Welsh MPs suggest £1.50 Severn Crossings tolls for cars

Tolls are due to rise to £5.70 for cars in the new year

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Tolls should be slashed on the Severn Crossings to as little as £1.50, once they revert to public ownership, says a group of MPs.

Reductions to a fifth are proposed by the Welsh Affairs Committee from 2017 and it wants the toll cut "at the earliest opportunity".

The tolls, which rise for cars on the M4 and M48 to £5.70 in January, are called a "barrier to business".

Severn River Crossing Plc has been asked to comment.

The Welsh Affairs Committee makes a host of recommendations, including concessions for some businesses.

The tolls are charged on both the M4 and M48 motorways as vehicles cross into Wales.

The old Severn Bridge opened in 1966, while the £300m second Severn crossing opened 30 years later. The MPs said they cost £15m a year to run and maintain but they raise £72m in revenue.

The committee report, published on Wednesday, was commissioned to assess the impact the Severn Crossings toll has on the economy of south Wales and beyond.

But the MPs found much evidence was anecdotal and now recommends harder evidence is gathered about the economic effects of the toll on both sides of the border.

'Cash cow'

SEVERN CROSSINGS REPORT

  • Introduction of an "essential" contemporary payment method
  • Reduce the cost of the toll when the government takes ownership
  • Implement "free-flow technology" as soon as possible
  • Concessions for those who depend on the crossings for their livelihood could be introduced
  • UK government should take responsibility for the "failure" of civil servants 20 years ago to future-proof legislation which determines toll fees
  • Government learns from the "inflexibility" of the Severn Bridges Act 1992 when agreeing future contracts
  • Government "must develop urgently" a future strategy for the crossings
  • Source: The Severn Crossings Toll - Commons Welsh Affairs committee

Committee chair David Davies, the MP for Monmouth, said: "We are very concerned by anecdotal reports that the level of the toll has put some people off investing in Wales and more hard evidence must be gathered about their economic impact.

"Unfortunately, due to the inflexible provisions of the 1992 Severn Crossings Act, neither the government nor Severn Crossings Plc is able to freeze or reduce the toll without incurring significant costs."

He also accused the company of being "pretty haphazard" in introducing modern payment technology, saying, in all likelihood, it "would not have happened at all if Wales had not hosted the Ryder Cup this year".

Mr Davies added: "The antiquated payment system in place until then had given visitors to Wales a poor first impression of the country.

"The government should invest now in free-flow payment technology without delay and recoup the cost when the crossings transfer to public ownership at the end of the concession period in or around 2017.

Severn Bridge

"At the same time, tolling prices should be reduced and concessions for those who depend on the crossings for their livelihood could be introduced.

"The government must not be tempted to use the toll as a convenient 'cash cow'," he added.

The report said: "With running costs of £15m a year, and a current yearly income of £72m, we estimate that the toll could be reduced to a fifth of its current level, to approximately £1.50 while allowing the crossings to remain self-financing.

"We recommend that the government should seek to reduce the level of the toll at the earliest opportunity."

The Welsh Affairs Committee heard last month that most of the money the tolls raise is used to cover debts.

Severn River Crossing Plc General Manager Jim Clune told MPs only maintenance and running costs would need to be covered after 2017.

Tolls on Severn crossings

Type of vehicles

Current toll prices for 2010

Tolls prices from Jan 2011

Cars and vehicles with up to nine seats

£5.50

£5.70

Minibuses up

to 17 seats and goods vehicles up to 3,500kg

£10.90

£11.50

Buses and coaches with 18 seats or more and lorries above 3,500kg

£16.40

£17.20

We asked for your views on the Severn crossing tolls. Here are a selection of your responses:

It's nice to see them thinking about doing this when people are still being held to ransom on the QEII bridge at Thurrock. They are talking about putting the crossing tariff up on this crossing yet again when the tolls finished paying for the bridge a long time ago.

Paul, Essex

I run a vauxhall astravan - a car derived van - and I have to pay HGV rates - £10.90p to cross - outragous !! If I travel from Cardiff to Bristol to work all week thats over £50 in toll charges alone - puts me off wanting to cross the border to work !! the operators should live in the real world - small car vans should be charged car/van rates !!!

