2008 to 2013 News
A/cs from 1934
December - MORE ON THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME - SOME DRIVERS DEFY THE TROLLS - We reported at the beginning of the month that the Government had introduced 'cashless' tolls at the Dartford Crossing. It seems that there are more brave people than we thought, as about 15,000 drivers a day are not paying - BBC 30 December - 'Dartford Crossing: 15% of drivers failed to pay'.
December - A CHRISTMAS CAROL - BONUS XMAS BOX FOR SCROOGE MCMERSEYTRAVEL WHILE THEY GIVE DRIVERS THEIR USUAL XMAS DAY PRESENT OF QUEUES
Merseytravel got an extra £55,000 in the last 18 months from drivers who knowingly or unknowingly threw too much money into the 'no arm bandit machines' - Liverpool Echo 26 December - 'Revealed: The huge sums Mersey tunnel users waste in overpaying the toll fare' lots of comments.
Though £55,000 is a drop in the ocean compared with the £42 million that Merseytravel deliberately force drivers to hand over.
One of the comments added to the story by 'Ladybird' says "And the b@st@rds only had one tunnel open on christmas day!
Plus on top of that they only had ONE manned booth..the queues where sat still & backed up into the tunnel.
Christmas day sat in a queue waiting to pay....
if they can't get the staff, bloody leave the booths open to BOTH tunnels".
December - LETTER -
Wirral Globe 17 December - 'Tunnel tolls' increase is bad for Wirral'.
The comment added by a cyclist supports tolls and says that the train is more expensive than the road tunnels "and you ahve (sic) to drive yourself.". If cyclists are powering the trains, it's no wonder that Britain does so well in the Olympics!
December - TOLLS FOR CARS COULD GO UP TO £1.90 -
Today - 16th - the November price indices were published. The BBC said that it showed -
BBC 16 December - 'UK inflation rate at 12-year low of 1% ....'. That does not apply to Tunnels tolls as under the 2004 Tunnels Act formula the cash toll for cars could rise in April from £1.70 to £1.90.
Liverpool Echo 16 December - 'Mersey tunnel tolls 'could rise to a maximum £1.90' next year due to inflation'.
December - FIRST INDICATION OF TOLL RISE IN SPRING -
Liverpool Echo 9 December - 'Mersey Tunnel toll increase in 2015 would be 'justified' by economic growth: Merseytravel report'. Comments include - "toll machines that don't work properly, staff standing around doing nothing, one lane open to get change with a big line of traffic when their are 2 booths that give change, the price going up every year, one side of the tunnel closed a lot while they perform maintenance on the other, traffic build up because the birkenhead tunnel is contantly closed, tunnel police being paid to make little mazes out of the cones for no apparent reason, with all the things I have listed I don't know how they can justify always putting the price up."
Wirral Globe 9 December - 'Increase in Mersey Tunnel toll 'justified' by economic growth, says Merseytravel'. Comments include - "Alice said to the Mad Hatter, "How can the successs and economic growth of the region justify putting up tunnel tolls?" "Tut! It's not to difficult to understand, if you have a brain, that is. Success and economic growth depend on the cost of tunnel tolls. The more you pay, the bigger the success and economic growth... There are, I have heard, some who suggest the tunnels should be free, My giddy aunt, don't they know jobs would go, industry, bussinesses, would move to places where there were no free tunnels...."
Wirral Globe 9 December - 'Wirral MP calls for tunnel discount for borough's residents as Merseytravel says toll increase would be 'justified''. Comments include - "The "cash cow" Oh I mean motorist using the tunnel to help support schemes that merseytravel management dream up such as paying for Nazi U Boats, new landing terminals and Spaceport. The tunnels have well been paid for and now they are just scamming us for more money."
Merseytravel say that "improving economic growth is such that a further increase in cash toll is justified." We wonder why no one noticed how well the local economy was improving when Merseytravel had all the previous toll increases going back to 2004!!!
The existence of a road toll near the heart of Merseyside is not only bad for businesses, it is totally unfair when the Government is also taking over £50 billion a year in taxes from drivers. Other areas of the country get at least a bit of this money, only last week the Government announced that a two mile long twin tunnel will be built near Stonehenge, the cost will be two billion pounds and there will be no tolls. It seems that Merseytravel and the Government think that Merseyside is a special case and they can keep dipping their hands in the pockets of the people who use the Mersey Tunnels.
December - WE STILL NEED YOU! - On Saturday the 6th we were again in Grange Road, Birkenhead signing up people who oppose tolls.
As usual we had a mixed response. On the positive side over 400 people signed up to show their support for our aims. We believe that if it came to a referendum on whether there should be tolls there would be a decisive 'NO'.
On the negative side, there is still a lot of apathy and fatalism. One man told us that we would never succeed as local people did "not have enough bottle to take on the authorities". Another man who has a business with a number of vehicles which use the Tunnels said that there was "no point" opposing Merseytravel because you can't beat them. There are also people who still believe the tales that Merseytravel spin, with one man getting annoyed with our signs and saying that the Tunnels were "the cheapest in Europe". We don't know about Europe, but in fact they are the third most expensive tolled crossing in Britain, which as far as we know is part of Europe!
