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MERSEY TUNNELS - ANOTHER WAY FORWARD

TOLLS PROPOSAL from MTUA- January 2006


SUMMARY

1) The Tunnels Users suggest the following changes to tolls:- i) No Increase in Tunnels tolls.

ii) No tolls on Sundays or public holidays.

iii) No tolls for buses.

iv) One way tolls.
2) The total cost of these proposals would be less than 6 million (3.9 million for no tolls on Sundays or Public holidays, 0.2 million for no tolls for buses, and 1.2 million for one way only tolls). As the Tunnels operating surplus (as shown at the bottom of page 3) is estimated to be about 14.2 million, this leaves around 8.9 million which should be used either for directly financing capital expenditure or for accelerating the repayment of debt.

3) We believe that our proposals are fair and would benefit Merseyside. We urge members of the MPTA board to give them careful consideration.


DETAIL

4) In October 2004, the Tunnel Users made proposals that were intended to be considered by MPTA members. The proposals are attached as an annex, but in brief they were:- i) No Increase in Tunnels tolls.
ii) Half price tolls off peak.
iii) No tolls on Sundays.
iv) No tolls for buses.
5. The proposals had been costed so that they would involve neither a subsidy from Merseytravel nor the Tunnels making any payments to Merseytravel to be used for other Merseytravel services. The proposals also assumed that future capital expenditure would be met by borrowing rather than from revenue.

6. As far as we know, the detailed proposals went to members of the Tunnels Board, but the main board of the MPTA were only told the proposals in outline.

7. At the same time as our proposal was considered, another proposal made in the name of the Federation of Small Businesses was considered. That proposal was for a toll increase in April 2005, followed by a further increase in 2006. The proposal also included reductions in tolls for HGVs with less or more than 3 axles.

8. The MPTA members rejected all the MTUA proposals and decided to increase tolls for cars and light vans by 10 pence and for HGVs with 3 axles by 30 pence. The resulting budget for the Tunnels included 8.247 million of capital expenditure being financed from revenue, and 5.963 million being transferred from Tunnels to Merseytravel.

9. The last 6 months or so has included controversy about whether future tolls will be used to finance the trams scheme. We understand this was the intention, though there is no MPTA resolution which explicitly says this, and we have been refused access to any reports dealing with it.

10. The Tunnels in 2005/06 were budgeted to make a surplus of 14.2 million. This is after payment of external debt charges, but before charging any capital works to revenue and before transfers to Merseytravel. We estimate that without an increase in Tunnel tolls prices, the surplus would be a similar amount in 2006/07.

11. There is of course no direct cost in not increasing tolls, and this does not reduce the estimated surplus of 14.2 million.

12. As far as we know, Merseytravel made no particular case as to why our proposal for no tolls on Sundays was rejected. A year ago we estimated the cost of no tolls on Sundays as 3.1 million (if isolated from the proposal for reducing off peak tolls). We estimate that the cost now of no tolls on Sundays or public holidays would be about 3.9 million. It is slightly higher due to last year's toll increase and the inclusion of public holidays.

13. The proposal for no tolls for buses was criticised by some councillors as being a subsidy to the private sector (though the reduction in tolls for most HGVs, incidentally had the effect of reducing tolls for buses). Removing tolls for buses would encourage more bus services. Last year we estimated the cost of this proposal as 0.3 million. As the buses benefited from the toll reductions for HGVs, we estimate that this would now cost 0.2 million. In our view this cost should be met from the Public Transport budget which is around 100 million, but we have assumed that the cost would fall on the Tunnels.

14. One way tolls are used in Britain at some major crossings including over the Forth, Severn, Tamar and Tay. They are also gradually being introduced in some parts of the United States. The main purpose of one way tolls is to reduce the amount of queuing at toll booths, though there are also saving in collection costs.

15. Removal of the tolls in one direction would be a major benefit, as it would remove in one direction the frustration and queuing caused by the toll booths. It would also enable some increase in the number of toll booths (manned and unmanned) for vehicles going in the other direction, which would further reduce queues. As the toll booths are all located on the Wirral side, we propose that the one way tolls would be payable when travelling towards Liverpool.

16. The proposal for one way tolls was first made by us three years ago. The response from Merseytravel officers was that there would be a loss due to vehicles diverting to the Runcorn bridge.

17. Whether a vehicle will detour via the Runcorn bridge will depend upon the particular journey being made. According to the AA, it is 15.9 miles from Birkenhead to Widnes via the Tunnels but 30.7 miles via the Runcorn bridge. Similarly from Birkenhead to Southport is 21.7 miles via Tunnels, and 58.6 miles via the Bridge. Our view is that very few vehicles currently using the Tunnels would make a detour to avoid the effectively doubled toll. Apart from the extra distance, the numbers will also be affected by relative congestion on the crossings and whether, as proposed, the Runcorn bridge was at some stage also tolled.

18. Assuming prior to any tolling of the Runcorn bridge, that as many as 5% of drivers diverted, then the loss of income would be about 1.7 million. This would be partly offset by reduction in expenditure. We estimate that the cost of toll collection is at least 2 million. Even if the number of booths for vehicles going in the opposite direction was increased, we estimate that one way tolls could reduce expenditure by at least 0.5 million, giving a net cost of 1.2 million.

19. For the moment we have abandoned the proposal for half price off peak tolls. We believe that there would have been major benefits from this. Merseytravel said that it would encourage dangerous behaviour by motorists and mean higher maintenance costs. Despite this view, there are off peak reductions on various other toll roads, and the London "Congestion" charge, of course only applies from 7AM to 6.30PM, and does not apply at weekends, public holidays, or over the Christmas to New Year period.

 

Tunnels Budget

2005/06*

2006/07**

2006/07***

M

M

M

Tolls

35.2

35.5

29.7

Other income

0.4

0.5

0.5

TOTAL INCOME

35.6

36.0

30.2

Employees

7.0

7.2

6.8

Premises

0.9

0.9

0.9

Supplies & Services

1.7

1.9

1.8

Works Unit

3.4

3.5

3.5

Support

0.7

0.8

0.8

External Debt Charges

7.7

7.5

7.5

EXPENDITURE

21.4

21.8

21.3

SURPLUS

14.2

14.2

8.9

Transfers to Merseytravel

6.0

?

0.0

Capital works

8.2

?

0.0

Capital works and / or repaying more external debt

0.0

0.0

8.9

* Summary of Budget for the current year

** Next year, as estimated by MTUA, before any toll changes

*** Next year, as estimated by MTUA, including effect of these proposals

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