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A/cs from 1934
"Follow Mersey Tunnel Users on Twitter
December 31 - ONE WAY OF AVOIDING TUNNEL TOLLS
Click L'pool Dec 30 "153 people attempted to walk through Mersey Tunnels in 2015" L'pool Echo Dec 30 "Hundreds risk their lives in bid to walk through Mersey Tunnels".
December 31 - ANOTHER WAY OF AVOIDING TUNNEL TOLLS
L'pool Echo Dec 29 "'Drunk' cyclists investigated by Mersey tunnels police" L'pool Echo Dec 28 "'Drunk' young men filmed on citybikes in Mersey tunnel".
December 31 - MP WANTS TUNNEL TOLLS USED TO SUBSIDISE FERRIES
L'pool Echo Dec 24 "Birkenhead MP Frank Field calls for tunnel tolls to subsidise Mersey ferries".
December 31 - SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE
Liverpool Echo Dec 13 "Wallasey tunnel delays due to 'familiarisation visit' by fire service".
Is there a good reason why the Fire Service can't become familiar with the Tunnel when it's quieter or closed as they frequently are for maintenance?
December 12 - BEDTIME STORY
Liverpool Echo Nov 22 "Why are the Mersey tunnels closed at night?".
This story largely seems to have been provided by Merseytravel. It is difficult to tell if there are too many closures. Though what happens now is nothing like the chaos and congestion that Merseytravel used to cause with their daytime closures of one of the Wallasey tubes.
December 12 - MORE ON DEVOLUTION DIVERSION
Liverpool Echo Nov 17 "Merseyside devolution deal does NOT include better deal on tunnel tolls " Wirral Globe Nov 16 "Wirral councillors to hold talks on devolution deal".
On the 25th November the Globe editorial was about the devolution deal and was headed "Deal must include tunnel tolls".
The editorial ended - "It is to be hoped that when they all sit down at the negotiation table, at the top of their agenda will be written the simple slogan "Scrap The Tolls".
Then in the 2 December print edition there were two letters on devolution and the tolls. Neither letter appeared on the web:
Paul Nuttall, a local MEP and deputy leader of UKIP had a letter "Appalling plan to pocket cash". The letter was about the "devolution deal" which the Combined Authority says includes the Tunnels. The letter starts "PLANS for Mersey Tunnel toll fees to be pocketed by the Liverpool City Region are a disgrace" and ends "In my book, user's needs includes not being subject to this highway robbery".
The other letter was from us and was headlined "Devolution not about toll cuts:
"I have seen your story in the Globe which includes "One of the
key elements to the devolution deal surrounds the Mersey Tunnels, with
the combined authority asking the Government to pay off the debts on the
tunnels together with allowing the freedom to set toll levels locally."
The Combined Authority was asking for permission to use the tolls on more things and in particular on economic development.
They were also asking for local control of tolls, but this was a nonsense as under the 2004 Tunnels Act and previous legislation they have the power to reduce or remove tolls for some or all categories of vehicles at some or all times.
The Government could not give the Combined Authority a power that they already have.
Having said that, what is in the current 'Phase 1' version of the devolution agreement is very vague and ambiguous (and makes no mention of paying off the debt) -
"The Department for Transport will continue to work with the Liverpool City Region in the review of the tolls on the Mersey Tunnels being undertaken by the Combined Authority, which considers the options open to the Authority to reduce the cost of tunnel tolls and its impact on infrastructure and the ability to accelerate economic growth.""
November 30 - CRASH ON APPROACH TO WALLASEY TUNNEL
As usual there is no clue as to the cause - Wirral Globe Nov 27 "Wallasey tunnel approach road closed after multi-vehicle crash".
November 23 - ACCIDENT IN BIRKENHEAD TUNNEL
Liverpool Echo Nov 22 "Car crashes into wall of Birkenhead tunnel closing Wirral bound lanes".
November 15 - DEVOLUTION DIVERSION
Liverpool Echo Nov 8 "Devolution for dummies: What is it and why does it matter?".
The City Region already has the power to cut tolls, instead so far it has followed in Merseytravel's footsteps and is using users of the Tunnels as cash cows. Writing off the debt will make no difference.
October 18 - OUR LETTER ABOUT THE OFFICIAL RESPONSE TO "SOLD DOWN THE RIVER"
Wirral Globe Oct 14 letter.
October 18 - MERSEYTRAVEL CAUSE MORE CHAOS WITH THEIR "FAST" TAG LANE
L'pool Echo Oct 14 "Rush-hour chaos at Wallasey tunnel after 'technical issue' with fast tag lane".
Dedicating a lane to a particular type of traffic is unfair as it benefits some people at the expense of others, but potentially far more important is that it increases the risk of accidents on the approach to the toll booths.
As for what Merseytravel think of the drivers that they loot, have a look at the two comments at the end of this Echo story.
October 18 - FRANK FIELD ASKS FOR POWER TO CUT TOLLS
L'pool Echo Oct 12 - "Frank Field MP says a metro mayor should have powers to cut Mersey tunnel tolls" Wirral Globe Oct 12 - "MP demands regional powers to cut Mersey Tunnel tolls".
As usual Merseytravel have almost everyone hoodwinked. The City Region already have the power to reduce or even abolish tolls. What they are seeking from the Government is power that would enable them to spend more of the tunnels loot on non Tunnels projects all over Merseyside.
October 18 - TUNNEL CLOSED DUE TO ACCIDENT
L'pool Echo Oct 6 - "Wallasey tunnel partly closes after four-car pile-up during rush hour".
September 28 - SOLD DOWN THE RIVER ON RADIO MERSEYSIDE
Brian Kendall from MTUA speaks to Roger Phillips on 23 Sep (9 minutes audio).
September 26 - M53 closures
The M53 between junctions 8 and 9 will be partly closed this weekend and the weekend 2nd to 5th October - Highways England press release.
September 25 - MORE ON SOLD DOWN THE RIVER
A comprehensive account from blogger John Brace who regularly has detailed reports on the activities of Wirral and other Councils on Merseyside- "MTUA accuse politicians of ‘U-turn’ on Mersey Tunnel tolls promises".
We sent a Freedom of Information request to the City Region aka Merseytravel asking some questions about the 'task group' that was supposed to be set up in February to look at the tolls -
1. Have the 'terms of reference' been drawn up, and if so then can we have a copy?
2. Has this task group been set up and if so -
2.1. Who is on it?.
2.2. On what dates have they met?
2.3. Can we have copies of all the information that has gone to the group (meeting agendas, reports and minutes)?
Late yesterday we got an answer which confirms that this task group is more nebulous than thin air - "At this stage I can confirm that membership and terms of reference for the group have not yet been determined and so the group has not met. On this basis, I am unable to provide the detail as you have requested."
September 24 - WIRRAL COUNCIL POSITION
Though it is clear that the Labour run Liverpool City Region intend to continue to plunder Tunnels tolls it is not clear what the position is of the Government or Wirral Council. But the Minutes of a committee of Wirral Council held last week have just been published and they indicate that Wirral Council will do nothing to stop the plunder -
Wirral Council - "Policy and Performance Committee - Regeneration and Environment Committee 15 Sep - minute of item 12"
The committee were questioning a director of Merseytravel. They had the opportunity to ask about what was being done to stop the plunder. Instead members of all parties ignored the issue and their only pleas were for more 'Fast Tag' lanes and a smaller top-up charge.
The committee at the same considered a related report - "Transport Levy". The report said that "Services funded by Merseytravel include the cost for ... the tunnels."
It is incorrect and misleading to say that the levy funds the Tunnels. The real situation is that Merseytravel have been taking part of the tolls money for the last twenty years to spend on non Tunnels activities. The Combined Authority budget for the current year (2015/16) does not have a Tunnels deficit that would need to funded by the levy, there is in fact a budgeted surplus of 15.8 million pounds.
It is not clear whether this disinformation is meant to fool the public, but we believe that most Wirral councillors do realise the real situation and are quite happy for it to continue despite the damage that tolls cause to the Wirral.
September 23 - SOLD DOWN THE RIVER - MEDIA COVERAGE
Liverpool Echo Sep 22 - "Mersey Tunnel users 'sold down the river' on tolls according to campaign group" Wirral Globe Sep 22 - "Mersey Tunnel users believe they are being 'sold down the river' as promises to abolish tolls yet to be kept" (this was in print edition on 30th as "'Sold down river' over toll pledges") Click Liverpool Sep 22 - "Mersey Tunnel users “sold down the river” by toll promises ".
Apart from anything else it is laughable that the task force agreed in February has apparently not yet been set up and that "The terms of reference and membership of the group is currently being determined" according to Merseytravel. Though in any case it is now clear that instead of stopping the use of tolls for other purposes they are asking for permission to expand what they can spend tolls on.
September 22 - SOLD DOWN THE RIVER?
At the City Region budget meeting in February, Joe Anderson, the Liverpool Mayor, said that he wanted to put a stop to Merseytravel using the profits from the tolls our transcript. He got the City Region to agree to set up a task force on this. Some people suggested that this move was insincere and no more than an election ploy, but the MTUA decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. We wrote thanking the Mayor and saying that we would want to contribute to their deliberations on what should happen with the tolls. We got no reply.
Then in April we asked the authority - "Who is on the task group?" and "What were the dates of the meetings that have so far taken place?" The answer that we got in May is that there had been no meetings. This seemed to indicate that Merseytravel had succeeded in burying the proposal.
Also in April we tried again to contact both Joe Anderson and Phil Davies, the Leader of Wirral Council who is also chair of the City Region and who in February said that what Joe Anderson proposed was "eminently sensible" and that the tolls seemed 'to go up inexorably year after year and that he hoped 'we can .. make a decision to lift this huge burden". They did not reply. We wrote again at the end of June, again with no reply.
Despite not replying to us, during the election campaign it was reported that the two Council leaders and Ed Milliband had made statements about the promised review with Joe Anderson saying that the aim was to "reduce the cost of tunnel tolls". These statements from Labour leaders may well have been crucial, particularly in Wirral West where the tolls were a major issue and where Labour was trying to counter Tory claims that they would reduce or abolish the tolls.
Then three weeks ago there were stories about the Region making a submission to the Government asking for more powers - including over tolls. This was a bit odd as the authority already have the power to reduce or waive tolls and they are not forced to take profits from the Tunnels.
In the Wirral Globe the report was - Sep 2 - "
Merseyside looks set to get its first mayor as city region leaders draw up wishlist of devolution powers"- , the Wirral Leader says of the bid for more powers - "The potential benefits are huge: from the creation of tens of thousands of good jobs to having the power to set the tolls for the Mersey Tunnels that are right for local people ..". This implied that the tolls will be reduced, but is this what they really intended?
The report on the same story in the Echo only mentioned the City Region taking "local control over the Mersey Tunnel tolls" with no mention of reducing them - Sep 2 - "Liverpool City Region leaders reveal wishlist of devolved powers".
John Brace's Wirral blog was more informative about the City Region meeting Sep 2 -
"Liverpool City Region Combined Authority agrees to ask government for further powers over Mersey Tunnels,...." At the top of this link there is a link to John's recording on You Tube of the City Region meeting.