Another negative point is the attitude of some businesses as we were forced to move our banner that was on the railings outside the Pyramids. It seems that some businesses may believe the Merseytravel propaganda that the Tunnels benefit them by trapping people on the Wirral. They don't seem to realise that the tolls have a two way effect and that the economy as a whole benefits if toll barriers are removed.
More pics, after the banner was moved -
December - MONEY, MONEY EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A PENNY FOR US - The Government have announced 'new' spending on the roads - BBC 1 December - 'Roads funding: £15bn to be spent on schemes for England'.
This is a case of Jam yesterday (most of this programme was announced in 2013),
and jam tomorrow (the spending is spread over 5 years), to put the spending into context, over the same 5 years the Government will collect over £250 billion in taxes from drivers.
The North West is to get just £800 million out of the £15 billion - gov.uk 1 December - 'Major roads investment in the north west'. There are three schemes that will affect Merseyside -
A5036 (which goes from A565 by the Seaforth dock to Switch Island where the M57 & M58 start) is to be 'upgraded'. There is no explanation of what upgrading means.
The M53 between junctions 5 and 11 (i.e. the bit that goes through Ellesmere Port) is to be 'upgraded' to 'smart motorway' - this usually means that traffic will be allowed to use the hard shoulder.
There is to be a new junction 11A on the M56 to serve Runcorn. It seems that this is for the benefit of the new 'Mersey Gateway' scheme. It also seems that the politicians don't know that the official forecast is that there will be a lot less traffic crossing the river at Runcorn once the tolls are introduced. Or if they do know then they must be relying on being able to fool the people while wasting more money.
The Government are not completely forgetting tunnels though as they plan to spend £2 billion building a 1.8 mile twin-bore tunnel so that the A303 does not spoil the view where it passes Stonehenge - BBC 1 December - 'Tunnel to be built past Stonehenge'.
It is most unlikely that this new tunnel will be tolled as the Government realise that there would be an uproar tolling any existing route in Britain - unless of course the scheme was on Merseyside where the people are apparently a soft touch.
December - 12 PENCE TOLL IS 12 PENCE TOO MUCH - There is another toll 20 miles upriver from Liverpool which also causes problems - Runcorn & Widnes World 1 December - letter '12p toll bridge makes traffic problems worse'.
This toll is nominally a toll to cross the Mersey even though at this point you could cross the Mersey in one step. This oddity is so that Peel Holdings (who own the canal and a large part of Merseyside) can get more money, as apparently the law that gave the power to build the canal said that there could be no tolls charged on any crossing.
December - THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME - The Government have introduced 'cashless' tolls at the Dartford Crossing. There are no longer any toll booths and you either have to set up an account and pay in advance or pay online - if you forget then you could end up paying a fine of over £100.
A study in America showed that cashless tolls were higher than on roads where there were booths and that cashless tolls went up more frequently, so it is not surprising that the Government have also increased the Dartford tolls by 25% - Kent Online 1 December - 'Dart charge introduced at Dartford Crossing'.
PS Instead of paying £2.50 a crossing, locals pay 20 pence.
November - REPLACING CABLES - Wirral Globe 25 November - "Kingsway Tunnel's multi-million pound rewire and light replacement scheme approved" Liverpool Echo 25 November - "£8million Wallasey tunnel works approved" Liverpool Echo 5 November - "Transport chiefs planning £9m work over two years on Mersey tunnel".
November - 22 OUT OF 26 FOR CITY MAYOR - Liverpool Echo 24 November - "Four Liverpool bus lanes come back into operation today".
October - ANOTHER ACCIDENT Wirral Globe 30 October - "Five people taken to hospital following tunnel crash".
October - DISCOUNT?????? - In September the West Wirral MP, Esther McVey said that she has asked the Chancellor about discounts for users of the Mersey Tunnels now that Halton residents are to get 100% discount. Apparently any correspondence between them is confidential but Esther said that she would keep the MTUA "fully appraised of developments". So far she had not done but in the October edition of her 'West Wirral Observer' under the headline 'Mersey Tunnels take their toll' she says she says -
"In last month's West Wirral Observer, I reported that I had written to the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, over the tunnel tolls.
This followed the announcement that residents in Runcorn and Halton will be given a
'discount' when the new, second crossing opens in three years. Work on the new £600 million bridge started in May and is being built to reduce congestion at this bottleneck.
While this is great news for people in Runcorn and Widnes, it does make the situation with the tolls on the two Mersey Tunnels even more unacceptable.
The tolls have long since gone from being a way of repaying the costs of construction and are, instead, an easy source of revenue for Labour-run Merseytravel to spend on their pet projects in Merseyside.
Following my letter to the Chancellor, I arranged to meet Mr Osborne to press the case for a similar discount to be given to Wirral residents using the tunnels.
