Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Never-Ending Toll

This is one of the occasional transport articles you'll find here so, if it's not your bag, look away now.

Since the BBC brought it up ...
The government has launched a consultation on a new Dartford crossing, costing up to £3bn. Readers came up with a much simpler solution to tailbacks - replace the toll booths. "It would appear most of the congestion is due to the antiquated manual toll collection system. I was surprised by the absence of electronic toll tags," said Bernard Murphy from Texas.
I've got an even simpler suggestion. Scrap the tolls entirely and remove the toll booths. For why? Because we have already paid for the tunnel many times over ...
The idea for a tunnel crossing was first promoted by Kent and Essex county councils in 1929. A pilot tunnel was completed in 1938, although World War II meant the tunnel was not completed to full diameter and opened to traffic until 1963. Tolls had been in place since the opening of the first tunnel, and were enacted to pay for the construction of the scheme.
... and we have also paid for the QEII bridge as well, over ten years ago. And because politicians promised they would stop charging us as soon as that happened.
Motorists have been let down by the government u-turn on the decision to continue charging at the Dartford crossing, it has been claimed. 
From [April 2003] motorists should have been able to cross for free but the government's change of mind means car drivers still have to pay the £1 charge.
This, of course, has since doubled to £2, and £5 for HGVs and coaches. Having said that, the government have been very generous in allowing you to use the roads - that you have already paid for in an imaginative variety of ways - for free between 10pm and 6am. Aren't they nice?

So now, as a result of the toll booths which shouldn't be there, idiot politicians are considering blowing another £3bn of our cash on another crossing to reduce congestion.


Here is why we have continued to be milked since 2003, in the words of then Labour Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman.
"We had a public consultation in 2000 about what we should do about the tolls and the public came to the conclusion the best thing was to continue the toll as a congestion charge."
Well that worked like a dream didn't it, sunshine?

But, hold on, government may have an answer to 'save' us money. Bravo!
The Highways Agency is already on to this and expects to replace the booths towards the end of next year. It is looking for suppliers to provide number plate recognition - similar to how money is collected for the London congestion charge. Along with new road layouts, they say the changes are expected to be finished by October 2014. 
Cost: Between £68m and £84m
So, to summarise:

1) We finished paying for the Dartford Tunnel and QEII Bridge many many years ago.
2) Promises to abolish tolls were reneged on in order to control congestion.
2) The toll booths themselves are now causing congestion.
3) So we need to be robbed of another £3bn to pay for a crossing to reduce congestion caused by the toll booths.
4) Or there is a cheaper option of £68m instead.

Who would bet against a new £3bn crossing and multi-million pound software to charge us forever for using it?

Has it not crossed the mind of any of these thieving bastards to cut us a break - and cut congestion - by letting us use it for free?


Bill said...

It's ours not theirs!

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I couldn't agree more.

Mac McCubbin said...

"We had a public consultation in 2000 about what we should do about the
tolls and the public came to the conclusion the best thing was to
continue the toll as a congestion charge."

Is it just me, or does that strike anyone else as a shade implausible?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

As we've seen from public consultations since, they're very much full of leading questions and mostly answered by vested interests. This was 2000, the years of Labour stage-managed government, so the 'public' bit can safely be ignored.

moonrakin said...

DP - not like you to overlook things... what about the Gateway to Wales?

IIRC - it too should now be a free crossing.

This is nothing less than bureaucratic banditry - 'Iway wobberwy I tell 'ee...

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I thought that, but looking around today I think there's still time left on the PFI - for the second crossing anyway. The Humber is definitely finished though, IIRC and that's over a fiver! Alternative is a 100 mile detour.

I'm actually in favour of some kind of road charging for upkeep, but govt profiteering for infrastructure projects that keep on asking us for money is quite plainly wrong.

moonrakin said...

The initial payments on the second Severn crossing finished several years ago (3 or 4 I believe) and they were set to demolish the toll booths ....... when somebody decided that they should have been charging VAT on tolls - which apparently the CASH only frogs that ran it weren't - so they are now paying off the VAT bill from when it was first put into operation (plus VAT probably - must do an FoI on that....)

woodsy42 said...

Of course the foreign lorry drivers on their way to Dover will all be nicely out of the country by the 24 hours after crossing payment deadline.

nisakiman said...

the fuel bill for the scenic route has convinced me that the peage works....

It's true that cost wise you don't save much, if anything on fuel vs toll on the Routes Nationale, and of course the Autoroutes are much faster, but if I have the time, I will always take the scenic route through France. The roads are very good and there is the added advantage of being able to find those restaurants with two acre car parks catering to the transport industry (the superior French version of the transport caff). The food is good, plentiful and cheap, and when they are busy you can find yourself sitting at a trestle table full of vocal French drivers - always good for a laugh (especially for them, given my lousy French!).

Predator said...

And the Mersey tunnels?

Massive (and increasing) interest charges, debt kept to service this charge and, more importantly, to pay for the pet projects of the local council.

The 1st tunnel was built in 1933, the second (Wallasey) was completed in 1971. Both are still being paid for....

The Birkenhead Tunnel cost £7 million to build, the Wallasey tunnels cost £37 million. The Birkenhead Tunnel was originally to be free, but it was agreed to have tolls for a limited period.
Tolls collected so far are over £500 million.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Quite right. The Mersey tunnels are the most flagrant of all fraudulently extended tolls in the UK.