Scott Murphy, Cardiff

As always, this debate is very M4 corridor / London-and-the-South-East-centric. There are other routes into Wales; and it's only the soaring cost of petrol and diesel that is delaying the day when it'll be cheaper to avoid the bridges altogether and cross the border via the A40 through Ross-on-Wye anyway.

Nick, Cardiff

On current income if a new bridge can be paid for in 6 years how are we still paying for bridges that were built in 1966 and 1996 ?

John Marsh, Wales

I use the bridge to commute Monday to Friday. In addition to this until recently I often visited Bristol and Bath on weekends for shopping however the Bridge Toll, combined with additional rising costs have prevented me doing this. I now find myself seriously considering other employment options as costs continue to rise. There is no doubt in my mind that the bridge tolls put up a barrier to the Welsh economy. It is no wonder Avonmouth is such a popular area for business and the Port of Bristol has more trade than Cardiff, Newport and Barry combined . . .

Steve Adamson, Wales

Sooner or later there will be a news story about Stena Line or Irish Ferries moving their operations from West Wales to Bristol in a bid to reduce the costs its commercial customers are forced to pay. With the saving of the bridge toll and less fuel being used there has to be a business case for it . . . how many welsh jobs will that see lost.

Adam Jones, Cardiff

Bridge toll extortion, won't pay. When I go to london, ok to go on M4 but often go and come back A40 then heads of the valleys road, plenty of nice places to stop for a break and supermarkets for fuel, ie sainsburys gloucester, waitrose abergavenny, all within 400 yards of main road. on top of which, driving slower get better fuel economy!

Bernie Beaten, Carmarthen

One only has to compare the Severn Bridge toll with the Dartford crossing and French bridges e.g. 'Pont de Normandie' across the Seine, to see what a rip-off it really is.

John Harris, Nottingham

I think they'll be safe for a while yet, the tides would mean ferries could only leave at certain times of the day- fine for business but not good for commercial travel.

Stuart Evans, Bristol

I travel from Newport to Bristol 5 days a week and it cost nearly £30 a week to cross over the bridge plus the cost of diesel gone up again. It getting to the point where salarys are not going up but then commuters have got to dig deeper into there finances to make sure they can get to there place of work to me it a false economy.

Kevin Symonds, Newport

We have 5 or more University Business Schools in Wales (including leading economists), so lets get one or more of them to do the research and establish what the economic impact on Wales is. Then we can have a real debate about Severn Bridge Toll levels.

Walter May, Usk

The current toll bands state that cars and other vehicles with up to 9 seats pays the lowest class, i.e. £5.50. Why then do I get charged goods vehicle rates of £10.90 when I cross in my Nissan Navara, it's a private vehicle not a goods vehicle. Perhaps some one from Severn crossing PLC would care to comment.

Mark Miller, Ebbw Vale

Just think about us herein "old Humberside". We pay £2.75 just to cross the Humber. The bridge costs have never been paid back, owing to Very Low usage.

Mark, Beverley

All very well to complain about the high charges for cars, but I rarely use the Bridges into Wales as its much cheaper via Gloucester, when confronting a charge for a small car-derived van (usually empty!), what is this madness in charging double for what a heavy lwb people carrier pays for the same service? The ferry companies also do this because they can get away with it, yet a large number of small van drivers, like myself, are not using their vehicles for commercial purposes and even if they were, its a diabolical amount to pay - from my perspective the bridges might as well not exist because thats how usefull (sic) they are! This policy is obviously seriously affecting vehicle choice for commuters so there must be some major negative impact on carbon emissions, additonal to which the foreign owners can have only one purpose, maximise profits and to hell with any social consequences.

