Mersey Tunnels Users Association - 2008 Toll Proposals

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(this page produced 22 April 2008, last revised 13 June)

star THANK YOU to those tunnels users and politicians who attended the public meeting at the Grosvenor Assembly Rooms in Liscard, Wallasey on Friday 25th April.
At the meeting we launched our latest "manifesto", after a vote it was agreed that the paramount aim is -
The meeting also asked the politicians what they were going to do to get tolls scrapped and in the interim to get discounts similar to Dartford - REPORT OF THE MEETING.
We were disappointed by the low press coverage of the meeting and by the negative and anonymous letters in one paper.

2008 Manifesto (this is a small pdf file but may be slow to load)   Comparison of Dartford Crossing and Mersey Tunnels (It has been suggested that Dartford is different and has no debt, but this comparison shows that the Mersey Tunnels debt should have been paid off long before Dartford)   Stories in local papers   Letters   Motion at Wirral Council on Monday 21st April   Government announcement about Dartford tolls   Other discount schemes   Pictures of lobby on Monday 21st April 2008 and Granada interviews the day before   2008 Toll Increase (separate page)

  • When the toll increase was announced in early February it coincided with the abolition of tolls in Scotland and a UK Government proposal to give large discounts to local users of the Dartford Crossing in the South East. The contrast between the treatment of Tunnel users and those elsewhere was the straw that broke the camel's back and sparked renewed interest in the tolls.

  • On the 17th March we had a public meeting to launch a "Let's Do a Dartford" campaign calling for discounts for users of the tunnels. Though this would have benefitted both sides of the river the campaign was ignored by the Liverpool papers though we got some publicity on local radio. This was part of our press release - The Mersey Tunnel Users Association is launching a new campaign to demand toll discounts for Merseyside motorists in line with those proposed by the Goverment on the Dartford Crossings in Kent.
    Transport Secretary Rosie Winterton announced on the 7th February that the Government were consulting on a scheme to give local residents on either side of the Dartford Crossings significant savings on the cost of tolls.
    Mersey Tunnel Users demand parity with the residents Dartford and Thurrock for people living in Liverpool and Wirral.
    Tolls Discount for Locals Campaign will be officially launched at a PUBLIC GENERAL MEETING of the MTUA on Monday 17th March at Greasby Community Centre.
    Secretary of the MTUA John McGoldrick said: "Liverpool and the Wirral have suffered tolls for nearly 75 years, isn't it time that we got toll discounts rather than toll increases?"
    "Road users contribute £50 billion a year to the Government, there is no justification for squeezing more money out as tolls."
    "On the Dartford Crossing the Government have said that they will almost waive the tolls for locals, why should people in Liverpool and Wirral not get the same treatment?"
    "Even better why should we not be in the same position as drivers crossing any of Scotland's rivers which are now all toll free?"
    "Liverpool and Wirral drivers are fed up being treated as cash cows. Merseytravel don't like people using cars, the Tunnels should be taken over by the Highways Agency with the tolls being reduced or phased out completely."

  • Our efforts overlapped what we were doing on the tolls increase which came into effect on 6th April. Then the Tories put down an anti tolls motion to be debated at Wirral Council on Monday 21st April. The motion called for the eventual scrapping of tolls on the Mersey Tunnels and backed our proposal for tolls discounts. It asked the four Wirral Labour MPs to support the motion and "actively lobby" the Government.

    We managed to get some publicity for what we thought was about to happen including interviews by Granada of some of our members the day before at the Wallasey tunnel. We also sent messages to all the councillors asking them to support the motion.
    We then heard that the Lib Dems and Labour had moved amendments to water down the force of the motion and vitually scupper the discounts proposal. In our view what the amendment said on the Dartford discounts - "that the Government has stated that this is a special case and will not be replicated elsewhere and that no additional monies will be provided by the Government, as the scheme has to be selffunded." was incorrect and so we sent further messages to Councillors pointing this out - The amended references to Dartford are not only negative but are as far as we know inaccurate and we are puzzled as to the source of what the Government are supposed to have said. The only statement that we have seen was - the Government announcement on 11th February
    The Government announcement says that though the discount plan is subject to consultation - "the system is expected to start in the Autumn".
    The Government announcement did not say that "this is a special case and will not be replicated elsewhere".
    Neither did the Government announcement say that "no additional monies will be provided by the Government, as the scheme has to be selffunded". In any case it could not have said that as the toll income on the Dartford Crossing goes to the Government, so any discounts are automatically borne by the Government.
    It is difficult to see how any one thinks that a discount where the toll goes down from the current £1 to twenty pence will be "selffunded".
    We asked all the councillors to "not muddy the message but instead send a clear signal that Wirral Council opposes the tolls by voting for the original motion."

