National Alliance Against Tolls - Message to Scottish Executive MSPs - 28 February 2006

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Message to Executive MSPs - 28 February 2006

Dear MSP,

Our alliance has been campaigning against Scotland's three remaining tolls. The alliance originally included SKAT and we were also involved in the Edinburgh Toll Poll.

Over the last year we have had contact with most MSPs. We are now contacting you as it was announced that at tomorrow's cabinet meeting the outcome of the Tolled Bridges review will be decided.

You will probably be aware that there has been a major news management campaign by the authorities over the last 12 months. The news management has diverted attention away from the imminent end of the Forth bridge tolls. They were originally due to end in 1995, but they have been extended three times and are currently due to end on the 31st March. The Transport Minister however has the power to extend them. Though nominally he has the power, there is a major doubt over whether the tolls have been legal since 2003. This could be the reason why there are plans to introduce Road User Charges on the Forth bridge, and nowhere else.

As you will know the Regulations required for the new charges to operate were passed by MSPs last week after they were told that there was no connection between the Regulations and Forth bridge tolls. Some of the MSPs seem to have somehow concluded that the Regulations did not matter, because of what they had been told and because they mistakenly thought that they would have a say on whether the tolls would be kept after the 31st March.

Based on the latest "leaks" it appears that it is about to be agreed that the Erskine Bridge tolls will stop at the end of March, but the Minister will issue an Order keeping the Forth bridge tolls for up to 3 years, by when Road User Charges will be in place. The Tay bridge tolls are expected to stay broadly as they are. It has also been leaked that the Minister will say that tolls will not be increased and that the Executive will think about a possible new Forth crossing. In our view neither of these statements will mean anything, as when they are in place the Road User Charges will make it easier to increase tolls, and a new bridge is a very distant prospect.

Before a final decision is made on the future of the tolls, we would like to briefly remind you why all three tolls should be removed:-


Bridge Tolls were intended to be temporary

Tolled crossings were promoted at Westminster on the basis that tolls would only be levied for a limited time. These tolls remain, because promises have been broken and the goal posts moved.

Unfair

Tolling is discriminatory and unfair to the few who have to use these roads. Tolls are regressive and unrelated to income or size of car. They hit those who have to travel long distances to work and who already spend a disproportionate amount of their income on fuel duty and other roads taxes.

Uneconomic

Tourists avoid areas where there are tolls. Businesses where road transport is important will prefer to locate elsewhere. The removal of all tolls, would give Scotland a competitive advantage in attracting business from other areas of the UK and EU.

Tolls Income is a very small part of Scotland's budget

Tolls on the three bridges raise a gross amount of about 21 million, (Erskine 5m, Forth 12m, Tay 4m). This is a lot of money to those who carry this extra burden, but it is insignificant in relation to the Executive's budget of 29 billion for 2006/07, or the 4 billion which is Scotland's share of UK taxes on roads users. If the bridges were assimilated into the 3,500 kilometres of roads and bridges which are already managed by the Executive, then there would be large savings in administration and toll collection, and maintenance needs could be better determined.

Tolls do not reduce "Congestion"

Tolls have little effect on peak period traffic - unless they are set at extortionate levels. Toll collection itself prolongs congestion periods, and is the main cause of congestion in Dundee during the evening peak period. Where drivers do avoid toll roads and use other roads, it causes longer journeys, more fuel consumption and more emissions. Toll advocates also want to bring in higher tolls at certain times and / or on faster lanes. In the USA these are referred to as "Lexus" tolls or lanes, as it is the drivers of big luxury cars who use them.
There are many non toll measures that would reduce congestion. There is more of a chance of them being adopted, if bridges and their approaches are part of the trunk road system rather than run by a public transport authority.

New Forth road bridge

It has been suggested that a new bridge is needed because either the existing bridge will have to be closed due to cable corrosion or to cope with increasing traffic. The number of round trips was actually 100,000 less in 2005 than it was in 2003. If a new privately finance tolled bridge was built, we have calculated that tolls would be about 7. At this level, there would be no users, the banks would realise this and the bridge would not be built.

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