Samuel Kirkbridge, Raglan

Yes they should but it will never happen as per the Queen Elizabeth Crossing at Dartford nevr became free once it was paid for yet another cash cow for the government that once again hit the pockets of the general populace

Duncan Simons, Dagenham

All very well to complain about the high charges for cars, but I rarely use the Bridges into Wales as its much cheaper via Gloucester, when confronting a charge for a small car-derived van (usually empty!), what is this madness in charging double for what a heavy lwb people carrier pays for the same service? The ferry companies also do this because they can get away with it, yet a large number of small van drivers, like myself, are not using their vehicles for commercial purposes and even if they were, its a diabolical amount to pay - from my perspective the bridges might as well not exist because thats how usefull (sic) they are! This policy is obviously seriously affecting vehicle choice for commuters so there must be some major negative impact on carbon emissions, additonal to which the foreign owners can have only one purpose, maximise profits and to hell with any social consequences.

Samuel Kirkbride, Raglan, Monmouthshire,

You can directly compare the costs of the ongoing improvements to the M25, to the initial cost of the second Severn crossing. The cost of the M25 widening scheme is more expensive by a factor of at least 10. Yet, that expense is being met by the public purse. Where is the justice in that?

Tony Davies, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire,

We have a two year pay freeze. with bridge prices up by 3.5% how do you afford to go to work. It may be better to sign of sick!! This does not include train fares up by 7% in the area. This is not a green country.

John Blake,

The Dartford crossing is ridiculous, 1 or 2 hour queues are a REGULAR occurance - all to pay a toll. To be perfectly honest ALL these bridge tolls should be scrapped - ALL OF THEM. We (the motorist) has paid for years through the nose in fuel duty, VAT, vehicle exicse duty, insurance tax, VAT, special car tax, car park charges, registration fees, MOT's, congestion charging, new rules adding costs here there and everywhere .... the list is almost endless... yet we end up forced to queue for hours to pay yet more charges. This is ridiculous, and VERY costly for the environment (the Dartford crossing - 2 hour queue in each direction of 3 and 4 lanes of cars/lorries/busses all churning out CO2 to go nowhere... and this happens for most of every day. The same is probably true on the Severn crossing. I wouldn't work or invest in Wales while that charge is still there!

Dave, Mildenhall,

I would like to add my complaint to those of other light van users. I have a Clio van which is probably one of the smallest vehicles on the road yet I have to pay twice as much to cross the bridge as a two-ton 4wd "people carrier", even though I never carry any goods. My van has the same environmentally-friendly engine as my wife's Clio car but my road tax is about £200 instead of the £35 for her car - where is the logic?

Malcolm Poole, Swansea,

"Why then do I get charged goods vehicle rates of £10.90 when I cross in my Nissan Navara, it's a private vehicle not a goods vehicle." Probably because it's a pickup truck and not a saloon car!!

Nick Beck, Bournemouth

The Skye bridge has been free for some time. Once again Scotland gets the subsidy and the rest of us get ripped off.

Colin, Malvern

If you have a problem with paying the tolls, use the A40 and/or M50. By rapidly increasing traffic on these routes and diminishing traffic on the bridges, the Authorities will be forced to take action. Its in your hands

Paul Williams, Marlborough

When we were looking to open a new branch of our company we investigated South Wales, and it was a serious contender until we saw the cost of the Severn Bridge tolls. We came to the conclusion that cross river traffic from England to visit our branch would be non existent with that level of cost. So this toll does genuinely put off companies from investing in South Wales.

Graham Jones, Wirral

A rough calculation using the above costs shows the bridge as made a £498m profit after 14 years, that includes the cost to build it. Looking at it another way, assuming they have recouped the initial construction costs, £4.50 of each £5.70 toll is profit. Why is it fair that a private company profits from a public highway??? I'm not in favour of toll roads especially whilst we pay the current level of road tax, but i wouldnt begrudge paying if i knew that my toll was covering the construction costs or on-going maintenance costs.

HJ, Cardiff

I use the old Severn Crossing 5 days/week for work in Bristol. I'd agree with all the above comments, but furthermore, the road surface on the old bridge is an absolute disgrace - near on dangerous - it's a dreadful 'service' for nearly £1.3k/year of a working person's post-tax income!!!

Tommy, Monmouth

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