The government has announced that the Severn crossing tolls will be scrapped in 2018. The move plans to boost the economies of South Wales and the South West of England, by making them more accessible to each other. If it works, might the scrapping of the Severn tolls be a sign of things to come for the UK’s other toll roads?
A new economic era
Used by 25 million vehicles every year, the Severn crossings give businesses, commuters, and tourists a simple way to travel between South West England and South Wales. By banishing the tolls, the government hopes this will show that it is committed to improving the Welsh economy.
The government claims the move will help to boost Wales’ economy by £100 million annually. The change will also purportedly save some motorists as much as £1,400 each year.
The road to zero tolls
Opened in 1966, the Severn Bridge took three and a half years to build, at a cost of £8 million. It was hailed as marking the beginning of a new economic era for South Wales. The second Severn crossing was inaugurated in 1996 to help ease the traffic on the original bridge and offer a shorter route into Wales. Built by Severn River Crossing plc, which also took over the management of the original Severn Bridge, this second crossing cost £330 million to create.
The plan is for Highways England to take over the running of the bridges at the start of 2018. Toll charges will first be reduced and then scrapped completely by the end of the year, as pledged by Theresa May in the General Election.
The initial decrease in cost will see cars, minibuses and vans paying £3 to cross and lorries paying £10. The money will be used to help meet the cost of maintaining, fixing and resurfacing the crossings, at an estimated £95 million.
The toll reduction comes with an estimated congestion increase of 17%. It is unknown what the impact on congestion will be once the toll charges are removed completely. One can imagine that noise and air pollution will rise steeply.
(Credit – David CC BY 2.0)
The sign of things to come?
If this change is a success, might the government also look at lowering, or abolishing, toll charges on other roads? The UK is on a delicate economic path over the next few years. If a link between removing toll charges and significant economic improvement can be proven, no doubt many other areas will be keen to cash in on the example being set by the Severn crossings.
Removing toll charges from other areas would also help out motorists who are struggling to meet the financial costs associated with driving, either due to having to pay tolls or by taking longer routes in order to avoid them.
Whether this sparks a chain of events that sees toll roads across the UK becoming free to drive on remains to be seen. Certainly, for now, the PetrolPrices team will be watching the impact of the Severn crossings toll scrappage scheme on the UK’s economy with keen interest.
Will scrapping the Severn crossing tolls deliver the expected economic benefits? If it does, will the government scrap other toll charges around the UK? Leave a comment to let us know your views.