Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Road Pricing - Haulage and Freight Interests Study the Future

Severn and Dartford Tolls Under Review ..... or Not
Shipping News Feature

UK - Following the announcement this week that opinions are being sought on the future toll collections on the vital M25 Thames Crossing links at Dartford/Thurrock, road haulage outfits will wish to know that the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has this week welcomed the report released by the Welsh Government, called ‘The Impact of the Severn Tolls on the Welsh Economy.’ The FTA said that there is finally room for further discussion over the relaxation of tolls at the Severn Crossings, and the fact that the debate has begun in earnest. Many observers however view the move as simply a smokescreen whilst a National Road Pricing policy takes shape.

Compiled by ARUP, the independent report first requested from the Welsh government by FTA in 2010 revealed that the Severn Crossing tolls are costing the Welsh economy around £80 million a year and has led to the announcement by First Minister Carwyn Jones that the UK government is to open discussions with the Welsh government on the arrangements governing the Severn Crossings after 2018 as the current agreement with the private company is due to expire then. Ian Gallagher, FTA Policy Manager for Wales, responded to the report by saying:

"The publication of this report clearly highlights that not only is the logistics sector disproportionately impacted through high tolls, but also shows the lost opportunities for the South Wales economy as a whole. I would urge the Welsh and UK governments to fully understand what this report clearly shows, and what the logistics sector has argued for some time - a reduction in tolls post 2018 is the only option which will see an increase from indirect revenue from commuters, business and the leisure industry.

"The management structure of the Crossings is not the concern of the logistics industry; what matters to businesses across Wales is that the tolls, which are currently crippling the Welsh economy, are scaled back to a level that the logistics industry can afford, and which does not act as a barrier to doing business in Wales."

The tolls, which currently stand at £18.10 for heavy goods vehicles (Vehicle Category 3) significantly increase the cost of journeys for freight between South Wales and parts of the South and South West of England using the Severn Crossings which are the primary gateway to South Wales. The Crossings cater for daily traffic flows of around 80,000 vehicles, and the report confirms the importance of the bridges to businesses in South Wales. The report also highlights the impact the tolls have on the transport and logistics industry, for which tolls amount up to 10% of operating costs. Ian Jarman, Environmental & Legislation Manager for Owens Road Services based in Llanelli which operates across South Wales said:

"If the reduction in tolls takes place, then the Welsh government must look at ways of easing congestion at the critical pinch point on the M4 at the Bryn Glas Tunnels. There must be a long-term strategy to improve infrastructure and connectivity with England and Europe and as part of the Trans European Network, due to the anticipated increase in traffic volumes which will use this stretch of motorway."

Meanwhile concerns are mounting over the future pricing policy imposed on drivers using the Dartford Tunnels and QE2 Bridge on the M25. The Handy Shipping Guide illustrated a year ago the anomalies in Government statements over future policy `on both the English and Welsh crossings and it is eighteen months since we discovered the Government definition of ‘congestion’ was a twelve mile tailback but now it seems the Federation of Small Business’ call for automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) charging to be introduced as quickly as possible has been heeded.

From 2014 it seems the ANPR cameras already festooning the motorway will recognise any vehicle passing through the barriers and not paying the charge, with a swingeing penalty of fines up to £180 for non compliance. Although MP’s are canvassing views on future policy the signs are that the decision to remove barriers has already been made yet payments for crossings already paid for reportedly several times over are not only to remain but to increase.

The plan to use ANPR on the M25 appears to be becoming a blueprint for possible road pricing in the future, with widespread criticism of fuel duty as a way to finance infrastructure the Government needs to ensure it can extract sufficient funds to support the road network as a self funding sector. As with the London Congestion Charge a system of pre, or immediate post, payment for using the road network is likely to become a blueprint for the future of highway travel in the UK.

With concerns in Westminster over the forthcoming vote for Scottish independence it may well be that Government efforts to keep the Welsh ‘on side’ will result in the temporary or permanent disappearance of tolls into Wales. It seems doubtful that private and commercial motorists transiting the Thames are to receive the same treatment.

Photo: An aerial view of the QE2 Bridge and Dartford Tunnel approaches.