    In the event there was no debate on the motion and many others due to a "guillotine". Instead the amendments which watered done the motion and gave the discounts proposal almost no backing were agreed and this motion as amended was then passed.

    Before the meeting there had been a lobby and demonstration by our members - PICTURES of lobby on Monday 21st April 2008 (and Granada interviews the day before)

    After the meeting our spokesman said - "It is particularly disappointing that Wirral Council could not even find the time to debate the motion and we fear that the Council instead of doing its best for the people of Wirral has just set up excuses for the Council, the MPs and the Government to do nothing. We hope that despite this the people of Merseyside will not give up their demands for an end to tolls."

    Many of the news reports that did appear about what happened at the Council meeting were inaccurate and many people will not realise what actually happened.

  • On the 25th April we had another public meeting, this time at the Grosvenor Assembly Rooms in Liscard. We launched our latest "manifesto" and asked the politicians what they were going to do to get tolls scrapped and in the interim to get discounts similar to Dartford. The meeting decided that the priority should be getting rid of the tolls altogether.

  • On the 12th June, following "consultation" the Government confirmed that people living near the Dartford Crossing would have to pay a toll of 20 pence instead of £1 - DfT press release - "Go-ahead for local residents' discount on Dartford-Thurrock river crossing "

  • What next? - We realise that we have a long battle ahead, but it is winnable as was proved in Scotland. It is also worth fighting as removing the toll barriers would be a significant improvement for many people and businesses, not just on the Wirral but all over the region. We have various ideas, but the first thing is to press Wirral Council and the MPs to get the tolls scrapped. But all tunnel users should do this, not just the the MTUA, otherwise we may be paying tolls for another 75 years!!!

  • Liz, an MTUA member, sent a message to the Prime Minister about the Tunnel tolls. She has given him an idea of what London would be like if the city's bridge and tunnel tolls had not been scrapped many years ago -


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    The meeting discussed the new "Manifesto" and was also an opportunity for tunnels users to question local politicians. Those there included Wirral West Labour MP Stephen Hesford, Cllr Simon Holbrook the Wirral Council Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Lesley Rennie the Wirral Council Tory group deputy leader and several other Wirral Tory councillors - Chris Blakeley, Kate Wood and Leah Fraser.
    Noticeably absent from the meeting was anybody from the Labour group on Wirral Council though they had been invited.

    The Manifesto had six aims including - stopping Merseytravel from using toll money to fund the trams and other schemes, and that "the tunnels become part of the normal road network & free to all road users as promised".

    Strong feelings were aired at the meeting. Many people expressed their frustration at the existing situation and wanted some form of immediate direct action in the style of the French farmers.

    There was also a deeply felt view from many tunnel users and particularly from Councillor Kate Wood, that what was needed was not a six-point manifesto but just one - "Remove the tolls now". She also said that what was needed from all four Wirral MPs was some of the "Frank Field spirit" in his fight against some of the effects of the removal of the 10p tax band.

    Two of the politicians (Simon Holbrook and Stephen Hesford) at the meeting stressed that it would be difficult to get anything done. This was because many of the Merseytravel members who vote on things like toll increases come from areas that are largely unaffected by the tolls, i.e. Sefton, Knowsley and St Helens.

    Many people, including Esther McVey, the prospective Tory candidate for Wirral West, expressed concern about the lack of transparency in the financing of the Mersey Tunnels. The Mersey Tunnels Users Association claimed that in the year just ended there was a profit of £10 million on the Tunnels, whereas Merseytravel and local council tax bills gave the impression that the Tunnels only just broke even.