During that meeting, I made it clear to the Chancellor that, had the majority of Labour MPs in Merseyside not changed the law in 2004, the tolls today would be less of a drag on our economic recovery.
Instead, we have the obscene situation where a handful of Labour councillors from St Helens, Liverpool and Knowsley can vote for an annual increase in the tolls, regardless of the impact it has on our economy in Wirral.
As well as making these points to the Chancellor, I also stressed that the tolls are damaging our economic recovery by adding to the cost of business and increasing the cost of living for everyone who has no choice but to use the tunnels.
Following our meeting, the Chancellor has agreed to look at what can be done. We have worked hard to turn around Labour's record deficit by working to our long-term economic plan which is securing a better future for Britain. There is still more to do and as the economic recovery continues, I want to make sure our area benefits from the economic recovery and is not hindered by this local 'tax on Wirral'.
The Tunnels were handed over to Merseytravel while Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen whether the Tories will ever do anything to help users of the Tunnels, even if it is only to stop Merseytravel raking in profits on the Tunnels. This seems very unlikely as the Tories have come up with the idea of tolling the currently free Tunnels under the Thames at London - News Shopper 13 August - "Majority of Londoners 'against Blackwall Tunnel toll'"
October - WRONG TARGET Pete Price used to complain about the tolls , now it seems that the tolls are OK, it is all the fault of the drivers who don't have the correct money - Liverpool Echo 9 October - "The things that make me go argh!".
October - ACCIDENTS Wirral Globe 30 October - "Motorists stuck in Wallasey tunnel after rush hour crash causes exit closure" Liverpool Echo 3 October - "Second Wallasey Tunnel crash in two days causes congestion for Mersey motorists" Liverpool Echo 2 October - "Woman cut from car after rush-hour Mersey tunnel crash".
September - CONFUSED The Mayor says that Merseyside wants more powers and gives one reason as "negotiating a new Tunnel deal so that we could reduce and cap tunnel tolls". Does Joe not know that they already have that power, or has he been fooled by what Merseytravel say? Liverpool Echo 29 September - "Merseyside is seen as too parochial to secure devolution of powers, warns Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson".
September - DISCOUNT? - West Wirral MP, Esther McVey, says in her September news letter that she has asked the Chancellor about discounts for users of the Mersey Tunnels now that Halton residents are to get 100% discount -
We called for something similar when in 2008 the last Government introduced discounts for local users of the Dartford Crossing. But we believe that no one should pay tolls on any crossing. Whatever our views, the chances of the Government doing this or anything else will be zero until there are enough people demanding a stop to the rip-off of road users.
August - NUMBER ONE COMPLAINT? Wirral Globe 29 Aug - "The top 8 things that show you're from Wirral".
August - UKIP PETITION - On Saturday 9th, UKIP were out in Liscard shopping centre collecting signatures for an anti tolls petition -
August - SOME MORE ON HALTON RESIDENTS TO GO FREE - There has been no further publicity on this, showing that Merseytravel and their allies in the Government have succeeded keeping people in the dark. It remains to be seen whether the establishment is able to keep this up permanently. Meanwhile this is what was said on Radio Merseyside immediately after the official announcement (mp3 file), the clip includes George Osborne imitating Pontius Pilate
July - MORE ON HALTON RESIDENTS TO GO FREE - The penny has dropped that it was not a coincidence that the trolls announced that there would be no tolls for Halton residents on the same day that there was mania on Merseyside about the French 'Giants'. This would have been a distraction anyway but it seems as if Radio Merseyside made sure that the near hysteria was whipped up to benefit their Merseytravel mates and distract attention from what was happening with the tolls.
According to John Brace's Wirral blog, the Merseytravel members who were meeting the same day (another coincidence???) had a good laugh about it -
"Merseytravel discuss the Open Golf & free trips over the Silver Jubilee & Mersey Gateway bridges for Halton people".
There is one paper that is not joining in the conspiracy to hide this - Wirral Globe 28 July - "Should Wirral people be given free use of Mersey Tunnels?".
Comments on this story include suggestions that demonstrations will never work and what is needed is direct action. But who will volunteer to be first to lead the charge on the Merseytravel Bastille which is defended by their private police force? A force paid for out of tolls.
July - HALTON RESIDENTS TO GO FREE - On Friday 25th George Osborne came to Runcorn to announce that Halton residents will not have to pay tolls to cross the existing (Silver Jubilee) and planned (Mersey Gateway) bridges between Widnes and Runcorn. The announcement came out of the blue, but has followed a campaign which only started about 2 months ago and has snowballed.
You can see more here - NO Tolls - Runcorn page and here - Halton Against Tolls - Facebook group.
This was the reaction from some of those campaigning against the tolls - Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News - "Tolls campaigners react to chancellor's announcement".
The Chancellor was asked about the Mersey Tunnels and said that it was nothing to do with him.
