Government plans for the future of the Severn Crossing are a missed opportunity, say transport businesses.
The Freight Transport Association represents the transport interests of companies moving goods by road, rail, sea and air, and has welcomed the announcement from the Department for Transport that tolls payable at the Severn Crossing are to be reduced.
The reductions, which are to be introduced in 2018, are intended to save drivers and businesses money, and thus help to boost the economy and have been applauded by Welsh Conservatives.
However, the Freight Transport Association which has lobbied government hard to either remove the tolls altogether or introduce a maintenance cost only, is disappointed that the Consultation does not go further.
Commenting on the announcement, Ian Gallagher of the Freight Transport Association said, “While the reductions are welcome, the Government had a real opportunity to provide a boost to the Welsh economy by scrapping the £63 million debt and introducing lower charges. Realistically, the FTA is keen to see out of hours travel permitted free of charge, as well as incentivisation for the take up of the TAG system.”
The lowered fees will be applicable to drivers paying by cash or by the electronic TAG system, who are the most regular users of the crossing. However, benefits for fleet operators using the TAG will only apply after 20 crossings:
“Making 20 crossings or more is a significant monetary commitment for fleet operators,” continued Gallagher, “and one which the Association will continue to lobby government on, to ensure the threshold is revisited at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The Consultation also looks at the introduction of Free Flow technology across both East and West routes.
“We welcome the commitment to halve the tolls again if charging is introduced both ways,” said Gallagher.
“At a time of continuing economic uncertainty, when businesses are already facing increased pressure on turnover thanks to changes in currency values, these reductions are, on the whole, very welcome indeed.
“However, the Association will continue to lobby for further reductions and incentives for hard pressed operators. The Severn Crossing is a vital artery linking Wales with England and trading routes on into Europe, and these savings will ensure that businesses on both sides of the Severn can continue to trade at the most competitive rates with their customers.”
Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, announced plans for a two-way ‘free flowing’ tolling system to be introduced – which could lead to motorists paying £1.50 each way.
Afterwards, Welsh Assembly Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George, said the announcement was a “huge boost” to motorists, adding, “The decision to cut the tolls is a huge boost to motorists, and the introduction of a free-flowing tolling system will encourage investment and make the Welsh economy more competitive.
“This is a welcome step forward, and further evidence that the UK Conservative Government is delivering for the people of Wales.”