Richard Bamber claims charges will impact on coach operators – but CEO of Mersey Gateway Crossings Board says tolls of new bridge are now set in stone
Richard Bamber, Managing Partner Runcorn-based Anthony’s Travel and Vice-chairman of CPT North West has attacked the proposed tolls for the Mersey Gateway bridge as a form of “highway robbery.”
In autumn 2017 a new six-lane toll bridge over the Mersey between the towns of Runcorn and Widnes will open to relieve the congested and ageing Silver Jubilee Bridge. Both structures will be tolled.
Richard said businesses will suffer from the charges, which although exempt for Halton residents, will not be spared from company vehicles. He said coaches will have to pay £6 or £8 per trip, not including registration discount, across the bridges. He said the sum was one of the highest in the UK, only exceeded by the Severn Crossing, which he said offered a unlimited pass for the equivalent of £7.50 a week. By contrast, charges levied on coaches before any discount for other toll bridges of similar size are: Humber Bridge £4; Tyne Bridge £3.20; Tamar £3.70 (only charged one way); and Dartford £3.00.
Firms had been promised tolls would be tied to those paid on the Mersey Tunnels, where coaches pay £3.40 or £5.10, again before registration discounts are applied, Richard said. He claimed coaches face paying the same amount as trucks, even though HGVs with loads are much heavier and cause more structural damage to road infrastructure, with greater environmental impact.
The issue was taken up on Twitter, where the Anthony’s Travel account posted tweets, with one featuring a highwayman stencil, suggesting it as a logo for the bridge project, followed by an image of an actor in classic Dick Turpin garb, accompanied by the tweet: “Spotted by @merseygateway construction sight (SIC) on Wigg Island looking for employment.”
However, David Parr, CEO of Mersey Gateway Crossings Board responded: “The toll classifications are now confirmed as part of The River Mersey (Mersey Gateway Bridge) Order 2011 and therefore are set. The classification for vehicles, together with the proposed range of tolls for each classification, was openly included in the documents presented at the 2009 Public Inquiry (PI). The PI was the opportunity for the public and businesses to have input to these matters.
“At the PI, the position of the Mersey Tunnel tolls and that of the Mersey Gateway crossings was explained in detail. It has never been the case that there was to be integration of the two toll regimes, as they are subject to different legislation and are operated by separate organisations. In summary, the toll level for Mersey Tunnels was used as an indication, no more, of what the Mersey Gateway tolls might be.
“In line with the proposals made at PI, the base price for a standard car in 2017 was to be similar to that of the Mersey Tunnels. While it was indeed the council’s intention that the initial toll charges for the brides would be the equivalent to those payable (subject to indexation) by customers of Mersey Tunnels, it’s important to note that there is, and never has been, a legal commitment to match the Mersey Tunnel toll. The tolling powers under the relevant orders are not constrained in this way.
“Coaches fall into class 4 when they exceed nine passengers and are more than five tonnes. The general premise is that it is reasonable to charge a higher rate for vehicles which impose higher loads, and consequent wear and tear, on the infrastructure. As previously mentioned however, different toll roads, tunnels and bridges calculate their charges using this basic approach but have other and varying parameters to take into account so a side by side comparison is difficult to conduct.
“Also, the tolls have been set for the year the new bridge opens (2017) and inflation has been considered. With that in mind, it is likely the comparative toll charges will have altered by the time the Mersey Gateway is open to traffic.”
Thanking David for his reply, Richard remarked: “I understand fully the legal position of the tolls and I realise that the Mersey Tunnel and Mersey Gateway are separate organisations, but when selling the proposal of a second crossing, Mersey Tunnel was mentioned frequently as a general indication of charges and local businesses would of been influenced by this publicity. While integration was never the case, Mersey Tunnel was often quoted as an indication/ price comparison and an example to businesses and residents what to pay and your response confirms this.
“A fellow Runcorn-based coach operator, Selwyn’s Travel was also unaware until I brought it to the firm’s attention that parity with the Mersey Tunnel had not been achieved for the type of vehicle they run. If more local coach operators, hauliers and so on had been aware, perhaps there would have been more vocal objections.
“I accept there will be disparity in fees, but likewise note the attempt to keep the car charge the same as the Mersey Tunnel at £2.00, as opposed to £1.70 (a 17.5% difference) but the percentage wise for coaches is far greater with £8.00 over 5T and above nine passengers – as opposed to £5.10 (57 % difference), £6.00 for under under 5T and above nine passengers as opposed to £3.40 (76.5% difference), so despite freezes in Mersey Tunnel prices its hard to reconcile the huge percentage differences on large commercial vehicles.”
Richard concluded: “The danger Mersey Gateway faces with such high tolls is that hauliers, coach operators and so on may opt to re-route as its cheaper to use the extra fuel, plus less burdening administration. This is a similar to scenario to the The M6 Toll that is under used.”