Clifton Suspension Bridge toll rise inquiry starts
A public inquiry into plans to double the cost of crossing Bristol's Clifton Suspension Bridge has heard that its use is in decline.
The bridge's trustees, who have applied to the Department for Transport (DfT) to raise the charge from 50p to £1, also say costs have increased "significantly".
The DfT is holding an inquiry because of the amount of opposition.
Protesters against the rise say the trust has not justified the 100% hike.
The inquiry heard how there were 4,500,000 crossings in 2001, while the figure in 2012 was closer to 3,100,000.
Bridge master David Anderson told the inquiry the trust was required to keep the bridge open and safe for traffic and pedestrians.
He said bridge inspection and maintenance works were expensive and the ever-increasing age of the bridge - it is 148 years since it opened - dictated that these costs would gradually rise.
Expenditure averaged about £700,000 a year from 2008 to 2012, Mr Anderson said.'Tourist attraction'
He added that a number of major works were required over the next 10 years, including painting, work on the tower roof structures, waterproofing the footway, and replacing staff accommodation.
People living near the bridge have said they are worried their roads will become rat runs and car parks as motorists try to avoid the extra fees.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust has said regular users would still get a discounted price with a pre-paid cash card.
But John McGoldrick, from the National Alliance Against Tolls, said: "They're saying although they're doubling the toll they're not going to double it for regular users of the bridge.
"But if the government agrees the increase there's nothing to stop them from turning around next year and saying circumstances have changed, we're going to increase the toll for regular users."
He added: "The government is taking a fortune from drivers. There's no excuse for taking one single penny in a toll to cross a bridge.
"It's quite rightly described as an icon and a tourist attraction and a monument to Brunel. They aren't things that should be funded from an extra tax on drivers."
A decision by the inspector is expected within three months.