John said that the proposals included "Asking for a legislation change so that any surplus Mersey Tunnel tolls can be used for economic development" and also asking for “the repayment of historic Mersey Tunnels debts by government”.
What John says is confirmed in the official report- Sep 2 Agenda of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (pdf).
On page 7 it 'asks' for "Legislative clarity on the ability to utilise tunnel toll income for wider economic development purposes."
And on page 13 it says they they "wish to" "Secure greater influence over the tolling regime that governs the use of the Mersey Road Tunnels, to ensure that it fully supports the city region’s transport policy framework" and "asks" "We want government to pay off the debts on the Mersey Tunnels and give us freedom to set toll levels on our own terms. Paying the debt will help create a bigger investment fund that we can reinvest in local transport. More control over the tolls will also allow us to vary toll levels by time of day, by engine type or in response to users’ specific needs."
The officer who presents the report also says - this is the official video and the toll bit starts at 12 mins 20 secs but was barely audible - that the City region is seeking to change the law so that they can "utilise" the tolls for "wider economic development purposes" and "invested" in "wider broader infrastructure and economic development and transport er infrastructure across the city region" 30 second audio extract from meeting where we have increased the volume.
After the meeting the chairman of the authority said that the purpose of the request to the Government was so that they could use tolls to "reinvest in the local economy" and that "it would be nice to think that we could look, at some point in the future, at reducing tunnel tolls" Part of Radio Merseyside news report on 2 Sep (50 seconds audio).
So it has slowly become clear that the City Region have done a u-turn on what they said in February and plan to plunder the tolls while promising that tolls may be reduced on the 12th of Never.
The MTUA have contacted all members of Wirral Council about this and so far there has been little response. We are assuming that the Labour and Lib Dem members will sit on their hands, but we are hoping that the Conservative members will press the Government to honour what the Chancellor and others said before the May elections about removing Tunnels tolls.
August 31 - EMERGENCY CAMPAIGN
Wirral Globe Aug 28 - "Campaign launched to give emergency services free travel through Mersey Tunnels" comments (this was in the print edition of 9th September as "Campaign to scrap tolls for ambulances")
Mirror Aug 7 - "Pregnant woman rushed to hospital in ambulance is stopped and asked to pay £1.70 at toll booth" Liverpool Echo Aug 7 - "Paramedics transporting expectant mum stopped at Mersey Tunnels and ordered to pay £1.70 toll" comments.
August 17 - REPORT ON ACCIDENT NEAR TUNNEL LAST YEAR
Liverpool Echo Aug 16 - "Motorist undertook cars on hard shoulder approaching Kingsway Tunnel before crashing into road sign". Odd that the Echo does not seem to know that everyone calls this tunnel the 'Wallasey' tunnel and may not know where the 'Kingsway' tunnel is.
August 17 - MAN FALLS NEAR TUNNEL ENTRANCE
Liverpool Echo Aug 16 - "Man dies after falling from bridge by Wallasey tunnel" Wirral Globe Aug 16 - "Motorcyclist dies after falling from bridge near Wallasey tunnel".
August 15 - "MAKE IT FREE TO CROSS THE RIVER"
Aug 12 - letter in the Wirral Globe.
August 15 - EMERGENCY TOLL
Wirral Globe Aug 7 - "Ambulance carrying pregnant Wirral woman stopped at Wallasey tunnel over £1.70 toll".
July 9 - BUDGET FUDGE
There had been speculation that in yesterday's budget speech, the Chancellor would say something about tolls on the Mersey. What he did say made no mention of tolls, but there was something in one of the documents that was published yesterday HM Treasury - HC264 Summer Budget 2015 report (this is a very large pdf file). At bottom of section 5.5 'The Northern Powerhouse' it says -
"The government is looking at extending Mersey Gateway bridge toll discounts to residents of Chester West & Chester and Warrington, with final decisions to be made in early 2016. In addition, the government will work with relevant local partners carrying out a review of the tolls on the Mersey tunnels."
This statement falls far short of what was said during the election campaign and it looks as if the Tory Government and Labour Merseytravel will be collaborating to keep things as they are, with users of the Tunnels (and most users of the bridges at Runcorn) as their prey.
July 9 - PLEA FROM MP
Liverpool Echo Jul 8 - "Birkenhead MP Frank Field calls on Merseytravel to use tunnel tolls surplus to begin writing off £46.8m debt ".
It is good that one MP is taking an interest in the tolls (the other Merseyside MPS
have their heads buried in the sand) but why suggest that Merseytravel can still keep half their profits? As for the Tunnels 'debt', this would not be there if Merseytravel had not been taking a big slice from the tolls for the last twenty years.
July 9 - DON'T BLOCK THE TUNNELS
Police threaten anti-austerity protesters with the Mersey Tunnels by-laws - Liverpool Echo Jul 8 - "Protestors take to Liverpool streets on day Chancellor announces Budget 2015".
July 9 - GO SLOW
Liverpool Echo Jul 7 - "Three car collision at Wirral entrance to Wallasey tunnel causes traffic chaos".
We don't know what caused this accident, but we have no doubt that Merseytravel would say that it is nothing to do with the toll plaza or their introduction of special lanes for those with tags.
July 9 - QUESTIONS FROM MPs
On 15 June the new Labour MP for West Wirral had a written question- 'To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will review Merseyside tunnel tolls and set out the (a) scope, (b) participants, (c) timetable and (d) completion date of such a review.'
The reply from a DfT minister (Andrew Jones) was- 'I have asked officials at the Department to engage with Liverpool City Region Combined Authority regarding a review of tolls on the Mersey Tunnels. Discussions on the scope, timing or duration of such a review remain ongoing.'
Then on the 30 June there was a follow-up written question from the Ellesmere Port & Neston MP- 'To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to the Answer of 18 June 2015 to Question 2544, what steps his Department is taking to consult Mersey Tunnel users living outside the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Area on the toll review. '
The reply from the same DfT minister was- 'The review of Mersey Tunnel Tolls is being undertaken by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. My officials are discussing with them how their review will meet the Government’s aspirations, including ensuring consultation with interested parties both within and adjoining the Combined Authority area.'
The review that is referred to seems to be the review that Joe Anderson, the Liverpool Mayor, called for in February and which seemed to have then been killed off by Merseytravel. It looks like the Tories may have forgotten the promises that they made before the election and that Tunnel users will left in the clutches of Merseytravel.
June 30 - HALTON ASKS CITY REGION FOR BRIDGE MONEY
Liverpool Echo Jun 24 - "Funding request over Runcorn-Widnes bridge's annual £2m maintenance cost could be made to city region". As the City Region is making a profit from Mersey Tunnel tolls this means that Tunnel tolls could be helping to pay for the Runcorn bridge.
June 13 - TOLL JAM
Liverpool Echo Jun 12 - "M56 lorry crash causes huge tailbacks for drivers using Wirral tunnels".
The knock on effect of a lorry jam on the M56 is that traffic has to queue for miles from the toll booths. If asked, presumably Merseytravel would deny that stopping to pay a toll has any effect on the traffic flow and say that it is only a coincidence that the queues start at the toll booths.
June 10 - ANOTHER SO CALLED 'TRIAL'
Liverpool Echo Jun 9 - "Mersey Tunnel opens second fast tag lane".
Merseytravel are introducing a two class system, and there is no 'trial' as they have no intention of withdrawing this system despite it increasing the chances of accidents when drivers who are not aware of the system realise that they are in the wrong lane.
June 2 - ALAS
A letter from the MTUA - Wirral Globe Jun 2 - "Tunnel toll woes".
Comments from Globe readers include - "Tolls are here to stay! Get over it" and "Pathetic - clearly nothing else to do but moan and for what a 10p increase to £1.70. Still the cheapest in Europe." It seems that the 'Friends of Merseytravel' are not aware that tolls have been removed in some other places and that the Tunnels are one of the most expensive crossings in Britain. There are few places on mainland Europe where you have to pay a toll to get from one side of the city to the other.
May 13 - TILL THE 12TH OF NEVER
During the election campaign, Labour said that the tolls were being reviewed by a "task group". On the 21st April we contacted Merseytravel to ask what was happening and who was on this "task group". The MTUA did not get an answer till Friday: the day after the election.
The answer that we got from Merseytravel said that: "The Combined Authority is in the process of drawing up detailed terms of reference for this review and are identifying the resources required to undertake a review of this nature. As such, formal terms of reference are yet to be determined."
This answer means that three months after this review was promised, they have not even started. It is no wonder that Merseytravel did not admit this till after polling day.
Given that Labour have also said that any changes to the tolls would require a change to the Tunnels Acts, it seems that the intention is that nothing will be done till the day when the "Cow jumps over the Moon", while the notorious 2004 Tunnels Act allows Merseytravel to continue to "run away with the spoons".
May 13 - POST THE ELECTION
Wirral Globe May 13 "So, Chancellor, about these tolls...".
The Leader of Wirral Council says that "As part of that review that has already been kicked off, I think we will inevitably have to get into a discussion with the civil servants and ministers at the department for transport, because if we are going to change the way the tunnels are funded and start to bring them down, we’ll need to get into a dialogue with them because the Tunnel Act will need to be amended".
As far as we know, the review has not "been kicked off", and it is likely that Merseytravel will want to see the proposal that their profits are stopped kicked out of play.
The proposal that the Wirral Leader seconded in February was not about "change (to) the way that the tunnels are funded", it was to stop Merseytravel's profits so that the tolls could be substantially reduced.
We see from an added comment that it is odds on that there will be a toll increase next year and that it is 20,000 to 1 that the tolls will ever be removed. If the odds stayed the same then the Government could put a million pounds down, remove the tolls and get twenty billion pounds back. Just enough to pay for tolls removal!
May 9 - POST SCRIPT TO GEORGE OSBORNE'S TOLLS PROMISE
It probably means nothing now that Wirral voters have rejected the Conservatives but this is the last Wirral West election flyer, and this is what Esther McVey's office was emailing out on the eve of the General election:
"Hello Mr and Mrs XXXX,
I'll start with the great news that, on Monday, the Chancellor George Osborne came to Wirral at my invitation and confirmed that a Conservative Government will cut the Mersey tunnel tolls for Wirral residents and small businesses. He went even further saying he felt "confident they could be abolished all together."
One of my first campaigns, more than 10 years ago, was to oppose the previous Labour Government's decision to give Merseytravel the freedom to increase the tolls through the Tunnels Act 2004 and so I am delighted that the Chancellor has agreed to help Wirral in this way. You can read more about this in the Wirral Globe here.
Conservative Candidate for Wirral West
May 8 - MORE ON ELECTION RESULT
General election: Liverpool Echo May 8 "Tunnel tolls to be cut or even scrapped if Tories stick to election vow".
Most of the attention on Merseyside has focussed on Wirral West where Esther McVey lost to Labour by around 400 votes. Given that the result was so close, what the Greens did probably clinched the seat for Labour.
