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Issue:- 14 February 2013

Tunnel tolls to rise, but Fast Tag unchanged

MERSEYTRAVEL Authority members decided to raise Mersey Tunnel cash tolls for Class 1 vehicles by 10p from April.  However, the Authority decided not to increase Fast Tag charges for the coming year.  The new £1.60 toll for cars represents the first rise since 2011 – and is less than the 'authorised' level of toll which should be charged in accordance with the Tunnels Act and linked to inflation.

Cllr Liam Robinson, Chair of Merseytravel, said the rise was unavoidable.  "We understand that motorists will not welcome any rise, but members of the Authority decided on this step after extremely careful consideration. The decision to make no change to Fast Tag charges means that many motorists will feel no adverse impact at all, and it should be welcomed by all tunnel users. Everyone can take advantage of Fast Tag and benefit from a reduced charge every time they use the tunnels.  Local people and businesses alike can benefit from the cheaper rate.  We were very conscious of the economic background, and acknowledge that the region is facing a challenging time, but under the Mersey Tunnels Act it is presumed that the actual tolls charged must rise in line with inflation. If that were the case this time, tolls would have had to rise to £1.80, but members used their powers to restrict the increase to only 10p."

Increasing the toll fee by 10p for Class 1 vehicles, and proportionately for other classes (by 20p for Class 2, 30p for Class 3 and 40p for Class 4) while leaving Fast Tag charges unchanged, generates around £1.4m a year for the Authority.

Overall, the tunnels currently generate income of £5.6m after deducting capital and running costs, as well as repayment of debt.

Cllr Robinson said:- "This 'surplus' is used to support other aspects of the highly successful integrated transport system which Merseytravel is responsible for. Aspects of the whole system depend on each other, with tunnels, ferries, bus and train services all inter-dependent.  Without the income from the tunnels, concessionary passes might be under threat, for example, as would unprofitable bus services which commercial companies would not operate."

Decision to increase Mersey Tunnel tolls criticised by FSB

THE Federation of Small Businesses is criticising the decision by Merseyside's Integrated Transport Authority (MITA) to increase the Mersey Tunnel toll by 10p for cars, which had previously been frozen since April 2011's 10p increase.  The decision follows a report from Merseytravel, the operating name for MITA and the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (PTE), calling on MITA committee members to recommend the 'authorised' toll levels for cars and goods vehicles.  John Allan, Chairman of FSB Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan, repeated his earlier statement that the move would amount to 'economic madness'.  He said:- "Small firms are among the most frequent Mersey Tunnel users and I say again that, particularly at a time they are struggling under tough conditions, it is economic madness to mount further taxes on top of the burden they already face.  Merseytravel had the ability to give firms in the region some good news by freezing these tolls, but it will undermine them and damage confidence by increasing them instead. We need a pro-growth tax environment that allows small businesses to flourish, not one that holds them back, or worse makes it even more difficult to survive. In other areas of the country similar charges have been reduced or done away with altogether.  The Humber bridge toll has been scrapped, the Greater Manchester congestion charge scheme dropped after widespread opposition and now it is even free to cross over to the Isle of Skye ; does Merseytravel really want to put Liverpool City Region and its small businesses at a competitive disadvantage, putting short-term revenue-raising ahead of long-term growth?"

The Merseytravel report warned that the authority could lose £2.6 million unless a rise is imposed, but recognised that Merseyside's economy is performing below the national average and that committee members must also consider the socio-economic impact of the Mersey Tunnel toll level. A 10p rise for cars (from £1.50 to £1.60) equates to around 7%. If a 7% rise were replicated for vehicle classes 2, 3, and 4, which are different size HGVs, the new costs would be £3.20, £4.80, and £6.40 respectively.  Other recommendations included maintaining the current level of 'Fast Tag' frequent user discounts and producing a proactive media statement to counter the anticipated adverse publicity any toll rise would bring.  The report emphasised its 'default position' that tolls should rise in line with inflation – an annual power created by the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004.  Further, it said any decision must consider tunnel operation and maintenance costs and be made in line with the cost of 'other transport alternatives' - including the proposed Mersey Gateway 'business plan' to toll a second Runcorn-Widnes River Mersey crossing and impose a fee to cross the existing Runcorn Bridge.

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