Both the BBC and the Liverpool Echo (who have both long been supporters for tolling the bridges at Runcorn) ignored our press release (on No Tolls Runcorn link above) and avoided any mention of the Mersey Tunnels tolls. The BBC went so far as to say that the Tunnels were a completely different situation.
What is different is that the people of Runcorn and Widnes at last woke up and did something, and scared the politicians.
Most people elsewhere in our region seem to be unconscious of the unfairness of the Tunnel tolls and of the traffic delays caused by the tolls and the harm that they do to the economy. We are not sure whether the apathy is due to the failure of the MTUA or the way that the news media ignore the issue 99% of the time while the authorities and the news media keep people distracted with various entertainments.
July - CLOSED AGAIN - Merseytravel must have been in Nirvana because the Birkenhead Tunnel was closed over four days as the French 'Giants' paraded round the streets of Liverpool and apparently 'Grandma' spent at least one night camped out at the entrance to the Birkenhead Tunnel. The closures (planned) were -
From 10pm on Thursday 24 July to Midday on Friday 25 July
From 9.30pm on Friday 25 July to 1am on Saturday 26 July
From 10:30am on Saturday 26 July to 1am on Sunday 27 July.
To add to the fun for drivers the trolls also picked the same weekend to carry out work in connection with the new Runcorn toll bridge at the Weston Link roundabout and Junction 12 of the M56. The combination of this with the Birkenhead Tunnel closure will cause massive congestion and frustration for drivers - just what the authorities want - and as an added bonus very few drivers would have realised what was going on.
Letter in Runcorn & Widnes World 23 July - "Madness to close junction 12".
July - MERSEYTRAVEL DOFF THEIR CAPS - We had the usual fantasy whereby Merseytravel con the news media into believing that the Birkenhead tunnel opened when some royal personage came along and cut a tape in July 1934. In fact the plebs who have to pay tolls have been doing so since when the tunnel really opened to traffic - December 1933.
L'pool Echo 14 July - "Marking 80 years of the Queensway tunnel" L'pool Echo 17 July - "In Pictures: First Mersey tunnel celebrates its 80th anniversary" Wirral Globe 20 June - "Merseytravel seeks memories of historic opening of Queensway Tunnel" (with some comments).
July - THE BANDITS WITH NO ARMS - There have been various letters in the Globe about drivers in effect being forced to hand over more money as the bandit machines reject a lot of coins. As usual Merseytravel have the last word and trot out the usual excuses. The reality is that all of these problems only exist because we have tolls.
Wirral Globe Letter 7 July - "Mersey tunnels - investigation is needed" Wirral Globe Letter 9 July - "How to end tunnel troubles" Wirral Globe Letter 21 July - "New 5p and 20p coins aren't always recognised in tunnel".
This was the comment from 'Spamfiend' on the Merseytravel excuse -
"I can tell you the best way to upgrade the system. Get rid of the toll booths and let the people use the tunnel free of charge.
It is the 80th anniversary of the opening of the tunnel and you still rip people off with the ever increasing tolls. The tunnel cost £8 million to build and you sure have had your moneys worth over the decades!"
July - FURTHER ISOLATION OF WIRRAL FROM LIVERPOOL - More good news for Merseytravel as the night buses are withdrawn meaning that they will get more cars and taxis - and more tolls.
L'pool Echo 7 July - "Arriva to axe cross-river night bus services between Liverpool and Wirral".
June - CLOSED AGAIN - On Sunday 22nd Merseytravel had another of their frequent Tunnel closures, this time for a Liverpool to Chester bicycle race. Inconvenience to drivers is of no concern to Merseytravel. In fact they would be quite happy to give the Birkenhead Tunnel over to cyclists 365 days a year, providing they could still screw money out of car drivers!!!
June - TOO BRIGHT FOR SOME - Though the comments added to the letter show that others don't think that headlights are a big issue.
Wirral Globe Letter 17 June - "No need for burning headlights in tunnel".
June - CLOSED FOR MORE RACES - Yet another partial closure of the Tunnel as Merseytravel seem to think that closing the Tunnels is good Public Relations, and who cares about the ordinary Tunnels users anyway? Do Merseytravel have chums in Cholmondeley?
L'pool Echo 9 June - "England v Italy...in a Mersey tunnel supercar showdown 0" You Tube - "England v Italy Noise Off in the Mersey Tunnels with the Cholmondely Pageant of Power ".
The print edition of the Globe also featured the story as "Noise-off ... English and Italian motors go head to head in tunnel race", but the story is not on their web site.
June - CLOSED FOR THE RACES - Merseytravel must employ someone to think of reasons for closing the Tunnels, this time it was the Wallasey Tunnel that was closed.
L'pool Echo 8 June - "BTR Mersey Tunnel 10k race sees nearly 3000 Liverpool runners take part".
June - MEETING WITH MERSEYTRAVEL - On the 6th we had a meeting with Merseytravel at their invitation. Though there is some benefit in talking face to face, there is such a big gulf between our views and what Merseytravel say that very little comes out of these meetings.