The Greens had fielded candidates for all Wirral wards, without exception, and in Wirral West, the Greens got 2,376 votes for their Council candidates. It was different with the General election, the Greens did not put up a General election candidate for Wirral West, though they had for the other three Wirral constituencies.
In Wirral West, the Greens got 2,376 votes for their Council candidates. Given that the Greens had no parliamentary candidate in Wirral West, it is likely that nearly all of those 2,376 votes went to Labour in the General election. Indirectly the Greens seem to have squashed any chance of the Tunnels tolls being removed or reduced.
Our summary of Wirral election results(pdf file).
Council elections in Liverpool and the Wirral:
In Liverpool, Labour had three gains winning 29 out of the 31 seats,leaving Liverpool as almost a one party state. The Greens and the Lib Dems won one seat each. On a proportional representation basis the Tories and UKIP would have got two seats each, but they both remain with no seats on the Council: Liverpool Echo May 8 "Liverpool local election results 2015: Lib Dem leader Richard Kemp survives but Labour tightens grip on council".
On the Wirral, Labour had one gain, increasing their seats on the Council to 39 out of 66. UKIP voters continue to have no representation, though on a proportional representation basis they would have got about two seats: Wirral Globe May 8 "Labour retains majority on Wirral Council after local elections".
May 8 - ELECTION RESULT
Whether the Conservatives or Labour won nationally was not likely to make any difference to Tunnel tolls. What might have made a difference was who won the Merseyside constituencies. And the result on Merseyside was that voters returned all the sitting MPs, apart from the only one who might have done something about the tunnel tolls - Esther McVey who lost Wirral West to Labour by just over 400 votes (18,898 to 18,481).Wirral Globe May 8 "As David Cameron looks set to sweep victory, Esther Mcvey loses her seat in Wirral West" Liverpool Echo May 8 "Conservative Esther McVey loses Wirral West after bitter election battle with Labour".
It looks as if there is not a single MP on Merseyside who will take the slightest interest in the tolls, apart from possibly Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead.
We assume that George Osborne's promise about Tunnel tolls will be forgotten as there will be no one there to remind him. David Cameron's priority is likely to be giving more money and power to the Scots. In Scotland the SNP took 50 out of 59 seats. Half of those who voted did not vote for the SNP, so if there had been proportional representation the SNP would have got 20 less seats.
The situation with the planned bridge tolls at Runcorn is interesting because the Conservatives held on to the Weaver Vale constituency by just over 800 votes (20,227 to 19,421). The Conservatives also held on to the Warrington South seat. George Osborne had made a promise that all the people in Weaver Vale and Warrington would be exempt from the bridge tolls. We assume that this is a promise that will be kept: Runcorn & Widnes World May 8 "Graham Evans retains marginal Weaver Vale seat for Conservatives" Warrington Guardian May 8 "The final Election Bites view following a night of high drama".
May 7 - ELECTION DAY
Wirral Globe May 7 "LIVE: ELECTION RESULTS" Liverpool Echo May 7 "Election 2015 voting live: Liverpool goes to the polls" Wirral Globe May 7 "No clear winner as polling stations open" Liverpool Echo May 7 "General Election countdown over for Halton and key marginal battleground of Weaver Vale".
May 6 - REVOLUTION IN SCOTLAND, BUT PROBABLY LITTLE CHANGE IN ENGLAND
It is still 50:50 as to whether Labour or the Conservatives will have the most MPs after Thursday, but it seems likely that the SNP will have the balance of power: Electoral Calculus.
The SNP removed all the tolls in Scotland, as this story mentions: ITV May 6 "Labour braced for rude awakening in Scotland". There is probably no chance that the SNP will care about the English paying tolls, but who knows?
May 5 - BIT MORE ON GEORGE OSBORNE'S TOLLS PROMISE
Liverpool Echo May 5 - "General Election 2015: William Hague says Esther McVey could be future Prime Minister".
William Hague also says "People have been paying for the tunnel for a very long time, for decades now, and they never expected to be paying for it for so long.”
In fact they have been paying Tunnel tolls for over 71 years and the last five of those have been during a Tory / Lib Dem Coalition government who did not lift a finger to stop the Labour run Merseytravel from plundering the tolls to spend on whatever they liked.
Why should users of the Tunnels expect anything different after the election?
May 4 - MORE ON GEORGE OSBORNE'S LATEST PROMISE
Liverpool Echo May 4 - "General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna dismisses Conservative tunnel tolls promise as “pre-election stunt” during visit to Wirral" Liverpool Echo May 4 - "General Election 2015: George Osborne says Mersey tunnel tolls will "definitely" be cut by Tories".
May 4 - GEORGE OSBORNE REPEATS TOLLS PROMISE
Wirral Globe May 4 - "Chancellor promises to 'ease the burden' on Wirral motorists by cutting tunnel tolls" Liverpool Echo May 4 - "General Election 2015: George Osborne vows to slash tunnel tolls in whirlwind Birkenhead visit".
One thing that we are concerned about is that the Chancellor is only promising a review and "a cut" but on the 23rd April he said that he would remove the tolls.
Most people will naturally think that any promise is a sign of Conservative desperation. If only Labour were as equally desperate as they have promised nothing. Labour have obviously forgotten that in May 2007 the SNP beat Labour into power in Scotland by just one seat after the SNP promised that they would remove all of Scotland's tolls. Since 2007 the SNP seem to have almost completely replaced Labour as the party that Scots believe will be best for them.
May 4 - TOLLS AN ISSUE IN WALES
BBC May 4 - "Election 2015: Bridge tolls a 'cash cow', say Lib Dems" Wales Online May 4 - "General Election 2015: Only the Lib Dems will scrap the Severn Crossing tolls and remove this barrier to business, says Jenny Willott".
We are pleased that the Lib Dems want to remove the tolls on the crossing into Wales, but what about the Mersey Tunnels? The Tunnel tolls have been a burden for far longer than on the Severn Crossing, but the Lib Dems not only failed to help remove them, they were nearly 100% behind Merseytravel's plan to turn the Tunnels into a 'cash cow'. Every single Lib Dem MP who voted in the Commons on the Mersey Tunnels Act in 2004
voted for this licensed theft. And in the Lords there was only one Lib Dem peer who voted against it; he was Welsh - Lord Thomas of Gresford.
May 3 - ELECTION BRIEFING
Our summary of the position of the parties and the possible election results on Merseyside
May 2 - TUSSLE ON THE WIRRAL
On Thursday there was a Roger Phillips show from West Wirral
This is the part where the question of tolls was raised (audio)
You will notice that the Labour candidate does not give any view of the tolls. Instead she refers to a letter in which she says the Coalition Government refused to take the Tunnels "out of payment", this is misleading as you will see if you look at our story on 24th April 'Merseytravel Have a Laugh', which includes links to the letters.
The Lib Dem candidate says that he wants the Tunnels to be free, but he was a Wirral Lib Dem Councillor, while his party and Labour consistently voted down any motions that supported the users of the Tunnels.
The UKIP candidate joins in the attack on the Conservative candidate and calls her a 'Johnny come lately'. The MTUA is aware that the Conservative candidate has been raising the issue of Tunnel tolls for a long time.
May 2 - THE ELECTIONS on 7th MAY
Our summary of the position of the parties and the possible election results on Merseyside
May 2 - UKIP DEPUTY LEADER ATTACKS TUNNEL TOLLS
Paul Nuttall who is from Merseyside spoke today at a public meeting on the Wirral. The Echo concentrated on claims of racism: Liverppol Echo May 2 - "General Election 2015: UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall vows party will ruthlessly deal with those who step out of line"
You would not know from what the Echo printed that it was the issue of tolls that were highlighted by Paul Nuttall. He said that the Tunnels had been paid for "time and time again" with the debt paid off years ago. He said that not only did tolls hamper and impede business on the Wirral, but that they were "also bad for Liverpool".
May 1 - PLEA FOR CLARITY AND ACTION ON TOLLS POLICIES
Wirral Globe May 1 - "Clear as mud: Anti-tunnel toll campaigners blast politicians' promises".
May 1 - 'FAST' WORK BY MERSEYTRAVEL
This is a story from 4 weeks ago that we did not cover at the time - Wirral Globe 27 Mar - "Fast Tag only lane to open at Birkenhead Tunnel to help ease commuter queues" Liverpool Echo 26 Mar - "Fast Tag Only lanes trial to be extended to Birkenhead tunnel".
These stories seem to be mainly from the Merseytravel PR team. The reality is that this is not a 'trial' and that Merseytravel have ignored the wishes of users and ignored safety considerations as we set out in a letter to the Echo (see story below on February 10). The only reason that the Fast Tag only lane is faster is because the other lanes will be slower.
Merseytravel have created a two class system, not surprising for a body that for so long has been linked with the establishment.
May 1 - BATTLE IN WEST WIRRAL
Wirral Globe Apr 30 - "Tunnel tolls spark row between Wirral West front-runners" Liverpool Echo Apr 30 at 20.13 - "General Election 2015: Esther McVey accused of being 'economical with statistics' and four other things we learned on the campaign trail today" Liverpool Echo Apr 30 at 15.18 - "General Election 2015: Front-runners clash over tunnel tolls in Wirral West hustings".
April 29 - POT CALLS THE KETTLE BLACK
BBC Apr 22 - "Road tolls: Paying more to use our A roads".
Many Tories are pro tolls, but for the Lib Dems to accuse the Tories is laughable.
When the Commons passed the infamous Tunnels Act in October 2003 (it then went to the Lords), every one of the 33 Lib Dem MPs who voted were in favour of Merseyside drivers becoming a cash cow for Merseytravel. And one of those Lib Dems voting for the Tunnels Act was the same Norman Baker who is now weeping crocodile tears about tolls.
April 29 - ED REPEATS LABOUR 'PROMISE'
"Labour leader Ed Miliband writes for the Globe" Apr 29.
The Labour leader tells the Globe that "It is extraordinary that the Tories have had five years in government and 19 days before an election they suddenly promise a ‘review’ of tunnel tolls. A review that was already happening under Labour."
He is correct that it is extraordinary, though most people think that it was also extraordinary when having used the users of the Tunnels as a cash cow for over ten years, the Labour run Merseytravel decided to have a 'review' and Joe Anderson said "I think that all the profits that are made from the Tunnels should go into driving down the Tunnel tolls". That was back in February and as far as we can tell this review has disappeared into the mist. We have asked Merseytravel who is carrying out this review and when they have met. So far we have had no answer. Neither have the Tunnel Users had any response to messages that we have sent to the Liverpool Mayor and the Leader of Wirral Council.
April 27 - SIGNS THAT THE LABOUR REVIEW OF TUNNEL TOLLS WILL NOT CHANGE ANYTHING
On March 16 following a tip from Wirral blogger, John Brace we reported on a question about tolls that was to be put to the Wirral Council Leader by the leader of the Wirral Lib Dems.
The question implied that the Lib Dems were alarmed that Merseytravel might no longer be allowed to plunder the users of the tunnels.
You can see the question and answer here: You Tube - "Council 16th March 2015 Wirral Council Part 1".
