Visitors may be surprised that they have to pay road tolls in Ireland. While all roads in Northern Ireland are free to use, several modern long-distance routes and some time-saving bridges are subject to fees in the Republic. Road tolls in Ireland can indeed be costly, if you drive a lot, and more so if you do not take care. Anybody driving in Ireland should thus be aware that there are toll roads, and of the possible ways to pay for them.
Because not all are straightforward barrier affairs. Here are the basics you need to know on Irish toll roads, how to pay, and what to avoid:
Why toll charges at all?
That is a very good question, as Irish road users already pay road tax (and that is not a bargain either). But still ... the National Roads Authority, now merged into Transport Infrastructure Ireland, has been generally empowered through the Local Government (Toll Roads) Act of 1979 to charge and collect tolls for the use of certain roads. "Certain roads" these days almost always means major new road developments that are funded through so-called Public Private Partnership (PPP in short). In effect only part of the funding for a new road under this partnership comes from a public source, the rest of the funding comes from private, commercial sources. To recoup these investments, a strategy of using tolling to the maximum extent possible on these roads has developed.
According to the National Roads Authority, toll roads are constructed "as additions to the current network of national roads rather than providing a means of improvement of existing roads". In practice this often means that the old roads decline in quality, are becoming less easy to drive and are made by any means possible as unattractive as possible.
Thus maybe not forcing, but certainly enticing the road user to switch onto the toll road.
How to Pay for Toll Charges
Apart from electronic payment systems (tags) that are only of interest to Irish road users, the motto is "cash, credit or debit card". Payable at the toll booth, either at machines, or (not 24 hours) to an attendant. If you pay cash, take note that only Euros are accepted, and that bronze coins are not taken by the machines. Notes over 50 € are also not accepted, and only a few machines are enabled to provide change at all.
A notable exception to all this is the Liffey Bridge on the M50, which has barrier-free (and often confusing) tolling.
You will be warned by signs that unless you take the next exit, a toll booth is coming up - heed those signs, there is no way to leave the motorway once you can actually see the toll plaza. At this moment you will have to stump up the fee. Either in cash (payable into a basket or to a cashier) or by credit or debit card.
Cash payment (in Euros only) is the easiest way - I, however, found that quite often non-Irish Euro coins are not accepted by the automatic systems (they simply fall through, with Spanish coins being the most notorious offenders).
At times the automatic system will also bump up your vehicle class and ask for a higher charge. Despite the loss of a few seconds, I almost always use a manned booth to pay.
Which Roads have Tolls?
I have tried to go by road classification and number or locality, currently (August 2017) the following roads will cost you:
- M1 - motorway bridge over the Boyne - between Gormanston and Monasterboice, toll charge for cars is € 1.90.
- M3 - motorway section between Clonee and Dunshaughlin, toll charge for cars is € 1.40.
- M3 - motorway section between Navan and Kells, toll charge for cars is € 1.40.
- M4 - motorway section between Kilcock and Kinnegad, toll charge for cars is € 2.90.
- M6 - motorway section between Ballinasloe West and Loughrea, toll charge for cars is € 1.90.
- M7 and M8 Junction - motorway section between Portlaoise West and Borris-in-Ossory (M7) or Rathdowney (M8), toll charge for cars is € 1.90.
- M8 - motorway section between Fermoy Sounth and Watergrasshill (Fermoy Bypass), toll charge for cars is € 1.90.
- M50 - motorway bridge over the Liffey between Blanchardstown and Lucan, € 3.10 for unregistered cars, see M50 Barrier-Free Tolling article for more details.
Several non-motorway routes also incur toll charges:
- Dublin Port Tunnel (between M1, Dublin Airport and Dublin Port), toll charge for cars is up to € 10 (yes, ten Euros).
- East Link Toll Bridge (crossing the Liffey near Dublin Port), toll charge for cars is € 2.60.
- Limerick Tunnel, toll charge for cars is € 1.90.
- N25 Waterford City Bypass, toll charge for cars is € 1.90.
Can I Avoid Toll Charges?
You can, by taking a different, slower route. As a tourist, however, most times you can't ... unless you do not use the clearly marked and convenient roads that are prone to charges, and use an alternative. This may be fine if you have the time and local knowledge, for the casual traveler it is more often than not advisable to bite the bullet and pay.