Payment problems take toll on holidaymakers

By Abby Gillies

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Frustrated holidaymakers say attempts to pay tolls on the Northern Gateway over the Christmas break were thwarted by closed and inefficient systems at one of the busiest times of the year.

Users of State Highway One between Orewa and Puhoi north of Auckland are charged $4 a trip for heavy vehicles, and $2 for light vehicles, cars and motorcycles.

Motorists can pay online, at kiosks at either end of the toll road or by phoning an 0800 call centre.

However, problems reaching the centre, which is closed at weekends and on public holidays, and kiosk breakdowns left motorists struggling to pay within the the five-day limit.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has promised to review the call centre's opening hours in the wake of the criticism.

Aucklander Rob Warner, 38, was disgusted at the service, which delayed his holiday rather than save him time, he said.

When travelling north on January 2, he tried phoning the call centre, but with no answer after 10 minutes decided to pay at the kiosk instead. He queued for "20 minutes at least".

When he drove home he went a different way because he was unable to pay by phone or at the kiosk.

"Again I called the 0800 number and they did not answer. At the kiosk credit card and eftpos options weren't available. You had strangers literally walking up and down the queue asking people for money. It's a pretty dire situation.

"These things should be simple. It should work every single day of the the year."

Mr Warner's journeys were among 252,344 on the toll road between December 24 and January 5.

When a toll is unpaid for five days, a payment notice is sent to the customer with an added $4.90 administration charge.

If it remains unpaid for 28 days, a $40 infringement fee is issued.

More than 38,000 notices were sent to motorists who used the road from December 24 to January 5.

Penny used it on the way to a camping holiday on January 3 and decided to save time by not stopping at the booth.

But when she rang the call centre, she got a message saying it was closed during public holidays.

Paying online was not an option because their campsite had no internet.

On the way home last Saturday she again tried to ring, but a recorded message said the centre was closed at weekends.

By the time she was able to pay by phone for the first journey, she would have incurred a fine, she said.

"All those fines and they don't even have to cope with overtime for their call centres," she said.

NZTA Auckland and Northland regional director Stephen Town acknowledged the road was "extremely busy" over the Christmas period and said problems would be addressed.

"We understand the frustration experienced by some drivers who were unable to pay by telephone during the holiday period. The NZTA will be reviewing the services provided during the Christmas/New year holiday period to see what improvements can be made, and the review will include looking at the operating hours of the call centre for customers wanting to pay their tolls by phone."

There are free alternative routes along the Hibiscus Coast Highway between Puhoi, Orewa and the Silverdale interchange on SH1, and on SH16 between Auckland and Wellsford.

- APNZ

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