The review was announced on 13 February and was supposed to be about stopping Merseytravel from profiting from the tolls. But the Wirral Council Leader who in February seconded this proposal now says that the review is not only about tolls but is about Tunnels debt. He also says that the terms of reference for the review and the final report will take account of the Lib Dem concerns. This seems to mean that the plunder is to continue.
The Council Leader also says that "the terms of reference are still being finalised". As this was a month after the decision to have the review, this is a sign that Merseytravel have managed to run the review into a siding and that they will continue to get their profits for many years to come.
April 26 - MORE ABOUT TOLLS REVIEW BY GEORGE OSBORNE
The latest election leaflet in Wirral West repeats the Tory statement that they will 'review' the tolls.
There are one or two inaccuracies in the leaflet, including the statement that Merseytravel profits from the Tunnels are "projected to rise this year from £7.7m to £9.7m". In fact the profit that Merseytravel are expecting from the tolls this year is £15.9 million.
But we are mainly puzzled why the leaflet does not make it clear what the aim of the review is.
Last Thursday the Chancellor was interviewed by Phil McCann, the BBC's political correspondent for Cheshire. The Chancellor spoke about residents not paying tolls at Halton and continued: "I am confident we will be able to create a similar scheme for residents on the Wirral so that they don't have to pay the tolls."
Audio extract from the interview
April 26 - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
In March, Birmingham's main newspaper asked its readers what they wanted. The number one demand was an end to the M6 tolls - Birmingham Mail Mar 30 - "General Election 2015: Manifesto for Birmingham - full survey results".
The Mail's sister paper in Liverpool has had no such survey, which probably suits the majority of candidates who want the issue ignored so that their friends in Merseytravel can continue to rake in profits from drivers.
April 25 - DEBATE IN WIRRAL WEST
Liverpool Echo Apr 24 - "General Election 2015: Esther McVey and Margaret Greenwood set to meet head to head in debate ".
The 'promises' about the tolls from the Tory candidate may be too little and far too late, but she has at least made the tolls an issue at this election. UKIP have also been opposing the tolls, but their voice is not heard.
The Labour candidate has said almost nothing about the tolls, unlike the last Labour MP for Wirral West, Stephen Hesford, who opposed Merseytravel making a profit from the Tunnels.
April 24 - DÉJÀ VU
There are reports that George Osborne has said that people who live in West Cheshire or Warrington won't have to pay the new tolls to cross the river at Runcorn - Liverpool Echo Apr 23 - "George Osborne pledges to scrap Halton bridge tolls for Warrington and Cheshire West residents" Runcorn & Widnes World Apr 23 - "Chancellor renews pledge for free tolls for Halton residents but says businesses must pay" Warrington Guardian Apr 24 - "Chancellor announces intention to remove tolls on Mersey crossings for Warrington drivers" with comments.
Oddly, the Tory candidate for Weaver Vale revealed most of this on his website a week ago "Graham Evans Secures Review of Tolls On Mersey Gateway & Silver Jubilee Bridge".
The later version of the story seems to be based on what was told to BBC reporter, Phil McCann Audioboom - "George Osborne bridge tolls interview". The Tunnel tolls are also mentioned in the interview.
April 24 - MERSEYTRAVEL HAVE A LAUGH
Liverpool Echo Apr 23 - "General Election 2015: Labour accuse Tories of 'empty promise' on tunnel tolls".
The letters which have just emerged were the result of a stunt that they pulled in February 2013 at the same time as they were again putting the tolls up.
There were the usual laughable Merseytravel claims that since time immemorial they had been asking for Government help and it had been refused.
We asked Merseytravel to prove this and they could not. All they could produce was a letter that was as feeble a request as you could imagine and a reply from a civil servant, who obliged Merseytravel by giving them the answer that they wanted.
Here is Merseytravel's letter and the 'Government' reply, so you can judge for yourself how hard Merseytravel were trying.
April 24 - LETTERS IN THE GLOBE ABOUT THE REMOVAL OF THE TUNNELS NIGHT BUSES
Globe Apr 24 - "Was axing of cross-river night bus 'getting back' at people living in Wirral?" Globe Apr 15 - "Night bus future: It should all be about voters".
April 21 - TORIES STILL TALKING ABOUT A TOLLS 'REVIEW'
Liverpool Echo Apr 21 - "Tory chairman backs Esther McVey and believes party could win two seats on Merseyside".
April 21 - WHAT THE MANIFESTOS SAY
There is actually nothing about tolls in the Conservative party 2015 manifesto, though you may notice that Esther McVey is on the cover.
There is also nothing about any tolls in the Labour party 2015 manifesto, even though some of their candidates have made promises about a 'review' of the planned tolls on the bridges at Runcorn. Labour do however promise to "promote cycling", so perhaps they will turn one of the Tunnels over to the cyclists!
In the Lib Dem 2015 manifesto, there is a promise that "to help create jobs and boost growth in Wales, we will abolish the economically distorting tolls on the Severn Bridge once
the debts are paid off." As the debt is almost paid off this would mean that the tolls for entering South Wales would go within a year or so. There is nothing about any other tolls.
In the UKIP 2015 manifesto, they say "We will remove road tolls where possible and let existing contracts on running road tolls expire. Motorists are already taxed highly enough through fuel and vehicle taxes." It is not clear what this means, but UKIP are campaigning on the basis that it means removing tolls such as those on the Mersey Tunnels.
In the Green Party 2015 manifesto, they say that they will "Introduce road-pricing schemes such as the London congestion charge and road-user tolls for heavy lorries." In fact tolls for HGVs were introduced in April last year, though it is called a 'road user levy'. The promise of more 'congestion charge' schemes will probably only appeal to masochists.
South of the 'border' you can not vote for them, but in the SNP 2015 manifesto, they remind voters in Scotland that "the SNP Scottish Government has taken forward policies designed to support households through the recession. For example, we have frozen the Council Tax, removed prescription charges and road tolls, increased free nursery provision, provided free school meals in the early years of primary school and reintroduced free university education."
Back to top
April 20 - MORE ON TORY 'PROMISE'
Liverpool Echo Apr 20 - "Axing Mersey tunnel toll for Wirral drivers could cost as much as £14m".
We posted an online comment to the story which points out that though Merseytravel say that a concession for Wirral drivers would cost between £11 million and £14 million. What Merseytravel don't say is that they expect to make £16 million in profits this year.
April 20 - TOLLS AND THE MAY ELECTIONS
Well done to Esther McVey for raising the Tunnel tolls as an issue for this election. The MTUA would however question why her Government failed to do anything over the last five years and why the Conservatives did not mention tolls in their 2015 election manifesto.
Labour have referred to the review of tolls that the Labour run Liverpool City region promised in February. This review was proposed in a motion moved by the Mayor of Liverpool and seconded by the Leader of Wirral Council. At the time we welcomed this, but it seems that the review of the tolls is being carried out by Merseytravel. No prizes for guessing what they will say.
The Lib Dems have kept quiet about the Tunnel tolls (though their election manifesto says that they would abolish the tolls payable on the Severn crossing into Wales). It is clear to the MTUA that though the Lib Dems don't want the Welsh to pay tolls, they have no intention of supporting any move to remove or reduce Tunnels tolls.
The only party that has said that they would remove all tolls is UKIP. Their manifesto says -
ENDING ROAD TOLLS
"We will remove road tolls where possible and let existing contracts on running road tolls expire. Motorists are already taxed highly enough through fuel and vehicle taxes."
Unfortunately though UKIP are most likely to come third in the popular vote, they will possibly not have a single MP.
So it seems that all that users of the Tunnels can expect from parties that are likely to form the next Government is vague promises that will never materialise and that Merseytravel will carry on skimming the tolls as now.
The joker in the pack is the SNP who are expected to be third biggest party in the Commons after the election and whose support will be needed by the next Government. The SNP removed all the tolls in Scotland six years ago, but it is unlikely that they will care about removal of tolls in England.
April 19 - ANOTHER LABOUR 'PROMISE'
Ed Milliband tells the Globe that a review of Tunnel tolls "is already happening" - Wirral Globe Apr 18 - "ELECTION 2015: Ed Miliband speaks to the Globe as Labour campaign stops off in Wirral".
This 'review' is in the hands of Merseytravel who treat the users of the Tunnels as nothing more than easy pickings. A review by them is like asking the burglars to decide how much of their loot they should keep.
April 19 - TORY 'PROMISE'
It is said that following pressure from Esther McVey, the Tory candidate for Wirral West, George Osborne is to announce a review into lifting Tunnel tolls for Wirral residents and possibly increasing the numbers that are included in the exception that he has already announced for tolls at Runcorn - Liverpool Echo Apr 17 - "Wirral residents could be exempt from tunnel tolls under Tory review" Liverpool Echo Apr 17 - "Wirral tunnel toll review not dependent on Merseyside success" Liverpool Echo Apr 17 - "Wirral tunnel tolls could be axed and four other things we learned today on the campaign trail".
Labour says that this is a "desperate stunt" - Wirral Globe Apr 17 - "Will Chancellor's review see Mersey Tunnel tolls axed for Wirral drivers?" (this appeared in the Globe print edition on 22nd as "Tories pledge to review tunnel toll" Liverpool Echo Apr 17 - "Tory plans to make Mersey Tunnels free for Wirral residents labelled a pre-election ‘stunt’ by Labour".
It may well be 'desperate' but Esther has been campaigning against the tolls for over ten years. The pity is that during the last five years when her party was in power they did nothing to stop Merseytravel from treating the Tunnels as their personal money making machine.
Our view in the Liverpool Echo on Apr 17 - "General Election 2015: Why shouldn't everyone on Merseyside benefit from possible tunnel toll axe?".
April 19 - WHY?
A letter in the Wirral Globe on the 8th asked - "Why are we still paying for the Mersey tunnels?".
The short answer is that we are still paying because we have been ripped off and the public misled by politicians over many years, but particularly since Merseytravel took over.
April 18 - AN "ANNOUNCEMENT"
At their meeting yesterday the City Region resolved that -
A Member of the Combined Authority requested that on behalf of the
Authority the Chairperson write a letter to the Government indicating that their recent
announcement relating to the abolishment of Mersey Tunnels tolls was not appropriate."
It is not clear what annoyed the Region as there is no trace of any 'Government' announcement. It would be very surprising if there had been one as the Purdah rules prevent both local and central government from making announcements about any new or controversial government initiatives which could be seen to be advantageous to any candidates or parties in the forthcoming election. For the May elections, Purdah began on the 30 March.
April 11 - EXPECT CHAOS on 18th and 19th
M53 is to be closed between junctions 1 (Bidston) and 3 (Woodchurch) - Highways England Apr 10 - "Weekend motorway closure for M53 bridge project".
March 30 - UKIP HOLD NATIONAL ANTI TOLL PROTEST
ON the 24th UKIP had protests at various locations including the Mersey Tunnels - Globe Mar 24 - "UKIP campaign against 'stealth tax' on Wirral's motorists" Liverpool Echo Mar 24 - "UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall joins protest against Mersey tunnel tolls at Wallasey" lot of comments.