    One of the Manifesto interim aims is discounts on the Mersey tunnels similar to the 80% discounts that are to be offered to local users of the Dartford Crossing in the South East. Stephen Hesford MP suggested that Dartford was not quite the same case as it was debt free, whereas the Mersey Tunnels according to Merseytravel have debts of nearly £80 million.

    John McGoldrick for the MTUA pointed out that the Mersey Tunnels had cost a lot less to build than the Dartford Crossings and that the Mersey Tunnels had higher tolls. If despite this the Tunnels debt had ballooned while Dartford debt had been paid off, this was because of the operating losses from many years ago and because Tunnel tolls were used to pay for things that did not come from tolls at Dartford.

    Various people contrasted Merseyside with Scotland where all the tolls had been removed, whether there were any "debts" or not.

    There were complaints about the money that Merseytravel was spending on things such as the trams, the Beatles museum, the U-boat, and flower boxes. Though one person suggested that maybe there should be a whip round to pay for a watering can! Councillor Blakeley pointed out that if the £70 million that had been spent on the cancelled trams scheme had instead been used for the tunnels, then most of the Tunnels debt would have been wiped out.

    Tunnel users who travel through the tunnels by bus contrasted the high cost of bus fares compared with the cost of bus journeys on the other side of the river and in other cities. It was pointed out that the MTUA had twice proposed that all buses should be exempt from tolls, but Merseytravel had rejected it on both occasions.

    The issue of the planned tolling of the old and new Runcorn bridges was raised. It was suggested that the plan seemed to be to erect a toll barrier or "Berlin Wall" along the line of the Mersey that would eventually stretch all the way to Manchester and include the Thelwell Viaduct on the M6. It was asked whether there was a "Runcorn Bridge Users Association" campaigning against the tolls. The answer was that there isn't because the residents of Halton have been told that the Council is trying to get 100% discounts for them.

    Councillor Kate Wood said that all individual users must very strongly press their councillors and MPs to do something now.

    Following a vote at the end of the meeting it was agreed to change the Tunnels Users Manifesto so that the aim of removing the tolls was paramount.

    We were pleased that so many people had turned up for a meeting, particularly on a Friday night. Without their support the politicians would have got the impression that no one was interested, and some would have thought that they did not need to bother and could forget the tolls issue for a few more years.

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    Number of Lanes

    Dartford = 8. Mersey = 8.

    (The Dartford Crossing was originally 2 lanes increasing to 4 lanes in 1980 and then 8 lanes in 1991. Mersey Tunnels was originally 4 lanes and increased to 8 lanes in 1971.)


    Dartford = £200 million. Mersey = £44 million

    Cumulative Income

    Dartford = not known. Mersey =£650 million

    Number of years that tolls have been collected

    Dartford = 45. Mersey = 74.

    Toll for cars (before any discount)

    Dartford = £1. Mersey = £1.40

    Maximum toll for commercial vehicles (without trailer)

    Dartford = £2.90. Mersey = £5.60.

    Toll History

    We have not got a full history of the tolls at Dartford, but when the first Dartford tunnel opened in 1963 the car toll was slightly higher than the Birkenhead tunnel (two shillings and sixpence as against two shillings). It seems that the Dartford car toll would have continued to be slightly more expensive than Mersey till 1992 when the Mersey Tunnels car toll (£1.00) overtook the Dartford car toll (90 pence). The Dartford toll car increased to £1.00 in 1996 and is currently still at that level. The Mersey car toll went to £1.20 in 1999, £1.30 in 2005 and £1.40 in 2008.

    For the first 29 years of the Mersey Tunnels their annual income would have been higher than the Dartford Crossing - because there wasn't one!
    For the next 28 years the Mersey Tunnels annual income was probably higher or similar as the Mersey Tunnels had more lanes (4 to 2 for 8 years, 8 to 2 for 9 years, 8 to 4 for 11 years).
    For the last 17 years the Dartford Crossing income has probably been higher.

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    Skye - Before the tolls were removed altogether residents could get books of tickets, which worked out at a 74% discount.

