A/cs from 1934
- There were 4 of us from the Users, 3 of us born and raised in Liverpool and 1 in Birkenhead. Merseytravel had a QC and other London lawyers. The cost of these lawyers etc is coming from tolls. This is despite the fact that the Bill will enable Merseytravel to take money away from the Tunnels. We asked how much of our money they had spent on their Bills, and they could not tell us.
There were 3 petitions in support of the Bill, all with London addresses.
- Merseytravel repeated their famous claim "tunnels .. are used by only some 3 per cent of the inhabitants of Merseyside".
- Merseytravel gave figures showing what would be the state of the Tunnels finances over the next 25 years, if tolls were NOT increased.
Their figures showed that the tunnels would virtually break even and repay nearly all the debt. All this despite spending £300 million on refurbishment. If refurbishment spending was less than they estimated, then the tunnels debt could be paid off well within the 25 years, and under the existing law tolls should then come down.
- Merseytravel gave more figures showing the Tunnels Finances, if the Bill became law. The figures were staggering.
Over 25 years THEY WOULD COLLECT NEARLY £1.2 BILLION IN TOLLS. That is unless they decided not to apply all the increases that they would be entitled to! The chart blow shows tunnels finance from 2005 to 2029. The pale blue at the top is the profit. For a bigger version click here::- Tunnels finance 2005 to 2029
- They submitted other figures showing the initial effect of the Bill and said that they intended to reduce the toll categories from 4 to 2. This would mean that tolls for cars and light vans would initially go up to £1.40, but tolls for heavier vehicles would come down by about £1.
Many people may be concerned about heavier vehicles making up a higher proportion of Tunnels traffic, particularly during those frequent midday periods, when Merseytravel close one of the 2 Wallasey Tunnel tubes. This radical proposal had NOT been discussed by the Merseytravel Board, but had "political backing".
- Merseytravel also said "I should not be saying this, but I do envisage the need for fewer staffed lanes in due course with potential operating cost savings. I have now revealed my hand to the trade unions."
- When Birkenhead Tunnel was planned, the councils were to share in the cost, but they largely avoided this. At the same time money was taken from the Tunnels to subsidise the Ferries. Then from 1988 to 1992 Merseytravel had to bear losses on the Tunnels. Later a legal opinion said that Tunnels would have to pay this back and with interest that is now at 9%.
We would like to see this legal opinion, but at the Committee, Merseytravel said that this opinion had never been made public and that they were not legally obliged to do so. Tunnel users are being charged £28 million PLUS £41 million interest, on the basis of this legal opinion.
- Merseytravel said that they had unsuccessfully asked for Government assistance 8 times. We asked when they had last tried, the answer was 1992.
- One of the minor provisions in the Bill is paying for noise insulation work at some of the houses near the Wallasey tunnel. We don't disagree with this. But why wait over 30 years?
- According to Merseytravel figures, households with cars in Liverpool, are 4 times more likely to travel to Liverpool city centre by car than such households on the Wirral . (Those in Knowsley and Sefton were also more likely to make the journey by car.)
But the aim of Merseytravel is to "suppress" car journeys by Wirral people. Why should people who happen to live on the Wirral be treated differently?
- Merseytravel want regular toll increases and named only 2 crossings that had them: Dartford and Severn.
Oddly the car toll on the Dartford Crossing has been £1 since 1996, but on the Mersey Tunnel it was increased to £1.20 in November 1999.
- Their expert correctly said that the Dartford crossing carries about twice as much traffic as the Mersey Tunnels. Both Dartford crossing and Mersey Tunnels have 8 lanes, so we asked how many lanes they thought there were. For Dartford, they initially said 10, and for the Mersey Tunnels, 6.
Our evidence to the committee included:-
- Testimony from Frank Field the Birkenhead MP, including:
- "Merseytravel will be able to levy an additional tax on my constituents and other constituents from the Wirral and inner Liverpool, not simply to pay what most of us regard as legitimate costs for the tunnel toll but to engage in any other form of expenditure within the travel area and charge it to our constituents. I believe that my constituents should not be discriminated in this way."
- "I do not think you can run a society when people's gut feeling is that it is a form of taxation that is basically unfair."
- "I am sure members of the Committee have been told by Merseytravel that this is their second attempt at a Bill and in their first attempt they were so lacking in confidence in managing this whole operation they wished to privatise it."
- Our Petition, some of the points being:-
- Under existing law, tolls should reduce when all debt is repaid. But Merseytravel want to move the goal posts so tolls will never reduce, as money that could have been used to repay debt may be used elsewhere such as the proposed tram system.
