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Merseytravel to vote on Mersey Tunnel toll hike
This live event has finished
- Merseyside's Transport Authority budget meeting agreed to a 10p hike, taking the fee to £1.70 for Class 1 vehicles.
- But Merseytravel could have increased the toll to £1.80 under the Tunnels Act 2004.
- Campaigners urged councillors to vote against the proposed increase.
- Birkenhead MP Frank Field called on the authority to outline proposals to eliminate the tunnel debt and embark on a programme of toll reductions.
9:16pm Thu 6 Feb 14
Fantastic, once again the Mersey Tunnel authorities have voted to stab Wirral - and Liverpool - in the back with yet more above-inflation unnecessary increases.
I find it astonishing that Scotland is able to abolish tolls on its river crossings, and yet as soon as the Mersey Tunnel loans were paid off, tolls skyrocketed.
I'm lucky - I don't have to pay the tunnel tax every day, but it certainly makes "popping over to Liverpool" just that little bit less attractive.
4:20pm Thu 6 Feb 14
As Merseytravel already based its 2014/15 budget on a toll rise, this was always a done deal and quite predictable. Talking about predictability, the impression that they're somehow doing tunnel users a favour by not increasing tolls by the full amount allowed.....wow, didn't see that one coming.
As for Councillor Robinson's assertion "this is what an integrated transport network is about." Err, no. Singling out a specific type of Merseytravel user (i.e. tunnel users) to provide subsidies to prop up the rest of your network is not what it's all about. Other cities and transport authorities seem to manage just fine without the cash cow you call the Mersey Tunnel providing cross-subsidies.
That's all for our live blog here at Globe towers. You can send your tunnel toll hike reaction to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Alternatively, you can call us on 0151 649 4050 or 0151 649 649 4018.
Read our full report of today's events here.
It was these three Wirral councillors who tried to keep the toll at its current rate, with deputy mayor Cllr Steve Foulkes calling for a freeze on the toll.
Sadly, their hopes were dashed when the 10p increase - which is expected to earn Merseytravel an extra £2.4m a year - was approved by an overwhelming majority.
Cllr Steve Foulkes, Cllr Les Rowlands and Cllr John Salter all voted against increasing the Mersey Tunnel toll.
Reaction of the tunnel toll hike coming in now...
Mersey tunnels going up to £1.70 is a joke. Last year there was a truck fire in there and I had to leg it out. Paid £1.60 for the privilege— @michaelsdavies 06 February 2014
Globe Senior reporter Emma Rigby is a regular user of the Queensway tunnel, commuting from over the water each day.
How will the 10p increase affect you if approved? It'll cost me an extra £47 a year. http://t.co/QCwKQCAWcz— @emmajanerigby 06 February 2014
Following the decision, Councillor Liam Robinson, chairman of Merseytravel’s Integrated Transport Authority said: “Taking a decision on tunnel tolls is never an easy one.
"We appreciate that any increase in the cost of a service is less money in people’s pockets and that’s why we don’t take it lightly. The tunnel tolls should rise in line with inflation each year, but we’ve once again kept them below this as well as offering further discounts via our Fast Tag scheme.
“The tunnels do make a surplus. This acts as a buffer should any urgent work be required to keep the tunnels running that’s not accounted for in any predetermined capital programmes. It also gets gets ringfenced for a funding pot that pays into projects such as Park and Ride schemes, new bus stations and access improvements. This is what an integrated transport network is about. We want one that is fit for the 21st Century and for a world class city region."
To recap, Merseyside’s Integrated Transport Authority has today approved a rise in the Mersey Tunnels toll, increasing the cost of a car journey paid in cash by 10p to £1.70 from April.
Under the Tunnels Act 2004, the toll should rise in line with inflation, taking a car crossing to £1.80. The 10p discount was at the discretion of elected members who can take into account economic and social factors should there be overriding need.
Members have also approved a rise on the Fast Tag toll, taking it up by 10p to £1.40 for cars. This means that for every six journeys the equivalent of the seventh would be free.
Increases have also been approved for other classes of vehicles.
Globe chief reporter Craig Manning and senior reporter Emma Rigby have landed back at base.
Alternatively, you can call us on 0151 649 4050 or 0151 649 649 4018.
RT @emmajanerigby: Mersey Tunnel toll hike has been approved.— @justindunn 06 February 2014
John McGoldrick outside George's Dock Building.
John McGoldrick, Secretary of the Mersey Tunnel Users Association described the decision as a fait accompli.
He told the Globe he was glad to see three Wirral councillors vote against it. Cllr Ron Abbey was not present but Sefton Lib Dem councillor also voted against the hike.
