M1 tolls to be cut by 10c after court ruling

A TOLL operator on the MI motorway agreed to reduce tolls from midnight last night after a High Court judge ruled it was overcharging motorists and said that overcharging should stop.

In a decision with implications for other toll operators, Mr Justice Peter Kelly yesterday upheld arguments by the National Roads Authority of overcharging — said to amount to €26,000 weekly since January 1 last — by Celtic Roads Group (Dundalk) Ltd on the Gormanstown to Monasterboice stretch of the MI.

After the judge indicated he was prepared to grant the NRA an injunction directing the overcharging to stop unless CRG was willing to provide an undertaking to that effect, Maurice Collins SC, for CRG, said his client undertook the tolls would be reduced from midnight last night.

The judge granted a stay on his order for costs in favour of the NRA for three weeks to allow CRG consider the judgment and decide whether it would bring an appeal.

Mr Justice Kelly’s ruling is also expected to affect operators and motorists on the N8 Rathcormac/Fermoy bypass; the N25 Waterford bypass and the M4 Kinnegad-Enfield-Kilcock motorway.

The NRA had claimed CRG would overcharge motorists by €1.39 million this year unless the M1 tolls were reduced and applied in late January to have its action against CRG fast-tracked by the Commercial Court.

Mr Justice Kelly agreed to do so after noting there was no mechanism for compensation of motorists if the NRA was correct about the overcharging. The case concluded on February 23 and Mr Justice Kelly gave his reserved judgment yesterday.

The case arose after a dispute between the NRA and CRG about the correct interpretation of the toll bylaws for the M1. Those bylaws came into force in June 2003 and contain regulations on calculation, charging and collection of tolls.

The case centred on construction of Regulation 14 of the bylaws, which provides for “appropriate tolls” and “maximum tolls”.

The judge noted the Consumer Price Index (CPI) figured prominently in Regulation 14.

The CPI — used to calculate the maximum toll allowed — fell in 2009 for the first time in 50 years. The bylaws allow for a “cushion” of a year, so tolls did not fall then, but, after the CPI rose slightly in 2010, the NRA claimed the toll should have decreased from January 1 last.

The judge said it was for the court to construct any piece of legislation, including the bylaws. Any representations by others, including the Minister for Transport and the NRA website which gave the impression the bylaws provided only for upwards only toll increases, were “not relevant”, he said. The first rule of statutory interpretation was that statutes should be construed according to the intention expressed in the legislation.

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