- Toll increases harm the local economy and put off visitors.
- Merseytravel complain how hard it is to increase tolls and that if even one person objects to a toll increase there has to be a public inquiry. This is not so. And between 1971 and 1992 the authorities still managed to increase tolls from 10p to a £1.00, a 1,000 per cent!
- Tolls will increase automatically. But a large part of the expenditure of the Tunnels relates to debt and debt will be falling.
- Runcorn bridge has only four lanes, but carries more traffic than the 8 lanes of the Tunnels. WHY?
It isn't just Runcorn, we gave the committee figures for other similar crossings to the Mersey Tunnels which also carry more traffic per lane. (Runcorn bridge was largely paid for by the Government, with contributions from Lancashire and Cheshire.)
- There is a scheme to build another bridge at Runcorn. No decision has been made as to whether there will be a toll, but the economic assessments were done on the basis that the bridge would not be tolled. As the existing bridge is free, there will be problems if the new bridge is tolled. Until a decision is made, why should Mersey Tunnels tolls be increasing?
- Merseytravel have a monopoly. They run the Mersey Tunnels, own the ferries and fund Merseyrail which has the under-river railway link.
- Merseytravel say that it is appropriate to use tolls as a form of road congestion charging. But it is NOT FAIR to charge Tunnel users for any road congestion, when other road users in the area (e.g. from Sefton and Knowsley into Liverpool) are not charged.
It is the same as if you only paid the Central London Congestion Charge if you entered the zone by crossing the Thames from the south and if you entered from any other direction, there would be no charge at all.
And in London there is no charge in evenings or at weekends, and the daily charge gives unlimited number of trips.
- Of those crossings that are tolled, the Mersey Tunnels is the only one that is in the middle of a conurbation. The Tunnels form an essential link between the two parts of Merseyside. The river has to be frequently crossed for purposes of work, leisure, visiting friends and relations, and use of facilities such as hospitals that are only located on one side of the river.
- The Tunnels were built to meet the needs of the users and not to provide money for Merseytravel. When the Birkenhead tunnel was built 70 years ago, the Act said that tolls should stop after 40 years.
As well as the Petition we submitted other papers including:-
- Cuttings from local papers, to show the strength of opposition to tolls in Liverpool and Wirral.
- Letters from national organisations of road users and Liverpool and Wirral Chambers of Commerce.
- List of about 100 crossings over tidal water, of which 14 have tolls.
The Mersey Tunnels are already the 4th most expensive.
- One of the 3 crossings that is currently more expensive is the Skye Bridge. With support from almost all parties, the Scottish Parliament is now negotiating with the firm that collects the tolls, with a view to scrapping them.
- Merseytravel are planning to spend millions from tolls every year on capital works. They frequently mention safety, but they themselves say that the "Mersey Tunnels are amongst the safest in Europe".
- The government collects £44 billion from road users and, after spending on roads, keeps £38 billion of it. Why can't a small part be used to make the tunnels free?
- Boundary Commission propose a constituency joining part of Wallasey to part of Liverpool. So you will have to pay a toll even within one MP's seat.
- Lastly we tried to point out the human side:-
"There is sometimes an impression that the people using the tunnels are well off and that the people who are not using the tunnels are the disadvantaged and that somehow or other these disadvantaged people are being subsidised by these "three per cent" of well-off people.
You can see our Petition at: Petition to Lords
The vast proportion of our members are just ordinary working people who have to use the tunnels to get to work or for other purposes. They are not well-off at all and increases in tunnel tolls can hit them substantially and it is not just a question of getting to work.
One of the other main issues is the fact that the tolls inhibit use off peak. They inhibit, in particular people visiting friends or relations who may be on other side of the river.
One of our Committee members is a cleaner who happens to live in Wallasey and work at a library in the north end of Liverpool. She has to be in work for round about half six. The earliest bus is seven o'clock. There is no way that she can get to work apart from the car. Being a cleaner obviously the tunnel toll is a high proportion of her income.
Not only that, and I appreciate this may sound a bit like a sob story, she is a widow and all of her family live in Liverpool. She used to live in Liverpool, she and her husband moved to Wallasey, her husband died shortly afterwards so she frequently has to go back to see her relations because there tends to be some inhibition in Liverpool at frequently using the tunnel. They do not like to pay the tolls basically.
People who live on the Wirral to a large extent are forced to use the tunnel and pay the toll but people in Liverpool, if they can avoid it, do not."
You can see a fuller account of what we said to the Committee at: What we said!
And a full account of the 2 days at: Lords - Committee 8 March 2004
and 9 March 2004
A/cs from 1934