Wednesday, January 18, 2017

UK Government Promise on Severn Bridge Tolls Cut Could Go Further – Freight Lobby

Major Reductions in Crossing Costs between England and Wales Proposed but More Hoped For
Shipping News Feature
UK – With the Severn River Crossings due to come back into public ownership in late 2017/early 2018, the government is proposing to abolish the higher toll prices for vans and small buses, and halve the tolls for all vehicles, keeping the promise from former Chancellor George Osborne, who had initially announced such plans in his final budget. The government hopes that the move to reduce the charge will make a significant difference to commuters, travellers, and small businesses in particular, with some drivers seeing savings of more than 75%.

Instead of £6.70, cars and other category 1 vehicles will pay £3.00 – more than a 50% saving. Instead of £13.40, category 2 vehicles such as small buses or vans will also pay £3.00 – more than a 75% saving. Large vehicles in category 3 will also save 50%, paying £10 instead of £20.

The lower toll charges would be introduced when the crossings return to public ownership and will save drivers and businesses money helping boost the economy. It is expected that the new toll charges would be introduced in 2018, with the government also looking at removing toll barriers and introducing free-flow tolling on the Severn Crossings that they hope will help cut congestion and journey times. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said:

“The government is determined to make the right decisions for Britain’s future and reducing the tolls on the Severn Crossings will cut costs for businesses helping boost jobs and trade in Wales and across the south-west.

“The future toll prices announced today [January 13] will not only guarantee the future and safety of the crossings for generations to come but will also boost the economy whilst offering the best value for money for motorists and the taxpayer.”

Once the crossings return to public ownership they will be managed by Highways England. Blue Badge holders and motorcycles will continue to be exempt from the tolls. The money raised will pay for the operation and maintenance of the crossings as well as future improvements. Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said:

“This is excellent news for people living and working in Wales who use the Severn Bridge, particularly van drivers who will pay over 75% less money. These savings will make a huge difference to those who use the crossing regularly and it will provide a major boost to companies pitching for new business, who can now be much more competitive.

“The Severn Crossing is a vital artery into Wales and reduced tolls demonstrate once again that Wales remains open for business.”

The Government has also set out plans for these reductions to be applied to the rates paid by electronic TAG users, who are amongst the most regular users of the crossings. Under the proposals TAG Toll charges will also reduce:

  • cars will save £65.12 a month
  • small buses and vans will save £183 a month
  • lorries and coaches will save £198 a month

The removal of toll barriers and the introduction of free-flow tolling on the Severn Crossings would also allow two-way charging which could mean the price charged for a single crossing will be halved.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) which has lobbied government hard to either remove the tolls altogether or introduce a maintenance cost only, is disappointed that the Consultation does not go further. Commenting on the announcement, Ian Gallagher FTA's Head of Policy for Wales and South West England, said:

“While the reductions are welcome, the government had a real opportunity to provide a boost to the Welsh economy by scrapping the £63 million debt and introducing lower charges. Realistically, the FTA is keen to see out of hours travel permitted free of charge, as well as incentivisation for the take up of the TAG system.”

The lowered fees will be applicable to drivers paying by cash or by the electronic TAG system, who are the most regular users of the crossing. However, benefits for fleet operators using the TAG will only apply after 20 crossings. Gallagher continued:

“Making 20 crossings or more is a significant monetary commitment for fleet operators and one which the Association will continue to lobby government on, to ensure the threshold is revisited at the earliest possible opportunity.”

“We welcome the commitment to halve the tolls again if charging is introduced both ways. At a time of continuing economic uncertainty, when businesses are already facing increased pressure on turnover thanks to changes in currency values, these reductions are, on the whole, very welcome indeed. However, the Association will continue to lobby for further reductions and incentives for hard pressed operators. The Severn Crossing is a vital artery linking Wales with England and trading routes on into Europe, and these savings will ensure that businesses on both sides of the Severn can continue to trade at the most competitive rates with their customers.”