The tolls to cross the Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing into Wales will increase once again from the 1st January 2016, with cars paying £6.60 - up from the current £6.50 - while small goods vehicles and small buses facing a 10p rise to £13.20, and heavy goods vehicles and buses having to pay £19.80, up from £19.60.
The January 2016 increase makes the toll one of the most expensive per kilometre and hinders economic growth. In 1966, it cost 12p to cross the bridge, which would be around £2 pound in today’s money – something that clearly suggests that the toll concession holders are fleecing us for as much as they can get before the franchise expires.
One often-ignored fact in relation to the Severn Bridge tolls is that the tolls on the Humber Bridge are subsidized by Westminster. When last in office at Westminster, the party formerly known as New Labour chose to quietly (and regularly) subsidise the Humber Bridge tolls, yet made no move what so ever towards doing anything about dealing with the tax on jobs, businesses and commuters which are passed off as the Severn bridge tolls – and our local Labour elected representatives pretty much maintained their silence.
Interestingly enough the Humber Bridge subsidy has been continued by the Conservative Government who have continued to drive the post Thatcherite ‘free market’ ideology into wholly new areas of government. Yet oddly enough they show little inclination to help Welsh commuters and businesses out with a simular subsidy.
Allegedly in 2018 ownership of the two Severn Bridges will revert back to the Westminster Government ‘s Department for Transport, once the take from the tolls reach passes the magic figure of £996 million pounds (that is at 1989 prices). The Labour in Wales Welsh government (who tend to ask for things they know they won’t get) has called for control of the tolls when the Severn Crossings return to public ownership.
There does appears to be a general political consensus that something must be done about reducing the Severn bridge tolls – which is nice – but not particularly helpful to motorists. Plaid wants the transfer of powers (to Wales) so that tolls on the bridges can be reduced, something that could have a considerable impact on businesses and the economy.
What worries me is that the Department of Transport may find the income from the Severn bridge tolls too useful to let go. The ominous silence from the Westminster on the eventual ownership of the bridge and the potential fate of the tolls should be a real cause for concern to us all.
The ownership of the Severn bridges should be transferred to the National Assembly in 2018, which means that a decision needs to be made now and preparations for the transfer begun ASAP.