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Toll operator to chase motorists for unpaid tolls during Yellow Vest protests

media Protesters wearing yellow vests (gilets jaunes) block the ring road near La Roseraie district of Toulouse, on December 15, 2018 as they demonstrate against rising costs of living they blame on high taxes. Eric CABANIS / AFP

French toll road operator Vinci Autoroutes is planning to invoice motorists who drove on without paying during the recent “Yellow Vest” protests in France.

Named for the high-visibility garment French drivers are required to keep in their cars in case of emergency, the protest movement widely targeted motorways and tolls in particular during operations to denounce a proposed fuel-tax hike and the rising cost of living.

Traffic disruption

Yellow Vest protesters have sought to disrupt the flow of traffic on highways and roundabouts, as well as demonstrating en masse in French cities at the weekends, since November 17..

The movement appeared to wane on Saturday, with fewer turning out to protest in Paris and elsewhere after President Emmanuel Macron announced a series of concessions to Yellow Vest demands.

Vinci Autoroutes, which operates some 4,400 kilometres (2,700 miles) of roads and manages most of the motorways in the south of France, was the first to release an assessment on Sunday of the damage to its road network, estimated at “tens of millions of euros”.

Protests at Opera

“More than 250 sites were impacted daily by the protesters actions,” the firm said in a press release deploring the “considerable damage to equipment and infrastructure”. Fires set during the protests destroyed six of the companies’ buildings, including its regional directorate in Narbonne, 33 service vehicles and 15 toll stations, while damaging many road surfaces, it said.

The estimated cost of the physical damage to facilities does not include the shortfall from unpaid journeys when Yellow Vest operations allowed motorists to coast through tolls unimpeded.

Recuperating losses

“We are aware of the exceptional character of the events that have affected the network over the past four weeks,” a Vinci spokesperson said. “So we have decided to adapt our procedures in order to not penalise users by prejudging their good faith.

Motorists who have not paid their tolls will receive a reminder letter, and not the usual fine, on the basis of their vehicle registration filmed by the cameras installed on toll barriers. The company says some users have already spontaneously sought to settle their unpaid tolls and stresses that asking others to settle up is only fair with regard to them.

Environment Minister François de Rugy appeared sceptical about the possibility of the company insisting that accounts be settled.

“One cannot do that,” he said. “In reality, the State will probably have to pay a large portion of the bill and so it will be an additional expense… or otherwise it will be passed on in one way or another in motorway fees, which is a shame because French people who had nothing to do with the vandals should not have to pay for anything.”

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