    London - Residents of the charge zone get a 90% discount, so the £8 daily charge is reduced to £4 a week, £16 a month or £201.60 a year.

    Runcorn - Halton Council have said that when the bridges are tolled, their residents will get a substantial discount and they are aiming for 100%.

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    STORIES about the toll proposals

    Daily Post Monday 16th June - "Anti-toll protesters cite Dartford solution as the way forward for tunnels"

    BBC Sunday 15th June - "Demonstration over toll charges"

    BBC Friday 13th June - "Toll protesters step up campaign"

    Daily Post Friday 13th June - "Comment: Fighting on over tunnel injustice"

    Daily Post Friday 13th June - "Furious tunnel protesters step up anti-tolls battle"

    Daily Post Saturday 31st May - "MP calling for discount tunnel toll for locals"

    Wirral News Wednesday 21st May - "Wirral tunnel campaigners planning walk demo"

    Wirral News Wednesday 14th May - "MP Chapman: Tunnel discount should apply"

    Wirral Globe Tuesday 13th May - "Minister rules new tolls rise is to stay"

    Wirral News Wednesday 30th April - ""Axe tunnel toll" call at Wallasey meeting"

    BBC Friday 25th April - "Toll campaigners launch manifesto"

    Daily Post Friday 25th April - "Tunnel campaigners plead for residents’ toll discounts"

    Wirral Globe Wednesday 23rd April - "COUNCILS UNITE TO SCRAP TOLLS"

    Liverpool Echo Tuesday 22nd April - "Tunnel bid defeated"

    Daily Post Tuesday 22nd April - "Wirral Council united in Mersey tolls battle"

    Daily Post Wednesday 16th April - "All party backing for the abolition of Mersey tunnel tolls"

    BBC Monday 17th March - "Call for discount on tunnels toll"

    Wirral News Wednesday 12th March - "Wirral tunnel users campaign for resident tolls"

    Some published LETTERS

    Wirral News Wednesday 21st May - "Flannel about tunnel act is just a smokescreen"

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    MOTION at WIRRAL COUNCIL on Monday 21st April

    (1) The Council believes that:

    (a) the Mersey Tunnels are vital to Wirral's economy in order to connect businesses and individuals from the peninsula to the rest of Merseyside and the wider national road and motorway network;
    (b) the use of the tunnel tolls to raise revenue for Merseytravel has the potential to damage Wirral’s economy;

    and the Council notes:

    (c) that Labour and Conservative governments have previously refused to repay the debt associated with the Mersey Tunnels to bring them into the national road network, despite repeated lobbying by this Council;
    (d) that all tolls charges in Scotland have been abolished;
    (e) that, following lobbying by their Labour MPs Andrew MacKinlay (Thurrock) and Angela Smith (Basildon & East Thurrock), residents of Thurrock and Dartford now receive substantial discounts when using the crossings there.

    (2) This Council asserts its position that any changes in the financing of the Mersey Tunnels must not shift the burden of costs on to Wirral's council tax payers; but within this context it:

    (i) affirms its view that tolling for the Mersey tunnels should be removed, and that they should be brought into the national road network with any outstanding debts, together with future maintenance and operating costs, being incorporated in the national road network debt;

    (ii) welcomes and supports the efforts of the Mersey Tunnel Users Association, who have suggested the introduction of a scheme based on the ‘Dartford Tunnel Toll Model’, while noting that this scheme has not yet been implemented, and that the Government has stated that this is a special case and will not be replicated elsewhere and that no additional monies will be provided by the Government, as the scheme has to be selffunded;

    (iii) believes that the tunnels should be free to users and welcomes any step towards achieving this without placing any additional cost on individual local authorities;

    (iv) asks Council officers to liaise with Merseytravel to investigate the introduction of a discounted scheme that will reduce the burden of tolls substantially on residents of Wirral and Liverpool without placing additional burdens on the other Merseyside authorities and Wirral council tax payers.

    (iv) asks Wirral’s four Labour MPs to support this Notice of Motion and actively lobby the Government to emulate the success of MPs Andrew MacKinlay and Angela Smith.

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