Midland Express Limited (MEL), which operates the M6 toll connecting M6 junctions 3a and 11a, has announced that it will be increasing the cost of its daytime toll charge by 40p. It is the first increase for five years. A one-way trip for car drivers will rise to £5.90 at the main tolls, and £4.40 at the local tolls. Evenings and weekends will be unaffected. Prices for Class 5 vehicles (i.e. HGVs) will be frozen at £11. This is to encourage more large vehicles onto the toll road, something that MEL has struggled to achieve due to the cost.
Carrying 53,000 vehicles per day and stretching for 27 miles, the M6 toll road, originally called the Birmingham North Relief Road, was opened in 2003. It aimed to ease congestion on the M6 and help drivers escape the traffic around Birmingham. However, it has consistently failed to meet the 75,000 vehicles per day expectation it had when opened.
White elephant or a good investment?
Costing a massive £900 million to create, and built to withstand 100,000 vehicles per day, the toll road does not seem to have attracted the amount of traffic that it set out to divert away from the M6. It has proven to be an expensive alternative that is not particularly popular with drivers, with toll fares rising from the £2 per trip cost at launch in 2003 to almost £6 today.
In addition to this, it has caused significant and irreversible effects on the environment, increasing noise, congestion and air pollution in the local area. Many now believe that funding for bus or cycle options would have been a far better alternative for reducing the volume of traffic, as well as being kinder to the environment.
One reasons the M6 toll road has not been as successful as predicted is the post-2008 financial climate. Another is higher fuel prices. Raising the cost of using the road has also pushed drivers away in the past (as anyone who understands economics would expect!). Putting incentives in place to attract more people to use the road may have been more effective. Lowering the cost for HGVs to below £10 could have been a more better approach than freezing prices, for example.
MEL justifies the price rise
Prices for the toll road have not increased since 2012, due to sensitivity around the economic climate and financial stability for both the public and companies. However, MEL has said that the price rise needs to happen so that it catches up with inflation. This is despite people’s wages not seeing the same increase. It means that locals are no better off financially, but are still expected to pay higher charges.
The news comes after it emerged that the toll road has finally started to make a profit, following years of losses. It seems to coincide with plans for more roadworks on the M5 and M6, which are sure to encourage more drivers to use the M6 toll to escape the inevitable congestion. The price hike is occurring just in time for MEL to benefit from this.
HGV toll price freeze
The toll charge for HGVs has been frozen in a bid to tempt more haulage companies to use the toll road. The measure aims to lure them away from the already busy M6. However, at £11 per journey it doesn’t seem that many companies are happy to pay such high fees, preferring to use the money elsewhere. One company went so far as to say that it wouldn’t use it unless it was free.
The fundamental problem with a toll road trying to attract HGVs is that there a free motorway alternative. That motorway is more congested, but haulage firms are more concerned about saving £22 per truck than they are about being 20 mins later for their deliveries. It seems that MEL’s attempt to attract more trade by freezing prices is at best optimistic.
With this new price increase expected to deter even more motorists from using the M6 toll road, it is questionable whether it will ever start making the money that it needs to in order to repay the costs of construction and maintenance. This suggests that those who use it may face even steeper price rises in the future.
What do you think about the M6 toll road increasing prices for all vehicle classes except HGVs? Has this encouraged you to use it more or angered you and made you less likely to use it? Let us know in the comments below.