Friday, 5 November 2010

Feeling a bit like Clover

Toll Roads have never been a popular idea - particularly in this part of Wales, where Rebecca and her Daughters knew exactly how to deal with them.  And I guess that they'll never be popular with anyone who has to pay the tolls.

The main reason used by Governments in favour of tolls has been that it's a way by which users of the transport infrastructure pay towards the costs of providing it.  In short, a way of transferring infrastructure costs from general taxation to a usage charge.  I'm not a fan of that approach in general, and indeed, it seems to run directly contrary to the main thrust of the new Economic Renewal Plan which is about investing in infrastructure to enable growth.  Businesses have long argued - and I've agreed with them - that the tolls on the Severn crossings are a direct disincentive to basing their activity on this side of the estuary.

I'm more open-minded about the environmental argument (even though that is unlikely to make the concept any more popular).  Switching travel from cars to buses or rail by reducing the cost of one and increasing the cost of the other certainly has its attractions.

What I've never been convinced about is the idea of selective tolling on bridges and tunnels.  They may well be the most expensive parts of the road network, but they are still part of a whole, and treating them differently seems an odd thing to do.  It's also often taxing a 'captive customer'; the alternative to paying to cross the Cleddau or the Severn involves a lengthy detour and a lot of extra time.

Certainly, during the last General Election I argued for the abolition of tolls on the Cleddau bridge, which have become a nice little earner for Pembrokeshire County Council, used to subsidise other expenditure.  I have to admit that I was a little surprised to see in this morning's paper that Plaid Cymru are in favour of tolls, albeit set at a lower level, over the Severn estuary, as long as the money is kept in Wales and spent on other infrastructure.  It sounds awfully like the argument used by the county council for retaining tolls on the Cleddau Bridge.

I could have sworn that the sign on the wall used to read "no tolls good, bridge tolls bad", but it definitely says "no tolls good, Welsh tolls better" now.  My memory must be failing me - it must be my age.

8 comments:

Peter Freeman said...

I thouroughly agree with you John. Any venture would be calculating the lebgth of time it would take to recover the start up costs and the presence of tolls could well be a factor that would unnecessarily delay that recovery. It would be better to locate in a region that does not require an extra freight expenditure.
When considering the big picture, viewing the economy as a whole, I have always considered Tolls to be an overall income loser rather than any gain.

Anonymous said...

I know it's not why the tolls were started but I think, now, they could be an excellent way to raise money for more sustainable transport. And that should be stipulated, rather then the money going into the general pot. Road tolls are normal across Europe. I've got every respect for the Rebecca rioters but the stakes were slightly higher for them and they didn't have climate change.

John Dixon said...

Anon,

As I noted in the original post, I accept that there is an environmentalist argument for tolls, but not that that argument is limited to bridges and tunnels. And I accept that as times change there's an argument for reconsidering this sort of policy. There is, though, a democratic route for changing Plaid's policies - it involves a bit of democracy, not just an announcement by elected members.

Anonymous said...

Neither Ieuan Wyn Jones nor Jonathan Edwards referred to the environmental arguments in what they said according to the Western Mail. Both saw it as a means of raising money to spend on other transport infrastructure. That probably means more roads...

This has nothing to do with being green - it's all about a new stealth tax.

Welsh Ramblings said...

I believe Anon 08:43's point is unfair, seeing as Ieuan Wyn Jones is the first Welsh Transport Minister to ever spend more on public transport than on roads. Not perfect of course, and i'm sure environmentalists will continue to question the air link, but he has easily been the best Transport Minister in terms of sustainability, thus far.

Anonymous said...

Which bit is unfair? The bottom line is that Plaid is now in favour of charging a higher toll for the bridges than is necessary to maintain them, and using the surplus for investment in 'other' infrastructure. It's a tax by another name, and the reasons advanced are nothing to do with the environment.

Welsh Ramblings said...

The bit that is unfair is where you assume that "that probably means more roads..." when Ieuan Wyn Jones has spent more on public transport than on roads. So it is not a fair assumption for you to make.

Anonymous said...

Ramblings,

If the UK Government agrees to give the bridges to Wales, it won't be until 2017 at the earliest. You seem to be assuming that Plaid will still be in government at that point, and Jones will still be Transport Minister. "Probably" is not so unreasonable in the circumstances.

Interesting, though, that you have no response to the more important criticism which is that Plaid Cymru now want to use the two bridges as a means of raising taxes to pay for other things.