Taxi drivers to protest over Mersey Gateway bridge tolls

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image captionConstruction of the bridge is due to be complete in autumn

Plans to pass on new bridge toll charges to taxi customers are "absolutely insane" and will badly affect custom, said drivers.

Taxis will have to pay the £2 toll on the Mersey Gateway linking Widnes and Runcorn when it opens in the autumn.

Halton Council said it was still developing a scheme to enable residents who are exempt from toll charges to reclaim the costs from taxi journeys.

Taxi drivers said they will protest after a meeting with union officials.

'Up in arms'

The crossing over the River Mersey in Cheshire is designed to ease congestion on the Runcorn Bridge.

Widnes taxi driver Paul Harrison said about 150 drivers attended the meeting with the union Unite.

He said they have set up an action committee and are considering peaceful protests after being told they should pass the toll charge on to fare-paying customers.

"In London, hackney cabs don't have to pay congestion charges and taxi drivers shouldn't have to pay to use the bridge.

"And the public shouldn't be expected to pay either."

"My customers think it's free for them to use the bridge and when they find out they will have to pay £8 extra for a return trip from Widnes to Runcorn, they are up in arms."

He said it was "unreasonable" to expect them to claim the money back and he would lose fares.

Under current plans, Mr Harrison said it would cost one of his customers an extra £8 for a round trip to get his wheelchair serviced in Runcorn and then £10 for a return trip to Halton Direct Link one stop shop to reclaim the toll charges.

Halton Council said charging taxis was "in line" with other major toll crossings in the UK including the Mersey Tunnels.

It added "no final decision" had been made about the scheme or how they would reclaim costs and it "welcomed comments".

The Department for Transport, meanwhile, has confirmed that drivers from the boroughs of Warrington and Cheshire West & Chester will not be made exempt from the bridge tolls, after a review announced by former Chancellor George Osborne during the 2015 general election campaign.

A spokesman said the decision had been taken "after very careful consideration" because "the cost of doing so would be substantial to the taxpayer".

Labour leader of Warrington Borough Council, Terry O'Neill, said he was "shocked and very disappointed".

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