Drivers who use toll roads in Ho Chi Minh City on a regular basis are complaining that some toll booths are applying rules to rip them off.
Transportation companies usually opt to buy monthly rather than single-trip tickets for their tractor trailers, but are irritated by the way the toll booths define ‘monthly.’
Toll stations have begun stipulating that a monthly ticket expires at the end of that month, rather than 30 days from the time of purchase.
On April 22, one Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter went undercover to ask to buy a monthly ticket from the toll booth on Hanoi Highway in Thu Duc District, and was told that it was only valid for the next eight days, rather than until May 22.
“This is not changeable as the computer system is programmed like that,” an attendant said.
Lam Dai Vinh, director of the Lam Vinh Co. Ltd., said the regulation was taking a toll on transportation companies.
“We cannot simply buy a new monthly ticket at the beginning of every month if we are unsure whether we will have any contracts that require us to pass that particular toll booth during that month or not,” he explained.
“The monthly tickets at toll booths in other areas are valid for 30 days from purchase, so why can’t those in Ho Chi Minh City be the same?”
L.T.M., the director of another transportation firm, said calculating the ‘prime time’ to buy toll tickets to ensure profit is a big problem, given her fleet of 30 tractor trailers.
M. purchased monthly toll tickets, costing VND2.5 million (US$112) each, to pass the Phu My toll booth in District 2 for her fleet on April 15, after receiving a new transportation contract.
“I bought the ticket in mid-April, meaning I have wasted money on covering the fee for 15 days without even using the road,” she said.
Besides the confusing rules on ticket validity, some toll booths in Ho Chi Minh City only sell the monthly tickets on the first three to five days of the month.
The narrow sale window has left companies and drivers jostling to avoid having to wait until the next month to be able to buy the monthly pass.
A single-trip toll ticket on Nguyen Van Linh Street in Binh Chanh District costs VND35,000 ($1.56) for tractor trailers with a loading capacity of between 20 and 30 metric tons, compared to the VND1.5 million ($67) monthly ticket.
Buying the tickets in the allowed time window is also a nuisance as trucks are forced to queue, some transportation companies moaned.
Another inflexible regulation that has left drivers scratching their heads is that tickets are un-transferrable.
Lap Hai, who runs a transportation firm in Ho Chi Minh City, said he has bought monthly toll tickets for 17 tractor trailers.
“When two of the vehicles broke down, my request to transfer two tickets to back-up trucks was rejected,” Hai said.
With the toll booth asserting that ticket transfers were not allowed in all circumstances, Hai lost money on buying two new monthly tickets.
Call for change
Transportation companies are not the only victims of the ‘rip-off’ toll stations, but personal car owners also get trapped.
Nguyen Van Chanh, deputy chairman of Ho Chi Minh City’s goods transportation association, said drivers have the right to call for change in the way toll booths charge them.
“Why do the developers of the toll roads have the right to decide how much the tickets cost and how long the toll collection will last, but drivers have no choice when it comes to ticket validity?” Chanh asked.
Chanh said toll booth operators are playing a game, pressing that it must be changed into a win-win for both the toll road developers and road users.
“If a driver buys a monthly ticket on the tenth day of a month, he should only be charged for 20 days instead of paying the 30-day fee,” he suggested.
“This will help reduce operation costs for businesses as they no longer have to waste money paying tolls for non-use days.”