March 21 - BUS OPERATORS RULE?
On 14 March we reported on our meeting of the 11th March with Merseytravel. One question that we had meant to raise with them was what had happened with a request that we first raised in October 2013. We had asked about some bus-stops, in particular the one just before the access to the Wallasey Tunnel going along Scotland Road from the city centre. We had asked: 'Can either these stops be relocated or something else be done to improve this approach, possibly by using some of the space which is presently grass or otherwise not used.'
18 months later and we have just had an answer:
"A discussion has taken place with bus operators with a view to these changes, who have informally advised that any installation of a layby at this location will result in significant delays for the bus operations and as a result they would not support such. Bus Operators have indicated that if a layby was installed, then they would simply stop using the bus stop for drop off or collection. Due to the impact on our bus operations we felt the installation of a layby is not something that we intend to pursue at this stage."
It seems that what the bus operators say is more important than the main lane going from the city centre to the Wallasey Tunnel being blocked if a bus is at the stop. We have asked Merseytravel who these 'bus operators' are.
March 19 - BUDGET: SEVERN CROSSING TOLLS TO BE REDUCED
Yesterday in his Budget speech the Chancellor said "The Severn crossings are a vital link for Wales. I can tell the House we will reduce the toll rates from 2018, and abolish the higher band for small vans and buses. It is a boost for the drivers of white vans—let me reassure the deputy leader of the Labour party that it will apply to pink vans, too."
Wirral Globe Mar 18 - "Budget promises tolls cuts for the Severn Bridge - but not for Mersey Tunnels".
The MTUA told the Globe "If the Chancellor is reducing the Severn Bridge tolls in 2018, as he claims that he is, then why on Merseyside are we faced with the situation of ever-increasing tolls?"
In fact the Chancellor was acting no better than a card sharp trying to deceive what he hoped was a gullible public who did not know the real situation.
The Act that authorised the construction of the Second Severn Crossing stated that the tolls should be removed when a certain amount had been collected by the concessionaire. That point would have been reached by now and the tolls should already have been removed. But from 2003, following a European ruling on privately operated tolls, the Labour Government decided that part of the Severn Crossing toll was to be treated as VAT and kept by them. This VAT charge reduced the net amount that the Concessionaire received each year, and had the effect of putting the date that tolls should be removed back to about 2018.
So the Chancellor was not announcing a tolls reduction. In effect he was really saying that though the tolls should be stopping in 2018, they would continue, albeit at a slightly reduced rate. The Chancellor is no better than the Merseytravel pirates who profit from the Mersey Tunnels.
The Globe has the Labour MP for Wirral South criticising the Chancellor. What she does not say is that she is a supporter of Merseytravel and after last year's toll rise, she said in the Wirral News that Tunnel tolls were a "cheap" way to cross the river!
March 19 - "Scrap the Mersey tunnel tolls"
Wirral Globe Mar 18 - Letter.
March 19 - MPs IGNORE OPPOSITION TO TOLLS AND CALL FOR A BIGGER STICK TO BEAT THOSE WHO DON'T PAY
On the 17th the Transport Committee of MPs (from all the main parties) published a report on 'Strategic River Crossings' - Parliament page which includes link to the report.
They had called for evidence which included the question of whether river crossings should be tolled.
But in its report the committee completely ignored the evidence against tolling. Instead the committee want new crossings to be provided by the private sector and to be tolled. The committee is also calling for stronger measures against drivers who fail to pay at crossings where there are no barriers, such as at Dartford.
National Alliance Against Tolls evidence to the Committee.
Supplementary evidence from National Alliance Against Tolls after it became clear that the Committee were ignoring opponents of tolls.
March 19 - BREAKDOWN
Liverpool Echo Mar 17 - "Mersey tunnel problems as broken down vehicle causes delays".
March 16 - RECAP ON THE (NO) TOLL INCREASE
Collection of stories to do with the 2015 tolls increase.
March 16 - TORY PARTY DOES NOT EQUAL MTUA - In her latest newspaper which is delivered to 55,000 people in West Wirral, Esther McVey MP seems to be claiming a large slice of the credit for the recent u-turn on tolls and toll rises. She also fails to mention the MTUA, though she has a picture of a MTUA demonstration where she showed her support.
It would be great if the Tories were doing something about the tolls, but the reality is that after five years in Government they have done nothing about the Tunnels tolls, instead they endorsed the Labour plan to toll the bridges across the Mersey at Runcorn.
Esther says that she wants "a permanent discount to be given to regular tunnel users, most of whom are from the Wirral". She should know that there is no chance of that.
Her own Government submitted evidence last October to the Transport Committee of MPs at Westminster who were looking at 'Strategic River Crossings'. The evidence said:
"Residents of Halton Borough are in an unusual position in that the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge connects the two parts of the Borough on either side of the River Mersey which is the only practicable way of travelling between the two parts of the Borough. In those circumstances the Government was able to make an exceptional additional contribution to secure free crossings for Halton residents, but has no plans to extend this further.".
The residents of Wirral and Liverpool are just as much cut off by tolls as residents of Runcorn and Widnes would have been if the Government had not agreed that they should not have to pay tolls. If The Tory / Lib Dem government can not see that now, they will still not see it after the May elections.
March 16 - WIRRAL LIB DEM COUNCILLOR ASKS ODD QUESTION
Hat tip to Wirral blogger, John Brace who has pointed out this question from Lib Dem Wirral Councillor P Gilchrist. The question is due to be put to the Wirral Council Leader at the Council's meeting tonight (16th March):
The Leader’s Portfolio report states,
“At its meeting on 13th February, the Combined Authority considered proposals for setting the Mersey Tunnel tolls for 2015/16. Following a discussion, the Authority agreed that both the Cash Toll and the Fast Tag Toll for 2015/16 should be frozen at the 2014/15 levels. The CA also proposed to review the whole arrangements in relation to Tunnel Costs and Tolls, particularly in light of the current devolution agenda.
A Task Group, to include myself as Chair of the Combined Authority, and representatives of both the Merseytravel Committee and the Combined Authority, is looking at the issues and will report back in the coming months.”
Can the leader advise:
(a) Is this work looking into how the Tunnels surplus has been used in recent years?
(b) If and how the Mersey Ferry operations have been supported out of this surplus?
(c) The status of any understanding that surpluses have been spent on transportation schemes of mutual benefit,
If so, might these be drawn together and the projects listed for the information of Members.
It is not clear from the way that the question is phrased whether the councillor is opposed to the rip-off of Tunnels users or whether he wants it to continue, but it seems likely that the councillor, and presumably the other Lib Dems, want the plunder to go on.
March 16 - OFFICIAL VERSION OF COMBINED AUTHORITY MEETING ON 13th FEBRUARY
This was our version of part of what was said at the meeting
This is what the official version says about the discussion and decision on tolls -
The Authority considered a report of the Treasurer regarding the schedule of Mersey Tunnel tolls for 2015/16 which the Merseytravel Committee had considered at its meeting on 12 February 2015.
It was reported that the calculation of the Mersey Tunnel tolls were determined by the County of Merseyside Act 1980, as amended by the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004, with reference to a formula that linked them to movements in the retail price index. This sought to ensure that the value of tolls maintained the same relative value over time as other forms of river crossing using public transport.
In this respect, a recommendation from the Merseytravel Committee was tabled which advised that the level of “Authorised” tolls were set automatically by the rate of inflation each year, using November 1999 as the base year, and “Actual” tolls were then determined by considering matters of a n economic or social nature. Given the fact that, although there had been some growth, this was not uniform or strong across the City Region, and taking into account the effect of the tolls on the local economy, the Merseytravel Committee had recommended a freeze of both the Cash Toll and the Fast Tag Toll for 2015/16 at the 2014/15 levels.
Mayor J Anderson OBE, seconded by Councillor P Davies, then moved the
“The Combined Authority (CA) calls on:
The Chair of the CA to set up a task group to consider options open to the CA to reduce costs of tunnel tolls and its impact on infrastructure and transportation;
The Head of Paid Service of the CA to produce a report for discussion to
inform the setting of tunnel tolls for 2016/17;
The CA to press for a review of the Mersey Tunnel Act in any on-going devolution negotiations.”
In moving the motion, the Mayor highlighted the discrepancy in investment in
respect of the South of England compared to the North. In particular, he referenced
the fact that the tolls were being used to invest in infrastructure rather than driving
down the cost of the tolls and eradicating the debt. He considered that the Combined
Authority should be able to renegotiate the Tunnel Act and requested that a Task
Group, to include the Chairman of the Combined Authority and representatives of
both the Merseytravel Committee and the Combined Authority, be set up to look at
In seconding the motion, the Chairman welcomed the proposal to freeze the tolls and agreed that it was timely to review the whole arrangements in this respect, particularly in light of the current devolution agenda.
(i) the recommendation of the Merseytravel Committee that the level of
Mersey Tunnel Tolls for 2015/16 be the same as the existing tolls
charged for 2014/15, as set out below, be agreed:-
(ii) a task group be set up to consider options open to the Combined
Authority to reduce the costs of tunnel tolls and its impact on
infrastructure and transportation.
(iii) the Head of Paid Service of the Combined Authority produce a report
for discussion to inform the setting of tunnel tolls for 2016/17; and
(iv) the Combined Authority press for a review of the Mersey Tunnel Act in
any on-going devolution negotiations.
(NB In accordance with the Authority’s Constitution, Mr R Hough took no
part in the above vote. In addition, Councillor R Polhill requested that it
be recorded that he abstained from the vote as the Borough of Halton does not form part of the legislative arrangements in respect of the Mersey Tunnels Act.)
Full minutes on Knowsley site - LCRCA minutes for 13 Feb 2015.
March 14 - MEETING WITH MERSEYTRAVEL
On Wednesday 11th, two members of the MTUA committee met with the Merseytravel Committee chairman and an officer. This was the fourth meeting that we have had over last two years. We put various suggestions - they were all rejected -
Points that were raised at 11th March meeting and the Merseytravel response pdf version of the note. Following the meeting we have asked Merseytravel for more information on some of the points.
March 14 - M58 JUNCTION CLOSED
The junction of the M58 and M6 - SOUTHBOUND -is closed from 10pm on Friday 13 March until 5am on Monday 16 March Highways Agency Mar 11 - "M6 junction to close for weekend as £4.1 million project nears completion".
March 6 - 'Tolls causing tunnel vision'
Wirral Globe letter Mar 4.
March 6 - WHAT A LOT WE GOT, BUT WHERE FROM?
John Brace blog Mar 3 - "Labour run Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has £166,120,000 invested in banks despite Labour councillor comparing bankers to “train robbers”".
The 64,000 dollar question is not about where the Authority are parking their cash, it is where did it come from?
About the only thing that the authority are responsible for at the moment is Merseytravel, so this 200 million pounds seems to be what Merseytravel have taken from the Council levy, government grants and Tunnels tolls and salted away. Why?
And how has this built up? It can't have fallen into their laps overnight.