This is our summary of what was discussed (pdf file).
One of the items discussed was the Merseytravel answers to points from Tunnels users raised with Merseytravel in October last year. Users points and Merseytravel answers (pdf file).
May - ELECTIONS - Voting for the European Parliament was on the 22nd May, and the local Council elections were held the same day rather than earlier in the month. Before the election we drew the attention of MTUA members to the views of the various parties on tolls -
Nationally the Conservatives, Greens, Labour and Lib Dems all support tolls. The only one of the five that opposes tolls is UKIP who earlier this year held anti toll demonstrations at various places including the Mersey Tunnels Liverpool Echo - "Wirral UKIP members in national day of protest over road toll fees"
The Conservatives did oppose the Mersey Tunnels Bill which became law in 2004, but despite that they are currently planning on introducing a Mersey Tunnel tolls regime at other crossings in England, to make it easier for the owners to increase tolls.
Some of the Wirral and Liverpool Labour MPs also opposed what became the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004, but their efforts were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm with which Labour members who were not from Merseyside supported Mersey Tunnel toll increases.
Nearly all the Lib Dem MPs supported toll increases and not a single one voted against the Tunnels Act.
As far as local councillors on Merseyside go, the only ones that seem to have sincerely opposed Mersey Tunnel tolls are some of the Conservatives on Wirral Council.
UKIP said that 'Ending the Mersey Tunnel tolls is a major issue', but it got little publicity. Even so they probably stood their best chance on the Wirral. In the event they did not win a single seat, even though they came third and on a proportional vote basis would have had four out of the 23 councillors.
May - SUGGESTIONS BOX - In October 2013 we raised various Tunnels issues with Merseytravel. On 11th March this year we got a reply to most of the issues, and on the 7th April we got replies to another two and on the 20th May we got a reply on the last issue (seven months after we raised it) Our points and Merseytravel's answers. We will be raising some of these points again.
May - MORE ON TOLLS MOTION AT WIRRAL COUNCIL - We reported on what happened a few weeks ago, but were hampered because Wirral Council told us that they could not tell us the wording of the motion that was passed. We also asked for a copy of the document that Merseytravel sent to the Committee members and had to wait weeks for a copy.
This is the Merseytravel document. It is similar to what Merseytravel said at the meeting and we commented on that in April (see April - TOLLS MOTION ..).
This is the minute that Wirral eventually released of what happened when the Committee discussed the Motion.
(The motion that was passed in substitution for the original motion is towards the end of the link.)
After we had got the minute and the Merseytravel document we contacted all the Wirral councillors. We reminded them of a message that we has sent to all the councillors on 4th April -
"The MTUA would welcome any opposition to the tolls from the Council, though the last time that there was a similar motion, moved by Councillor Blakeley in April 2008, the majority of the members of the Council amended the wording so that the motion as agreed meant nothing. There was also a motion moved by Councillor McKelvie in April 2005 which was hijacked. Indeed, over the years Wirral Council has either acquiesced to or even supported changes in the law which were against the interests of users of the Tunnels and in our view against the interests of the Wirral economy.
It is of course still the aim of the MTUA that the tolls are removed, but in the short term probably the best that can be achieved is to stop Merseytravel from taking money away from the Tunnels. That would first of all mean no further toll increases, but it would also mean that either the tolls could be reduced across the board and / or that some of the proposals which have been made in the past by the MTUA could be implemented - such as no tolls at weekends. We would suggest that this is what Wirral Council should put a sustained effort into, though given what has happened in the past we wonder whether the Council as a whole would sincerely support anything that went against what Merseytravel want."
At the meeting on the 4th April, the councillors had ignored what we had suggested the strategy should be, and it seemed that the Labour and Lib Dem councillors were singing from the Merseytravel hymn sheet, so we also said to the councillors -
"Our overall impression from what happened at the meeting and from the subsequent delays in getting information is that the majority of the members of Wirral Council back Merseytravel rather than the users of the Tunnels and are against what we believe to be the interests of the Wirral as a whole.
In the current financial year, Merseytravel will make 13.4 million pounds profit from users of the Tunnels. It seems that the majority of Wirral councillors either do not believe this or prefer to bury their heads in the sand. This was illustrated by the wording of the motion that was passed, it makes no mention of this profit and instead mentions subjects which are not relevant to this issue. It seems to be clear that the majority of Wirral councillors intend that no serious attempt will be made to stop Merseytravel from continuing to use the Tunnels as a cash cow."
May - START OF WORK ON BUILDING A TOLL BARRIER TO DIVIDE THE REGION -
The news media are fond of showing pretty pictures of the new bridge at Runcorn - even though most of them were plastered over the press long before anyone knew what the bridge would really look like.
For a change this picture of a bridge is not of the tolled one at Runcorn, it is a picture of another already under construction in Scotland - which will not be tolled.
Liverpool Echo 7 May - 'Work starts on £1.75bn Mersey Gateway bridge'.
Like most of what the news media print about this scheme, the cost figure is misleading.