"The whole thing is just a piece of theatre," said Mr McGoldrick.
"I would like to stress that the reason the politicians do this, increase the tolls, is because people just don't shout enough.
"Unless Wirral people are prepared to shout we are never going to see a stop to this.
"We are never going to see an end to the tunnel tolls."
Despite great arguments in favour of keeping the toll at its current rate, motorists will see a rise from April.
Motion passed to raise the tunnel toll by 10p for Class 1 vehicles.
A motion to keep the toll at its current rate has been put forward by Cllr Rowlands. However it had been rejected on the vote.
Wirral councillors Les Rowlands, Steve Foulkes and John Salter voted in favour of freezing the toll, as did Sefton Lib Deb councillor John Dodd.
Cllr Les Rowlands: "While the reserves are healthy, the £2.4m can be found elsewhere. Let's send a message that Merseytravel is not prepared to out the toll up every year."
However, he said: "The 10p increase is proportionate and with balance, is the best decision we can take in very difficult circumstances at this moment in time."
He said it is important to view the tunnels as an integrated part of the region's transport network.
Chairman Liam Robinson said he hears what everyone is saying and understands it is always a "very difficult and challenging decision".
As well as calling for a freeze on the tunnel toll, Cllr Foulkes said he believes a Merseyside discount should be looked into.
He said: "merseytravel should be sending out a message to say look, we realise that this is hard, we realise that this is going to have an impact on the local economy with people going to work, it's going to be a hard time to put an increase on the tunnel toll."
Councillor Les Rowlands has called for a freeze on the current tunnel toll.
Cllr Foulkes said authority should continue to campaign for the national road network to take over the funding of the tunnels.
He said he cannot support the proposals today but has not offered an alternative resolution.
Wirral's deputy mayor Steve Foulkes said he believes now is not the right time to increase the tunnel tolls.
Gary Evans, introducing the item says increasing the toll by 10p for Class 1 vehicles will generate approximately £2.4m per annum.
Discussing the setting of the tunnel toll now...
Merseytravel chief exec Liam Robinson has kicked off the meeting with a prompt start. Currently approving minutes from the last meeting and taking apologies for absence.
Wirral councillor Ron Abbey is one of those absent.
Board members are starting to take their seats here at the budget meeting. Things are due to get underway shortly.
We have just been informed that the tunnel toll hike will be first on the agenda this afternoon. It should be an interesting debate.
Globe chief reporter Craig Manning and senior reporter Emma Rigby are on their way over to Mann Island now.
There are four Wirral councillors on the Integrated Transport Authority board who are due to attend today's meeting.
They are Labour's Cllr Ron Abbey, Cllr Steve Foulkes, Cllr John Salter and Conservative's Cllr Les Rowlands.
Cllr Ron Abbey Cllr Steve Foulkes
Cllr Les Rowlands Cllr John Salter
There has been a lot of money spent on improving the tunnels in recent years. Some of the more recent completed schemes include renewing the cladding in the Queensway tunnel, costing £8m and renewing the tunnel approach road lighting at a cost of £1.9m.
A new tunnel CCTV system has also been installed, costing £1.2m.
Merseytravel is delivering a further 70 projects this financial year (2013/14), which includes the resurfacing of the Kingsway tunnel for £3m, the £900,000 renewal of the tunnel's emergency phone system and the renewel of the fire system for £500,000.
@emmajanerigby Why can't Merseytravel at least consider a Dartford Crossing type arrangement, with discounts for locals #DaylightRobbery— @justindunn 06 February 2014
As well as keeping nearly 8km of surface roadway in the Queensway and Kingsway up to standard, many other aspects of operation need to be kept in good working order, including:
- 14km of road, when including the tunnel and approach roads
- 5,428 light fittings, including those on the approach roads
- 44 in-tunnel ventilation fans
- 8 ventilation stations each with six four-story high fans
- 30 water pumps to remove ground water
- 32 jet fans which clear smoke in the event of an emergency
- 11 standby electricity generators which have enough capacity to supply 2700 homes
- 400 CCTV cameras linked up to the central control room to assist in assessing traffic flow and in the event of accidents and emergencies.
Here are a few Mersey Tunnel facts, figures and mythbusters, inspired by the below tweet from @windlerob.
Many people believe the tunnel debt was paid off long ago...
It may shock some to learn that the loans are still being paid and will not be paid off until 2048.
A spokesman for Merseytravel told the Globe the payments are fixed and the penalties incurred by paying them off early would make the debt more expensive, making it a false economy.
"The debt does not just relate to the construction costs of both the Queensway and Kingsway, but also the money that was borrwoed for tunnel maintenance and improvements before the Tunnels ACt 2004," said the spokesman.