It is even more extraordinary as Merseytravel have wasted many millions - on the trams fiasco alone, they spent 70 million pounds.
February 26 - REMINDER: PART OF THE M56 CLOSED FOR WEEKEND 10 PM FRIDAY 27 FEB to 5 AM MONDAY 2 MAR
Feb 24 - "M56 closed this weekend at Manchester Airport for bridge work".
February 26 - TRANSCRIPT OF PART OF FRIDAY 13TH MEETING OF THE COMBINED AUTHORITY
On the day of the meeting we have a report which started “as is usual at meetings in the new luxury HQ, it was very difficult for the public and press to hear what the members were saying. The only person who can be clearly heard is the chairman; at the start of the meeting he asked members to speak close to the microphones, but he was ignored. Anyway this is the gist of what we were able to see and hear."
What follows is a more detailed account having listened carefully to the videos made by Wirral blogger John Brace Liverpool City Region Combined Authority agree to no rise in Mersey Tunnel tolls for 2015/16 and You Tube - The official video of Knowsley Council
At about 1 hour 2 minutes into the meeting, the Authority chairman invites the Merseytravel Committee chairman to speak
The Merseytravel chairman says that despite what the report before the Authority said, the Merseytravel Committee that had met the day before was recommending a freeze on all tolls. He continued:
“The rationale is quite straightforward. Under the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004 we have discretion to take on board economic and social factors, and we acknowledge that whilst, there is some growth in the local economy; welcome that is, we are mindful of the fact that is not uniform and strong across the city region.
So because of that we acknowledge that Tunnels tolls are part of transport costs which do have an effect on the local economy, and we are proposing that freeze. As part of that we acknowledge and we hope that transport operators will reflect on this, particularly large companies, Arriva and Stagecoach act accordingly. We call on them to at least freeze their fares that they charge, or much better bring back some more cost effective, and value for money options.
But specifically with regard to the tunnel tolls 2015/16 the Merseytravel Committee is recommending to the Combined Authority a freeze on all tolls for the next financial year.”
The Authority chairman then invites Joe Anderson, the Liverpool Mayor to speak to a motion.
Joe Anderson reads out his motion, which was slightly different from the printed version - The Chair of the Combined Authority set up a task group to consider the options open to the Combined Authority to reduce costs of tunnel tolls, and its impact on infrastructure and transportation,
The Head of Paid Service of the Combined Authority to produce a report for discussion to inform the setting of tunnel tolls for 2016/2017, and beyond,
The Combined Authority to press for a review of the Mersey Tunnel Act in any on-going devolution implication negotiations.
”I think, Chair just asking the members to support this, I think it is absolutely right that we look at the Tunnels and we argue as we have done, you I and each and every local authority member here for the discrepancy between investment in transport infrastructure in the South of this country compared to the North. And for me I think it's something that we have to actually force home, how we believe that the tolls that we have been paying, people have been paying Tunnel tolls for decades now and we still have not been able to eradicate the debt.
There are two issues.
One for me is that we need to address, as a Combined Authority, how we take money from the tolls and invest that in infrastructure. I think that's fundamentally wrong.
I think that all the profits that are made from the Tunnels should go into driving down the Tunnel tolls costs. So I am asking for a review of that by this Combined Authority.
And also plus to take into the heart of the negotiations with Government on further devolution, how we can remove the Tunnel Act itself, or renegotiate the Tunnel Act.
We all accept that there has to be investment in terms of being able to maintaining and keeping operating, and also the staffing costs. So a renegotiation of the Act, or an ability for us to change the Act, is what we should be aiming for. So that is all it's calling for. A task group to be set up, including the chair of Merseytravel itself and the Chief Executive of Merseytravel and the Combined Authority members to look at ways forward...”
One other item that was not previously clear is what the Authority were doing about the £1.1 million that they won't get as they cancelled Merseytravel's planned tolls increase. At about 1 hour 14 minutes into the meeting, The Treasurer to Merseytravel and the Combined Authority mentions this and says "An adjustment to the Budget .. will see a reduction in Tunnels income of £1.1 million, with a corresponding adjustment to the amounts transferred to our reserves for capital financing investment. It does not have any effect on the levy”.
It is not clear which reserves they mean.
February 26 - WONDERING
Letter in Globe Feb 25 - "Council tax and tolls - will they, won't they be raised?"
February 21 - LETTER THAT WE SENT TO HALTON COUNCILLORS
This letter was sent to Halton councillors on the 20th. It raises Halton Council's involvement with the Mersey Tunnels tolls, and asks whether councillors were aware that the traffic will plummet once there are tolls on the bridges with their "KEEP AWAY FROM HALTON" signs.
February 21 - LETTER THAT WE SENT TO COUNCILLORS AFTER THE NO TOLL RISE MEETING
This is - what we have sent to the councillors on Monday 16th after the decision to review the tolls setting and the profit taking.
February 19 - LETTER IN THE ECHO
A letter from MTUA was published by the Liverpool Echo on Wednesday 18th:
"Following Merseytravel's recommendation that all Tunnel tolls be frozen for this year, the Echo commented "Well done to the Merseytravel committee, for listening and acting accordingly regarding tunnel tolls.
"This praise is not deserved. It is clear that Merseytravel wanted to put the tolls up. They only did a U-turn when they heard that Joe Anderson, the Liverpool Mayor, and the other Council leaders would overrule them."
With the Combined Authority now in charge there now seems to be some 'light at the end of the tunnel' and there is the prospect of lower rather than higher tolls. But I fear that we may never see an improvement as Merseytravel has become dependent upon the profits that they make from users of the Tunnels."
"Even though there will be no toll increase in this election year, Merseytravel will make 15 million pounds profit from the Tunnels. How are the Combined Authority going to wean them off that?"
February 19 - ANOTHER PLUG FOR MERSEYTRAVEL
More from the Ministry of Truth - Globe Feb 19 - "Mersey Tunnels tour is a 'Hidden Gem'" Liverpool Echo Feb 19 - "Mersey tunnel tour given 'Hidden Gem' accolade by Visit England".
Merseytravel say that it is a "not-for-profit tour". This will be for two reasons: the first is that the word 'profit' does not appear in the Merseytravel Newspeak dictionary. The second is that the loot that they take from the Tunnels could pay for these tours thousands of times over.
February 18 - TORY REACTION TO LAST WEEK'S EVENTS
Wirral News Feb 18 - "MPs column 18/02/15: Esther McVey ".
The MPs column has disapeared from what is now the Echo site, but this is how the column started -"I'm pleased Merseytravel has done a u-turn and not increased tunnel tolls. Mersey Tunnel Tolls have a massive disproportionate effect on the people of Wirral and of course on businesses both small and large. The Tunnels Act, brought in by Labour in 2004...".
February 16 - TALKING TO ROGER - Today one of the MTUA committee rang in to
the Roger Phillips Show (The full programme is available here on the BBC iplayer till about 14 Mar 2015) to talk about what happened last week.
This is a sound clip of what was said - 7 mins.
February 13 - DÉJÀ VU
2004 Nov 22 - "Pressure grows for tunnel tolls cut ".
February 13 - PART OF THE M56 CLOSED FOR WEEKEND 27 FEB to 2 MAR
The Highways Agency are replacing bridge - Feb 13 - "Drivers heading for Manchester Airport reminded of M56 closure".
If they can do this in a weekend, then why is is taking 4 months to replace a slip road in the M53 at the Upton Moreton spur?.
February 13 - 'AXE TUNNEL TOLLS' LETTER FROM UKIP
This letter from Philip Griffiths, UKIP North West President was published by the Liverpool Echo on Friday:
"So there are dedicated fast tag lanes at the Wallasey tunnel to speed up traffic flow. I have a much better idea - do away with the tolls.
That would ease congestion assist struggling small businesses and please commuters.
Motorists are fed up with this highway robbery and being treated as cash cows. It has always been thought by the public that one fine day the debt for the tunnels would be paid off. The most recent figures show a staggering £10m profit and Merseytravel uses the money dropped in the baskets every year for whatever it fancies.
The two tunnels should be regarded as an integral part of the national road system and be toll free and not facing yet another price hike. It is an unfair tax which hits local motorists particularly hard."
February 13 - MORE ON 'THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL'
BBC Feb 13 - "Mersey tunnels toll pricing task force to be set up".
Merseytravel told the BBC that "The tunnels were built as a joint venture by local authorities and as such their upkeep and maintenance remains outside of the national highway network." The local authorities built a lot of things, but that does not stop the Government giving them money. The fact is that whether you get help depends on how hard the politicians push the Government. In the case of Merseytravel all they have pushed the Government for in the last 20 years is for an easy way of putting up the tolls and to then let them spend it as they like.
They also told the BBC - "However, there is the benefit that the money raised locally through the tolls is spent locally, unlike road tax and general taxation which goes into a central pot." This is just crazy, we want money from the central pot that all drivers have contributed to. It is not a 'benefit' that Merseytravel does what they like with toll users money.
There was another example of Merseytravel's' philosophy today. They sent out a message to all their 'Fast' Tag customers extolling the benefits of being tagged and saying "the more you travel, the more you save". Drivers who follow this advice will soon find, that all the money in their account ends up in Merseytravel's.
February 13 - WATCH MERSEYTRAVEL DISCUSSING THE TOLLS ON THURSDAY
Below is a short video of the tolls part of Thursday's meeting that was made by Wirral blogger John Brace.
You Tube - "Merseytravel Committee 12th February 2015".
February 13 MTUA REACTION TO TODAY'S DEVELOPMENTS
Today's statements that imply that tolls will in future be gong down rather than up came out of the blue. There is the possibility that these are insincere statements made with both eyes on the elections in May. But until it is proved wrong, we will take them at their word.
After the meeting we gave various verbal statements, but this is what was in our written release after the meeting -
"Users of the Tunnels will be pleased that it has been confirmed that we don't face a toll increase for what would have been the third year in a row. But our aim since the MTUA was formed in 2003 is that there should be no tolls at all.
We were very pleasantly surprised at today's decision to look again at the whole question of Tunnels financing and the level of tolls.
We will continue to campaign for the tolls to be scrapped with the Tunnels being financed from the 50 billion pounds a year that the Government takes from roads users. This may take a long time to achieve and in the meantime we will press the Combined Authority to review the situation where, even though this latest increase has been abandoned, Merseytravel will still take over 15 million pounds in profits from users of the Tunnels. We think that this toll tax is unfair, divides families and harms the economy of the city region. We will be asking the Authority to either bring in a substantial tolls reduction or to look at some of the MTUA proposals that Merseytravel have rejected in the past, such as no tolls at weekends.
As well as the continuing Tunnels tolls we are also unhappy about Halton's plan to privatise the Runcorn crossing and toll the old and new bridges from 2017. The Mersey tolls barrier will then extend all the way to Warrington. Last April, Halton joined forces with Merseytravel, so we are considering launching a petition calling for both tolls to be scrapped."