The actual construction cost of the bridge is probably going to be more like a third of the figure quoted. The figure that will run into the billions is the amount which drivers will have to pay at what is currently an untolled crossing.
On top of the money to be forced from drivers, the Government have already given about 100 million pounds to this scheme and have promised about another 600 million pounds in grants and loan guarantees. All this for a scheme which, without tolls, could have been built years ago and at a cost far less than the money that the politicians have promised to their troll friends.
April - NOVEL WAY OF AVOIDING TUNNEL TOLLS -
Liverpool Echo 21 April - 'Hundreds stopped from walking through Mersey Tunnels each year, say police'.
April - TOLLS MOTION AT WIRRAL COUNCIL - Councillor Rowlands, a Tory, had put down a motion on tolls which was referred to Wirral Council's Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee meeting on Wednesday, 9th - Wirral Council 'Notice of Motion - Tunnel tolls'.
There was a similar motion, moved by Councillor Blakeley in April 2008, the majority of the members of the Council amended the wording so that the motion as agreed meant nothing. There was also a motion moved by Councillor McKelvie in April 2005 which was hijacked. The MTUA would of course welcome any opposition to the tolls from Wirral Council but over the years the Council has either acquiesced to or even supported changes in the law which were against the interests of users of the Tunnels and in our view against the interests of the Wirral economy.
The MTUA were at the meeting to see what happened this time (as were about six other members of the public). Here is our account.
Councillor Rowlands who moved the motion was sitting with the public, he is not a member of the committee and only spoke very briefly.
The discussion went on for an hour, but in short it was similar to what happened with similar motions in the past (April 2005 and April 2008) - The Labour members (and as far as we could tell the Lib Dems voted with them) killed the motion.
Instead they passed some motion of Councillor Foulkes, with only the five Tories voting against it. We don't know the detail of the motion passed, the members voted on it though there seemed to be nothing in writing* and Councillor Foulkes went on for so long that you could not distinguish whatever his motion was from the other comments he was making. He might have given a casual observer the impression that he sympathised with users of the Tunnels but in our view he (and the other Labour & Lib Dem members) are really on the side of Merseytravel.
* We have tried to get a copy of the motion, but so far there is nothing public.
The result did not surprise us, but one thing that did was that two officers from Merseytravel were there to put their comments on the original motion of Councillor Rowlands and to answer questions. They said that they had also submitted something 'electronically', but of course this document was not made public. The impression that we got was that the questions from the Labour members were designed to bring out points that were favourable to Merseytravel. There were the usual claims - that we believe to be incorrect and misleading - to justify the tolls and toll increases. Needless to say no one was invited to put the other side, I.e. that of the users of the Tunnels. This it seems is what passes for democracy.
Some of the claims made at the meeting by Merseytravel or the councillors who support them, together with our response -
a) An 'independent' report in 2010 had shown that the tolls were good for the Wirral. That they increased retail spending by £80 million a year, that 600 Wirral jobs would be lost if the tolls went, that vast majority of Wirral businesses thought that tolls were not important and not a burden.
Reports commissioned elsewhere have shown that tolls have a negative economic effect. This 'independent' report was in fact paid for by Merseytravel, and no one with any sense would believe that tolls were good for Wirral jobs.
b) The Wirral has the second best economy on Merseyside.
If this were so it would not say much for the rest of Merseyside, who in any case are also to some extent affected by having tolls that split the region into two.
What really matters is a comparison with the rest of the country of the two areas at either end of the Tunnels. In the last published 'Indices of Deprivation', on the 'rank of employment scale', Liverpool was the second worst out of 326 areas and Wirral was the 10th worst. Merseytravel should let some other areas enjoy the 'benefit' of a tolls regime.
c) The tolls are not a 'tax' as you don't have to use the Tunnels and there are other means of crossing the river including the Runcorn bridge.
Most users have no choice, otherwise they would avoid the Tunnels. The suggestion that drivers could use the Runcorn bridge must have been tongue in cheek as Merseytravel have been abetting Halton Council who plan to put tolls on the bridge 'the same as at the Mersey Tunnels'.
Though in the case of the new tolls at Runcorn, the residents of Halton are to get '300 free journeys each year' (part of the motion of Councillor Rowlands).
The fairy godmother who is in effect paying for these 'free journeys' is not Halton Council and it is not the foreign companies that will run the tolls. The fairy godmother is the Government. In March, Vince Cable told the Commons that there would be a ' £470m Government contribution to the 'Mersey Gateway bridge'. (In fact the Government are giving about 700 million pounds. 400 million in grants and 300 million in loan guarantees).
d) Merseytravel give users 15 million pounds of discounts a year.
This figure is as misleading as other Merseytravel figures. What matters is not what figure for 'discounts' that Merseytravel can conjure up, it is the 41 million pounds that people are forced to pay in tolls, 13.5 million of which is profit.
e) Merseytravel have asked the Government to take over the Tunnels but they won't.