"This now ensures sufficient funds are generated through tunnel use to allow for their upkeep and improvement without borrowing.
"As assets, the tunnels are worth around £1bn. The capital expenditure levels and maintenance being paid is modest considering their value."
The first Mersey Tunnel was to pay for it self by the end of the 60's - today they announce yet another toll rise #Scandal— @windlerob 06 February 2014
@windlerob ...in 2012 the 2 Mersey Tunnel's combined had 88k cars a day using them, making close to a £1m a week - who gets that money— @windlerob 06 February 2014
A few opinions have already been aired on Twitter.
Labour cllrs will today increase the "Wirral Tax" increasing Tunnel tolls, the people that will suffer are low income hard working families— @Tara_Hewitt 06 February 2014
RT @Innov8_Safety: Another rise on tunnel tolls @Merseytravel when will it end?— @RPJonas 06 February 2014
Let us know your thoughts on the proposed hike by commenting below, or tweeting us @WirralGlobeNews. Alternatively, you can tweet senior reporter @emmajanerigby, who will be reporting live from this afternoon’s meeting.
I'll be heading out shortly to report live from Merseytravel's budget meeting, where plans are proposed to increase the Mersey Tunnel tolls.— @emmajanerigby 06 February 2014
If approved, price increases will also be enforced for other classes of vehicles. Class 2 vehicles are expected to see tolls set at £3.40, Class 3 vehicles at £5.10 and Class 4 vehicles at £6.80.
Here is a full breakdown of the increases being proposed.
In 2012/13, £12,630,000 was spent on maintenance and improvements of the Kingsway and Queensway tunnels.
Recent improvement schemes to the tunnels have included the resurfacing of Queensway and soon-to-be-completed resurfacing of Kingsway, totalling £5m, and the fire main renewal in the Kingsway costing £3.5m
Merseytravel has defended the proposed rise and said it is necessary to cover unplanned emergency work in the ageing tunnel system.
A spokesman for the authority said elected members will consider a number of factors, including ensuring there is enough money to operate, maintain and invest in the tunnels.
Surplus funds will be used to support the wider transport infrastructure, with the wider economic climate also being taken into account.
Wirral’s deputy mayor, Cllr Steve Foulkes, is a member of the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority Board and voted against the increase last year.
Today, he told the Globe: "The tunnels and tolls are part of Merseyside's Transport solution.
"The real solution would be for the government to integrate the tunnels into the national roads network, paid for by the taxpayer.
"The have flatly refused to make it part of the national road network.
"Clearly, I cannot pre-empt this afternoon’s vote, but I will certainly take on board issues raised."
Birkenhead MP Frank Field has also objected to the hike, asking the authority to outline proposals to eliminate the tunnel debt and embark on a programme of toll reductions.
The influential Labour MP says tolls “unfairly discriminate against Wirral and some Liverpool residents”.
Mr Field said: “Wirral has got the transport authorities stacked against it.
“Wirral certainly, maybe Liverpool, has an interest in not increasing tunnel tolls.
“Few of the other authorities are affected by this increase but they vote a poll tax increase on Wirral residents.
"Wirral residents are subsidising the transport projects which probably most of them know nothing of, let alone use."
What do you think about the proposed hike? So far 86% of Globe online readers have said they do not believe the increase is fair. Cast your vote below.
Campaigners have called on councillors to reject the hike, claiming that the 10p increase could add an extra £50 a year on to car drivers’ outgoings.
Dave Loudon, of Mersey Tunnels Users Association, said: “For firms with goods vehicles regularly using the tunnels, it could amount to several hundred pounds a vehicle.”
He added: "We believe any toll is unfair on drivers who already pay a fortune in fuel duty and other road taxes.
“What other area of Britain would put up with such a situation?"
Members are also being asked to approve a rise on the Fast Tag toll, taking it up by 10p to £1.40 for cars.
More than 6,000 people have pledged support for an online petition, launched by Shaun King from Wirral, opposing any increase.
Merseytravel COULD increase the toll by more than the proposed 10p. Under the Tunnels Act 2004, the toll should rise in line with inflation, taking a car crossing to £1.80.
The 10p discount would be at the discretion of elected members who can take into account economic and social factors should there be any overriding need.
Merseyside’s Transport Authority is expected to agree a 10p hike in the tunnel tolls today, taking the fee to £1.70 for Class 1 vehicles.
Globe chief reporter Craig Manning and senior reporter Emma Rigby will be keeping you up-to-date with how the meeting unfolds from 2.30pm. Until then, we’ll fill you in on all the background to the hike and what those opposed have to say about it.
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