February 13 - MORE ON TODAY'S MEETING OF THE COMBINED AUTHORITY
The meeting started at 11 a.m. and as is usual at meetings in the new luxury HQ, it was very difficult for the public and press to hear what the members were saying. The only person who can be clearly heard is the chairman; at the start of the meeting he asked members to speak close to the microphones, but he was ignored. Anyway this is the gist of what we were able to see and hear.
The meeting started with an hour of verbal reports on 'Transport for the North', 'City Region Growth Plan' and 'City Region Innovation Plan'. The impression given to an outsider is that they may be generating paper rather than creating jobs that would not have sprung up anyway. Though one thing that they seem to be good at is lobbying for money. There was mention of 700 million pounds that the Government had agreed to give to the region for 'road investment' and which was in the 'Growth plan'. We were puzzled as to where all this money was being spent.
When they got onto the tolls increase, as with yesterday’s Merseytravel meeting they ignored the report - which assumed that the tolls were going up.
The chairman of Merseytravel addressed the Combined Authority members and said that despite what the report said, the Merseytravel Committee that had met the day before was recommending a freeze on all tolls.
He said that the 'rationale' for this was that though there had been some economic growth it was 'not uniform or strong'. Believe it or not, he then said that tolls had an effect on the economy and they were therefore suggesting that there be a tolls freeze.
The Liverpool Mayor, Joe Anderson, then said that he was moving a motion. He said that he wanted to reduce the impact of tolls and wanted changes by 2016/17 including a review of the 2004 Tunnels Act. He said that people has been paying tolls for 'decades' because the Councils were not able to 'eradicate' the debt. He wanted to see an end to using Tunnels profits on anything other than the Tunnels.
The motion was seconded by Phil Davies, the Wirral Council Leader, and Peter Dowd, the Sefton Council Leaser said that he thought it was 'eminently sensible'. Phil Davies then said that the tolls seemed 'to go up inexorably year after year;. He said that the timing of this was excellent with the 'devolution agenda' (whatever that is). He ended that he hoped 'we can make road progress on this' and 'make a decision to lift this huge burden'.
The motion was passed unanimously except that the Leader of Halton Council abstained, and the Leader of St Helens Council was not at the meeting.
The full wording of the motion was -
The Combined Authority calls on:
The Chair of the Combined Authority to set up a task group to consider options open to the Combined Authority to reduce costs of tunnel tolls and its impact on infrastructure and transportation,
The Head of Paid Service of the Combined Authority to produce a report for discussion to inform setting of tunnel tolls for 2016/17,
The Combined Authority to press for a review of the Mersey Tunnel Act in any on-going devolution negotiations.
The item following the tolls increase was the Authority's budget for the year starting in April. As the budget had assumed that there would be a tolls increase, there was now a hole in the budget. All that happened was that an officer pointed out that the budget would need to be changed. No one said how else they would get the income or where the expenditure would be cut. They then passed the budget even though it apparently does not add up!
February 13 - BIGGER SURPRISE
At its meeting this morning, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority confirmed that the toll increase would not take place. That was not a surprise, what is a real surprise is that a resolution was passed which leads to the possibility of lower Tunnels Tolls and an end to the 2004 Tunnels Act shenanigans - Liverpool Echo 13 Feb - "Mersey Tunnels tolls: Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson calls for reduced prices" Wirral Globe 13 Feb - "Mersey Tunnel tolls frozen for this year".
February 13 - GLOBE PUBLISHES OUR LETTER ON MERSEYTRAVEL'S TAG LANE EXPERIMENT
Wirral Globe 13 Feb - "Not at all happy about 'Fast Tag' only Wallasey Tunnel lanes".
February 12 - SURPRISE
At its meeting this afternoon, Merseytravel changed their mind and recommended that there be no tolls increase this year - Liverpool Echo 12 Feb 18.45 - "Merseyside travel bosses back tunnel toll freeze " Liverpool Echo 12 Feb 16.08 - "Mersey Tunnel tolls frozen as bosses reject price rise" Wirral Globe 12 Feb - "Merseytravel recommends tunnel toll freeze in shock u-turn" Liverpool Echo 12 Feb - "Reread: Mersey Tunnel tolls frozen for next year - updates from the meeting".
This was in the Wirral Globe before the Merseytravel u-turn - 12 Feb - "Merseytravel to recommend increase in tunnel tolls today".
Here is our account of the meeting-
It started at 2.30pm in the Council chamber in Merseytravel's new HQ.
Unfortunately as usual the press and the one or two members of the public who did turn up could hardly hear anything that was said. There was not a full turnout from the councillors as three of them were absent from one of their most important meetings.
Usually at these meetings the tolls report - the only one that the press and public is interested in - is taken first. But this time they decided to leave it where it was on the agenda - next to last, so we all had had to sit through 75 minutes of boring reports.
One of these reports was the Merseytravel budget for 2015/16. The report assumed that there will be a tolls rise, though an officer came out with the amazing statement that the amount of the tolls had no effect on what Merseytravel spent. As the only other item of income that the Authority has is the Combined Authority Levy, and that also seems to have been provisionally agreed, this is remarkable budgeting.
One of the councillors from St Helens said she thought that the budget report had never been presented so clearly. We thought that it looked the same as in previous years, but with the confusion that it still shows the Levy, even though this is a matter for the Combined Authority that was created last April.
Though what happened with the budget, was not as remarkable as what happened with the tolls increase report. This usually takes at least 30 minutes to deal with, but this year was done and dusted in less than two minutes.
Normally an officer goes through the tolls increase report, but this year the officer said that he would not bother as 'the report speaks for itself' - on this basis they need not have bothered with the 75 minutes that were wasted on the earlier reports.
The reality was not that 'the report speaks for itself', the reality was that the report was to be ignored and had in effect been shredded on orders from above.
The Merseytravel chairman then said that he would be moving a motion that the tolls would be frozen and that:
"The rationale for that is quite straight forward, in the sense that the current Act does give us as members discretion to take on board economic and social factors, across Merseyside. And whilst we acknowledge there are some pockets of economic growth, and welcome that, we are all very mindful of the fact that there is still large elements of the city region where that economic growth is not being felt.
And with that in mind I will be putting forward this motion which acknowledges the fact that Tunnel tolls are part of transport costs which do affect local people and the local economy, accordingly. With that though I would say, and I would say this very strongly, that I hope this is also acknowledged by public transport operators, we are trying to do our bit to support local people. I particularly call upon Arriva and Stagecoach to reflect on this, at the very least freeze their fares for this next year, but actually come back with a much better value for money, cheaper offer for local people, accordingly, and with all that in mind, and if I can then move the motion accordingly, if that is agreeable to everybody."
This was agreed without a formal vote, though as we think that the rules say that individual votes have to be recorded for budget items, we must assume that members by default are recorded as agreeing to whatever is put in front of them unless they dissent.
The chairman and a Labour councillor from the Wirral said that they hoped that the bus companies would also freeze their fares. We would hope so too, but if the bus companies (particularly those that run buses through the Tunnels) can see how much profit Merseytravel are making then they may find the request from Merseytravel to be hypocritical. The lone Tory councillor from the Wirral also welcomed the proposal; the rest of the councillors must have thought that it was best to say nothing as they quickly moved on from their failed attempt to get more Tunnels loot.
At the end the same Wirral Councillor who mentioned the buses seemed to move that Merseytravel seek to have the law amended so that they did not have to go though this rigmarole each year. The chairman seemed to think that was a good idea, but we doubt that the Minutes will record that as a formal decision, because once the May elections are out of the way, Merseytravel will be back next February for their pound of flesh. The only hope is that the new Combined Authority will look at things with a fresh eye and take a fairer view.
Following the meeting the Echo praised Merseytravel - 12 Feb 17.05 - "ECHO Comment: Freezing the Mersey Tunnel tolls is the right decision".
Saying 'well done' to Merseytravel is like praising the burglar, who has stolen the tea pot, for leaving the tea bags.
February 12 - LATE LETTER
The Echo today published a letter that we sent them on the 9th, when the Liverpool Mayor was in favour of a tolls rise, but published after it was known the he had changed his mind. For what its worth, here is the letter as published -
Tunnel is a cash cow
"The Echo reported that the Liverpool Mayor, Joe Anderson, told them that he 'always said the tunnels should not be used as a cash cow to take money off people'. You also report that he will be voting for a tolls rise.
The fact is that the budget, for the year from April, shows that Merseytravel will be making nearly £17 million profit from the tolls paid by users of the Tunnels. How much do Merseytravel have to plunder from the tolls before the Mayor will agree that users are a 'cash cow' for Merseytravel?
The Echo has also reported that Merseytravel claim that any tolls profit is 'ringfenced for investment in key transport infrastructure projects for use across the Liverpool City Region'.
The profits are not 'ringfenced', they go into the general fund and thus help to finance all of Merseytravel's spending including things like their new HQ, the Beatles Story, the U boat, and the Mersey Tram scheme that they wasted £70 million pounds on."
February 11 - IT'S A MAD BAD WORLD GETS A BIT CRAZIER
On the 8th Feb the Echo reported that Joe Anderson, the Liverpool Mayor, was going to vote on Friday 13th in favour of a tolls increase, they now report he "has stepped in to stop a rise in Mersey Tunnel tolls" - Liverpool Echo 11 Feb - "Mersey tunnel tolls: Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson demands price freeze".
The MTUA is very surprised by this. It was quite clear that the decision to increase the cash tolls had in effect been made and had been built into the budgets for Merseytravel and the Combined Authority.
The announcement by the Mayor is even more surprising as it is only a few days since he told the Echo that he would support the 10p increase "proposed by tunnel bosses".
We commented at the time, that the Mayor seemed to have fallen for the usual PR blitz that tries to mask the vast profit that Merseytravel take from the Tunnels - it will be £15.4 million profit even if the tolls do not go up. We can only assume that the Mayor now realises the real facts and that knowledge has changed his views on whether there should be a tolls increase.
It will be interesting to see what Merseytravel do at their meeting on Thursday afternoon. Will they now decide that they can do without the extra profit, or will they push ahead?
If they do push ahead on Thursday then the final decision will be down to the Combined Authority who meet on Friday morning. At that meeting, each authority has only one vote, so even if the Leader of Wirral Council (who also happens to be the Leader of the Combined Authority) votes with the Mayor, the pair of them can be outvoted by the Leaders of the other Councils on the Authority".
February 11 - FANTASY PENINSULA
11 Feb - "Wirral Labour joins growing chorus of disapproval over proposed Mersey Tunnels toll increase".
Some of the MPS who are quoted as being against tolls increases, we know support the tolls. And Angela Eagle was one of the main cheer leaders for Merseytravel when Labour and Lib Dem MPs voted in 2004 to change the law so that Merseytravel could more easily take money from users of the Tunnels.
The Tories at Westminster did strongly oppose the 2004 plan, but since coming to power in 2010 they have done nothing to curb Merseytravel, and it was the Tories who approved the Labour plan to toll the currently free crossing at Runcorn.
We hope that voters will not be fooled by any of these politicians when it comes to the polls in May.
February 10 - PLEA FROM THE DOCK
The Echo asks the public to let Merseytravel off due to extenuating circumstances - 10 Feb - "Mersey tunnel tolls - what's the case for the defence?".