Merseytravel have never made any serious attempt to do this, because they don't want to lose the Tunnels and their profits. The most that they have done over thirty years is to write one feeble letter.
Given the profits that Merseytravel make, it is most unlikely that Merseytravel would ever make a genuine attempt at this. In any case the part of the motion that says 'That we should support a campaign to move the funding of the tunnel crossing back to the National Highways Network, particularly in the light of the A14 ruling' is a red herring, which serves to distract attention away from what might be achievable in the shorter term if Wirral Council put a genuine effort into doing something on the lines of what we suggested.
(The A14 project was a planned toll road in the east of England. The Government announced at the end of 2013 that it would be built without tolls. It was claimed at the meeting on 8th April, that this was only because 'it was in John Major's constituency'. Presumably on the same logic, the Government are giving hundreds of millions to the so called 'Mersey Gateway' because they are supporters of Derek Twigg.)
f) If the tolls were removed then traffic would increase by 40%, this would cause gridlock in Liverpool, lead to a shortage of parking spaces and have a 'devastating' effect on public transport.
The figure of 40% is a fantasy. Similar claims were made before the tolls were removed in Scotland and those claims were proved to be wrong.
During the peak periods there are various factors that affect and constrain traffic. Removing the tolls would not have a significant effect on traffic volumes or on the numbers travelling to work by public transport.
There would be an increase in the numbers going through the Tunnels to visit families and friends and for shopping and leisure, but this would be off peak, and many of the journeys would be substituting for an alternative car journey to a different destination or by a longer route.
As to the suggestion that people in the Wirral should be deterred so that drivers from say Southport or St Helens can more easily travel to the city centre and park, it is a scandal that Merseytravel's fifth column on Wirral Council back it.
g) Merseytravel is like a fairy godmother raining down multiple benefits on the Wirral.
What Merseytravel gives away mainly comes from Government grants and Council tax payers. Users of the Tunnels don't get anything except their pockets being emptied while they queue at the toll barriers.
h) Merseytravel don't have any 'pet' or 'vanity' projects or 'squander' money, and projects like the 70 million pounds on trams and the half empty luxury HQ were also supported by the Tories.
It does not matter to users of the Tunnels who supported (or failed to oppose) Merseytravel's extravagance and waste. What matters is that it should not be users of the Tunnels paying for it.
i) If the tolls were removed then all Council tax bills would increase by 10 to 11 per cent.
Whichever way you look at it this is wrong. For 2014/15, if all the tolls were removed and everything else stayed the same then Council Tax bills would increase by 7.3 per cent. If you strip out Merseytravel's profit and only cover the cost of the Tunnels, then the increase falls to 5%.
But even this figure is misleading as no one has suggested that the Councils should bear all the costs of the Tunnels. The long term aim is that the Tunnels are funded from the fifty billion pounds of taxes on roads users.
The short term aim is to stop Merseytravel from appropriating the Tunnels profits, and in the medium term there are costs that can and should be stripped out, e.g. the Tunnels are the only road in Britain where there is a private police force paid out of tolls. There is also likely to be waste that can be cut out, and when we reach the promised land of no tolls, then they can also save the cost of collecting the tolls!
Though Wirral Council is not democratic, they do at least allow their meetings to be filmed. Video made by John Brace of the Committee meeting - part 1 - Tunnels debate starts about two minutes in Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 - the vote.
John Brace also has this on his blog - 'For Whom the Tunnel Tolls'.
April - DAY OF THE INCREASE and OUR PROTEST -
The tolls went up on Sunday 6th April and we held our usual demonstration to protest against both the increase and the fact that we have to suffer tolls at all.
We were in our 'usual' location - the Oakdale Road bridge over the Mersey Tunnel approaches in Wallasey from 10 am till noon.
Also as 'usual' we did not have the numbers that we had hoped for, there were only 20 people who were prepared to come out in the cold and rain and to make the time and effort to show Merseytravel and the politicians what they think of tolls. Though most of the drivers going through the Tunnel showed their support by honking their horns or waving their hands.
Some pictures from the protest.
Some of the coverage of the protest -
Wirral Globe 7 April - 'Drivers rapped over Mersey Tunnel tolls protest apathy'.
Bay TV 6 April - 'Mersey Tunnel tolls increase from 6th April'.
Liverpool Echo 7 April - 'Tunnel campaigners disappointed after less than 30 people turn up for protest'.
BBC 6 April - 'Mersey Tunnel users stage toll rise protest'.
Liverpool Echo 5 April - 'Anti-toll campaigners to hold protest on Sunday over tolls increase'.
April - LAUGHING MATTER? - On the 1st the Liverpool Echo had an interesting story about a scheme to build a new toll road from the Mersey Tunnels to West Kirby and then over the Dee to North Wales - 'Plans for a bridge linking North Wales and Wirral unveiled'
Anywhere else in Britain this would not fool people for one second, but in Britain's toll capital it was only too plausible!
