Automated tolls at Southampton's Itchen Bridge launched

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A council has defended its decision to introduce automatic toll gates at Southampton's Itchen Bridge amid criticism from motorists.

From Thursday night, drivers now have to use cash bins or smart card readers at booths on the bridge, which links Woolston to Southampton city centre.

The council said the £1m project was being introduced to help save cash.

Twelve full-time posts are being cut, with the majority of staff taking voluntary redundancy.

Some workers have retired while those who wished to stay were given the chance to apply for remaining posts.

The cash machines do not give change and credit and debit cards are not accepted.

The council said over-payments would be accepted as "general income".

However, smart cards can be topped up to enable motorists to use the toll bridge, with more than 12,000 already processed.

Itchen Bridge Motorist Mark Bowen, who uses the Itchen bridge daily, does not agree with the automated toll system

Motorist Mark Bowen, 57, from Hamble, said: "I use the bridge every day - sometimes three or four times. I think it's appalling. I think they should keep it the way it is.

"It will cause traffic jams. It's already taking people longer to get through.

"What about the people who work there? These are very nice people".

Rebecca O'Neill, 51, from Southampton, said: "I understand things have got to change but it's doing people out of jobs.

"Why do things have to become automated? What's wrong with a bit of human contact? I'm very much against it".

The council said staff would be on-site to help motorists. From midnight until 6am the site is to be monitored and operated remotely by CCTV and intercom.

Fees vary from 50p to £25 depending on the size of vehicle and time of travel.

Motorcyclists can cross free and local businesses, local residents and some disabled users receive concessions.

Asa Thorpe, cabinet member for environment and transport, said: "We are anticipating a short period where people who have been avoiding the toll machines get used to them but we expect that the delays at peak times will drop away.

"The automation we have brought in is being used successfully all over the world so we are confident that it will work in Southampton.

"We have to remember that this will save the council more than £100,000 every year and will help protect essential services."

Bridge toll workers were among hundreds of council employees who went on strike in 2011 in a row over pay cuts. The council vowed to reverse the pay cuts, giving priority to the lowest paid staff.

The Itchen bridge opened on 1 June 1977. It took three years to build at a cost of £12m and is used by about 6.5 million people a year.

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