. The Port Tunnel (another Cullen fiasco) threatens to flood the M50 with another 8,000 vehicles a day; the planned upgrade of the motorway will take more than five years, while economic growth will guarantee increased traffic numbers.
On Friday, the Government was trying to put its spin on this fiasco, portraying it as a brave effort to tackle the M50 crisis. Far from it, the solution has been forced on them. If Mr Cullen had been left alone he would have done nothing.
In recent weeks National Toll Roads have been lobbying politicians intensively. They employ Fine Gael loyalist public relations firm Heneghans to beat the bushes for them around Leinster House.
They have met Opposition leader Enda Kenny to persuade him of the virtue of their cause. They have used Labour Party member and consultant Willie Scally to escort them to meetings, they have contributed to Fianna Fail candidates' election campaigns.
Chief executive Jim Barry has been spotted lunching with Labour's former MEP and TD Brendan Halligan, now also a consultant. All angles have been covered; no wonder - these guys have bottomless pockets courtesy of their victims on the motorway. NTR may need political clout in the near future.
National Toll Roads is playing a long game. When the tender is awarded for their replacement, guess who could be in the frame for the electronic tolling contract? You got it in one: National Toll Roads themselves.
The company could be receiving compensation of €40m a year from the State for the loss of the current contract, while gaining another similarly lucrative income from the new one!
National Toll Roads must not be allowed to take the State for a ride for a second time.
The main monetary winners in the sorry saga are not necessarily the villains of the piece. No one should begrudge the Roche family (who took the original risk on the toll bridge) a fair reward. They put up risk money where others feared to tread. But they were overindulged by the State. They were given a monopoly, a watertight contract, inflation-linked toll charges, favourable working conditions. The standards set for the operation of the plaza were lower than those required today.
The buyout price is punitive and will be paid by the taxpayer. In recent weeks NTR's negotiators have distinguished themselves only by their intransigence and greed. Never before in the history of the State has such a lucrative contract swelled the bank balances of so few individuals at the expense of so many taxpayers and motorists.
National Toll Roads is likely to balk at the NRA's direct challenge to its hitherto watertight hold over the monster that spans the Liffey.
We can expect threats of court cases. Some may even materialise. Its appetite for further riches seems insatiable. It has made a monumental success of bullying victims who have seen no alternative but to stand and deliver the toll charges.
The role of the Government has so far been pitiful. Let us hope that it has learned the lesson to stand up to the monopolists in business and listen to the voice of commuters and taxpayers.
The omens are not good.
Irish Independent Wednesday February 21 2007
SOLD. Toll bridge for €600m. One previous owner. Genuine 100,000 vehicles daily. Has potential to make loads of money for enterprising purchaser.
Once again, taxpayers will be fleeced to bale the Government out of another deep hole of its own making. By August next year it will be a case of 'the tolls are gone, long live the tolls'.
Buying back the Westlink toll at a cost of €50m a year for 12 years means the private tolls will merely be replaced by public tolls.
The deal being trumpeted by the Government will cost taxpayers €713m. in the process. And the infuriating bottom line is that we will still have to pay tolls on the bridge for many years to come.
What a great deal! It's up there with the cost of the Luas and the Port Tunnel.
Not alone will motorists have to continue paying tolls long after the barriers come down on the Westlink bridge, they will have to pick up the €600m tab to buy out its operators, National Toll Roads (NTR).
Throw in the €113m being given to a French consortium to design, build and operate new barrier-free tolls on the same bridge and it all adds up to the cost of the two Luas lines.
For the past 20 years, motorists have had to pay for the privilege of queueing for hours at the Westlink toll booth before spending an equally excruciating time crawling at a snail's pace along the M50.
For NTR, the Westlink has been a licence to print money, making its directors and shareholders very wealthy in the process.
NTR is an extremely profitable company controlled by the Roche family which also has waste and energy divisions. Its annual revenues have been estimated at €340m a year.
The origin of the mess that is the Westlink goes back to a controversial deal struck with the company back in August 1987.
Signed by then Environment Minister Padraig Flynn and George Redmond, former acting Dublin city and county manager, the deal handed NTR the toll proceeds until 2020.
At the time the projections for traffic using the M50 bridge were around 11,000 vehicles a day and an expectation that this might rise to a maximum of 45,000 by 2020. At present, almost 100,000 cars and trucks use it, and this number has been boosted by as many as 2,000 extra HGVs since the city-centre truck ban came into force.
One does not have to be a financial genius to figure out the vast profits that are made charging 100,000 drivers a day at least €1.80 to have the barriers lifted.
No one foresaw the economic growth, population explosion and quadrupling of car and truck numbers over the past decade.
But in recent years it became clear that the toll booths were unsustainable. While the massive increase in vehicles has added to the chaos on the M50, it has also increased the profits of the toll operators.
A clause in the 1987 deal says that, if the State wants to buy out the contract, for whatever reason, it has to compensate NTR to the tune of the revenues it would have generated in tolls up to 2020. Simple as that. Thus the €600m hit for taxpayers.
But the Government has been speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
While bemoaning the contract that obliges so many motorists to pay tolls and clearly adds to the M50 gridlock, it has also been licking its lips at its slice of the lolly.
Every time you hand over €1.80 at the Westlink, as much as €1 goes into the Exchequer profits.
The deal provided that, above a certain volume of traffic, the State would receive a share of the tolls (along with income tax, corporation taxes and rates).
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his Transport Minister Martin Cullen have been urged to scrap the Westlink toll after the buy-out.
Why not lift the barriers, letting drivers benefit from the freeflow, aided by the traffic-light-free interchanges and extra lanes?
It might make perfect sense to me and the other 99,999 drivers who use the M50. But no, the Government is not going to introduce 'invisible', barrier-free tolling along the full length of the motorway.
They claim the money will be used to pay for the M50 upgrade and bankroll the compensation for NTR.
Cynics will insist it is just another way of taking more hard-earned euros out of the pockets of motorists.
The new toll scheme you won't even be able to escape by joining at the N4 Lucan interchange and exiting at the Red Cow roundabout.
If the Government is prepared to buy out the Westlink and replace it with public tolls why not go the whole hog and do similar deals with the other toll operators?
Replacing Irish private toll operators with French private operators at a cost of €713m seems like a classic Irish solution.