April - THE BIG SQUEAK - The first meeting of the new Liverpool City Region authority took place on the 1st at the Merseytravel luxury HQ at Mann Island. The Authority will be above Merseytravel and 'economic regeneration' which at the moment it has no money for.
The meeting started with the controversial decision of who would be chairman - Liverpool Echo 1 April - 'Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson hits out at council leaders who voted to appoint Cllr Phil Davies as new combined authority chair'.
The rest of the meeting was boring and as usual the public can't hear much of what is being said by members. One person that had a lot to say was the Scottish lad who runs St Helens, perhaps he escaped from there because he wanted to go to an area that still has tolls!!
One thing that we did catch was the Leader of Halton Council saying - "Can I just mention the Mersey Gateway I just wanted to say on Friday we got ... after 20 odd years ... that part of it got signed off on Friday. Work started today.. creates 470 jobs by construction 4500 jobs ... come in at £250 million under budget ... budget set 2011, I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters around the region and tell our supporters it's a long haul to get where we're at, the fact we've got here now... hopefully open 2017 thank you to our supporters around the region."
The newly elected chair of the authority - who is also the Leader of Wirral Council - replied "Can I add my recognition of what a fantastic project that is and how much of a boost it will be to the city region..". This 'fantastic project' includes not only a new bridge, but also tolls on both the new and the existing Runcorn bridges. The most fantastic thing about this scheme is that the official forecast is that the use of tolls means there will be less traffic with two bridges than there is with one. It seems that the new authority will carry on in the Merseytravel tradition of trying to force drivers off the roads while making as much money as they can from them. It also seems that there seems to be no chance that the Leader of Wirral Council would ever back the removal of Tunnel tolls.
An account of some of the rest of the 1st April meeting on John Brace's blog
March - WE NEED YOU! - On Saturday the 29th, in advance of the toll increase, we were in Grange Road, Birkenhead signing up more people who oppose tolls and got 750 new names. We are hoping that some of these can actively help in the campaign against tolls.
We are also giving out some new leaflets.
Wirral Globe Letters 25 March - 'Demonstrate or Mersey Tunnel tolls will get worse' Wirral Globe 21 March - 'Further protest planned over Mersey Tunnels tolls hike'.
March - MERSEYTRAVEL'S ONE ARMED BANDIT - A Wirral Tory councillor complains about the tolls rip off, and we add our comments - Wirral Globe 28 March - 'Mersey Tunnel profits fury' Liverpool Echo 27 March - 'Merseytravel under fire over £10million "profit" from Mersey tunnel tolls'.
The print edition of the Echo had this as its editorial, headlined 'Play fair on tunnel tolls' -
"A tax on Merseyside which unfairly penalises people and businesses on both sides of the river - or an extra charge that is fully justified?
A great many Merseysiders will understandably see the latest increase in Mersey tunnel tolls as the former, having learned that Merseytravel is in the money.......
The price rise was hard enough to stomach before, but now we know about this .. surplus it seems absolutely outrageous.
There is a very real danger, that people may be deterred from living, working, trading and shopping in particular places - just so they can avoid having to pay for tunnel tolls.
And rather than automatically putting tolls up, the powers-that-be ought to be working towards serving their customers better by looking at making reductions.
That doesn't seem to be happening, and we're left with the inevitable feeling that we are getting a very raw deal."
The profit is really over thirteen million pounds!! This is not clear to anyone who looks at Merseytravel budget or accounts, but they are at least better than the situation before 2014 where Merseytravel hid from the general public the fact that there was any profit at all.
March - CHAOS - Accident & closure of the Birkenhead Tunnel Liverpool Echo 28 March - 'Birkenhead Tunnel closed after three-car accident'.
We don't know what caused the accident and hope that no one is badly hurt, but if Merseytravel want to inform people, then why did they tweet that the 'Queensway' Tunnel is closed, when almost all drivers know it as the Birkenhead Tunnel?
March - WE HAVE WAYS OF PERSUADING YOU - On the 20th, Merseytravel had what was in effect a two hour commercial on Radio Merseyside. The programme included questions from listeners, and one or two asked questions on the Tunnels. Merseytravel as usual gave the usual non-answers, which will have misled many listeners. Extract from the programme.
March - US TOO - A Wirral Tory councillor has proposed that his Council should campaign for "up to 300 free trips a year through the tunnels for local residents" - Wirral Globe 4 March - 'Councillors demand Wirral drivers should be given free journeys through Mersey Tunnels'.
The story was also in the print edition of the Echo under the headline 'OFFER RESIDENTS FREE TRIPS'. Merseytravel were quoted spouting their usual misleading claims.
March - NO TOLLS PARTY? - On Monday 3rd, UKIP had a tolls protest at various locations around England, including the Mersey Tunnels - Wirral Globe 3 March - 'UKIP campaign against 'highway robbery'' Liverpool Echo 3 March - 'Video: Wirral UKIP members in national day of protest over road toll fees'.
January and February - The 2014 TOLL INCREASE DECISION (on separate page)
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