With lines like "most people think they should be paying more... I’ll never complain about the tolls again", it's difficult to tell the difference between this article and a Merseytravel advertisement.
February 10 - ECHO PUBLISHES OUR LETTER on MERSEYTRAVEL'S TAG LANE EXPERIMENT
A letter from us was published on Tuesday 10th in the Liverpool Echo.
Your story about Merseytravel reserving some lanes at the Wallasey Tunnel for Fast Tag only users stated that '"Mersey tunnel users have welcomed this".
As fas as the MTUA is concerned this is not correct.
Dedicated lanes may well benefit drivers of tagged cars, but they will disadvantage the majority of drivers who do not have tags.
Perhaps more importantly, having dedicated lanes for any category of users increases the amount of lane changing and the risk of accidents.
What they should be doing is removing the tolls completely, though I see from another story in the Echo that they intend to boost their profits with yet another increase in tolls.
February 10 - TIME FOR A LAUGH
Socialist comedian Mark Steel was in Birkenhead recently to record a radio show - BBC - 'Mark Steel's In Town- Birkenhead.
Here is the bit where he has a laugh at the expense of the Tunnels bosses, and particularly their Tunnel Tours: two minute audio clip.
February 9 - MORE ABOUT TOLLS RISE IN THE ECHO
It does not add much to what has already been reported, and understates the amount of profits that Merseytravel make Liverpool Echo 9 Feb - "Decision on Mersey tunnels toll rise will be made later this week".
February 8 - WHY YOU HAVE TO PAY
Liverpool Echo 8 Feb - "Why do we still have to pay to use the Mersey tunnels - and five other questions about crossing the water" lot of comments. Part of this article is facts from our website, but part seems to have come from Merseytravel and is the usual misinformation.
February 8 - IT'S A MAD BAD WORLD
Liverpool Echo 8 Feb - "Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson says Mersey tunnels should not be 'cash cow'" lot of comments.
Merseytravel and the politicians obviously believe that they have got away with ripping off Tunnels users for so long that they can say anything that they like and the news media will repeat it to keep the real facts in the dark.
If the Liverpool Mayor does not realise that the Tunnels are already a cash cow, then perhaps he thinks that the MTUA was wrong when we told the Merseytravel councillors & Council Leaders that since 2004 Merseytravel had taken nearly £100 million from the tolls. Or does he think that is small change?
And if Merseytravel believe that the tolls plunder is 'ringfenced for investment in key transport infrastructure projects', then perhaps they need to open their eyes when they next look at their budgets and accounts; they will see that the tolls profits go to their General fund and are not ringfenced.
February 7 - OUR VIEWS ON TOLL RISE
This is - what we have sent to the councillors who it is planned will rubber-stamp the tolls rise.
February 6 - BIT MORE on MERSEYTRAVEL'S EXPERIMENT
Liverpool Echo 6 Feb - "Wallasey Tunnel Fast Tag only lanes 'slowing drivers down"
An MTUA member was witness to an incident a few nights ago. A driver (who was presumably in the Tag only lane by mistake) was asked to reverse out of the fast tag lane and then crashed into the car behind him. Apart from any damage to the cars, this made the lane unusable for a while.
So far this is an isolated incident, but one accident caused by tolls in Connecticut in 1995 was so bad that all tolls were removed throughout the state.
As you might expect there is no British research on accidents due to tolls. But on America's National Transportation Safety Board site there are lots of reports on toll "plazas" accidents. Here is an extract from one -
"Backups at toll plazas present a safety hazard; in particular, they tend to increase the incidence of rear-end collisions. ...
Toll authorities nationwide experience rear-end collision rates that exceed other types of collisions, in part because toll plazas interrupt the flow of high-speed traffic to intermittently collect tolls.
February 6 - MORE ON M53 DISRUPTION
According to this press release from the -
Highways Agency - "£2.8 million M53 bridge repairs underway", Merseytravel are suggesting that drivers who normally use the M53 could use the Birkenhead Tunnel instead of the Wallasey Tunnel. If drivers paid any attention to this advice, the most likely result would be increased congestion on the streets of Birkenhead.
February 5 - BACK TO THE FUTURE
The Combined Authority published on the 5/6th their agenda for their meeting on Friday 13th. It includes this - Report on the Tolls. It seems that they already know that the tolls increase is to be approved on the 12th. You would think that this would be against the rules, but that is not a problem if you have a converted DeLorean to hand.
February 4 - ANOTHER TOLL RISE PLANNED WHILE MERSEYTRAVEL TRIES TO SPLIT TUNNEL USERS
Merseytravel are after another pound of flesh -
Liverpool Echo 4 Feb - "Merseytravel plans Mersey Tunnels tolls rise by 10p to £1.80" lot of comments Wirral Globe 5 Feb - "'Absolutely outrageous' - Merseytravel set to hike up tunnel tolls again" Liverpool Echo 4 Feb - "Fury at plan for Mersey Tunnel tolls to rise by 10p to £1.80" Liverpool Echo 4 Feb - "Proposed Mersey tunnel toll rise blasted as tax on Wirral" over 100 comments.
One of the local MPS who oppose the increase is Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey, perhaps she has forgotten that she was a strong supporter of the change in the law that allows Merseytravel to treat the Tunnels as an ATM.
Merseytravel report - "MERSEY TUNNEL TOLLS 2015/16".
In their report, Merseytravel say that they are "offer(ing) regular and local users protection from the impact" of the tolls rise. The truth is that 'local' users get no special treatment. The long term aim of the trolls at Merseytravel is to have all drivers voluntarily tagged. Their short term aim is to divide the opposition to their piracy.
In theory this increase could be voted down at either the Merseytravel meeting on Thursday 12th or the City Region meeting on Friday 13th. But with democracy what it is, these meetings are just a piece of theatre. The puppet-masters have already decided on this increase and will have built it into their budgets for the year starting in April.
February 6 - MORE on MERSEYTRAVEL'S EXPERIMENT - Liverpool Echo 6 Feb - "Wallasey Tunnel Fast Tag only lanes 'slowing drivers down'".
February 5 - M53 DISRUPTION
The southbound skip road at Junction 2 of the M53 will be closed for 4 to 6 months while bridges are replaced -
Liverpool Echo 5 Feb - "Major M53 repairs in Wirral to begin at 10pm today - with disruption to last up to six months" Highways Agency - "M53 Moreton East and South Bridge Strengthening Scheme" Highways Agency public notice.
February 3 - IS MERSEYTRAVEL TELLING THE NEWSPAPERS WHAT TUNNEL USERS THINK ABOUT THEIR EXPERIMENT?
Liverpool Echo 3 Feb - "Wallasey tunnel Fast Tag-only lanes to help speed up commutes" Wirral Globe Feb - "Wallasey Fast Tag only lanes open to help ease commuter queues" Liverpool Echo 3 Feb - "Merseytravel says response to Fast Tag-only lanes at Wallasey tunnel "very positive"".
The Echo says that "Mersey tunnel users have welcomed this" and the Wirral Globe says something similar. This is not correct. Dedicated lanes for any category of users increases the amount of lane changing and the risk of accidents. What they should be doing is removing the tolls.
January - 'TRAFFIC CHAOS AS TUNNEL IS CLOSED'
This was the headline on an Echo story of the 28th which did not appear online. On the night of the 27th there had been heavy traffic due to the combination of a Reds football match and a Strictly Come Dancing Live show at the Echo Arena. Despite this , the Birkenhead tunnel was closed. One person who was caught up in the chaos said that the tunnel closure was 'absolutely disgraceful'.
January - ANOTHER STEP TOWARDS ROAD PRIVATISATION
New Civil Engineer 26 Jan - "Contractors welcome "important step" for Infrastructure Bill".
You will have seen nothing about this in most of the news media, but on the 26th, MPs from all parties passed a bill though the Commons which it is feared will lead to the privatisation & tolling of main roads. Only one MP (John McDonnell, a Labour MP for a West London constituency) even bothered to mention the threat.
Nothing will now happen until after the May election when the sheep no doubt will have voted in another pack of wolves - either this lot or one that is virtually the same.
January - ACCIDENT & RAGE -
Liverpool Echo 15 January - 'Wallasey Tunnel traffic chaos after car crash' Liverpool Echo 6 January - 'Man appears in court accused of road rage incident in Wallasey tunnel'. There is of course no mention of whether either of these incidents was caused by the traffic queuing to pay the tolls.
January - MERSEYTRAVEL REPLY TO A TUNNELS USER -
The Wirral Globe on 17 December had a letter about the possible increase in tolls. Merseytravel have replied - Wirral Globe 7 January - 'No decision on Mersey tunnel tolls increase yet'.
As the meeting to decide on whether to increase tolls won't be till February, of course there has been no official decision yet. But it is obvious that they want to increase the tolls in April, the only doubt is whether they will put off the rise for 12 months in case increased tolls have an effect on the May elections.
Merseytravel suggest that people go to their website for information about the Tunnels. If they do so then they may well not realise that much of the 'information' is misleading. We complained about this in a letter to Merseytravel councillors after they last decided to increase the tolls(pdf file).
PS Our reply letter - Wirral Globe 14 January - 'Unfair toll hikes'.
January - MORE PROPAGANDA - On the 6th, Merseytravel had another of their one hour free commercials on Radio Merseyside, though this time Tunnels Users were encouraged to ring in to ask questions and Roger Phillips raised some pertinent points.
As the Merseytravel spokesman sounds plausible and sincere, you may think that the answers given answered the points but much of what was said was inaccurate or misleading.
The full programme is available here on the BBC iplayer till about 3 Feb 2015.
These are audio extracts where they are talking about the Tunnels rather than buses or trains -
Vox pop - 9 mins.
Brian Kendal from MTUA puts various points - 6 mins.
Close the Tunnels! - 20 secs.
Taxi driver suggests using speed cameras to save on policing - 2 mins.
Question on the effect of Merseytravel taking profits rather than paying off the debt - 5 mins 30 secs.
January - NO TOLL RISE FOR GEORDIES -
The Tyne Tunnel - the only other crossing in the UK controlled by an organisation similar to Merseytravel - will not be increasing tolls this year - Shields Gazette 31 December - 'Good news for motorists as Tyne Tunnel tolls are frozen'.
Though as one comment says "Cannot be thankful to be ripped off for another year".
January - LIVERPOOL MAYOR'S DREAM -
Larry Neild has an interview on City Talk with Joe Anderson which is reported in Liverpool Confidential on 3 January.
The report ends with the Mayor saying - "I’d like to campaign for the Mersey tunnels debt to be paid off by the Government so we can cap tunnel fees at £1.50 to cover maintenance costs. It is difficult to get such things if we are not united."
The Mayor must have been reading the usual fairy stories from Merseytravel if he believes that you would need a £1.50 toll 'to cover maintenance costs'. The cost of maintaining the tunnel would be covered by a toll of about 30 pence. Even if you also made the drivers pay for the capital jobs, 'police', waste and toll collection, it would still be less than one pound.
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