Christmas has come early for those who cross the Severn toll bridges frequently, as Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns announced that they will be axed on Monday 17th December, a week earlier than planned.

The toll, which was reduced at New Year this year, will be completely axed in a bold move aiming to improve the southern Welsh economy.

Historic move

The toll on the Severn Crossings has been around since the original bridge was opened in 1966, some 50 years ago. And now, half a century later, the toll will be removed completely to allow for “toll-free, free flow” journeys between England and Wales.

Mr Cairns, speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, said “My number one aim when I became secretary of state for Wales, was to do away with tolling that for half a century has restricted and distorted the growth and connections of the Welsh economy.

Wales will be more open for business than ever. Scrapping tolls before the festive period is an early Christmas present for hard-working commuters who will be £1,400 per year better off.

This is just the start of my plan to pursue yet more growth for a stronger and a better-connected Wales. Scrapping the Severn tolls is an example of the Conservatives ensuring that all four nations of the UK thrive after Brexit, in doing so, transforming the joint economic prospects of south Wales and the west of England.”

The end of an era?

Toll roads have slowly phased out since the 1600’s turnpike roads, an ancient method of paying for the upkeep of roads was introduced. While very basic, they helped to keep roads maintained.

In the 1960’s when turnpike roads were formally abolished by the government, some still remained operated by companies or by local or national authorities. One famous toll road, the M6, remains one of the few roads to have a toll added in recent years, rather than it being removed.

Toll roads are unpopular with some motorists, who argue that we should either pay tolls or pay tax on fuel/Vehicle Excise Duty rather than both. This move, pushed by Mr Cairns, will save motorists who travel across the Severn frequently up to £1,400.

A pattern across the country

The removal of the toll at the Severn Crossings shows that tolls do not necessarily benefit the economy. The toll made the government around ten million a month, but it is hoped that the free entry to Wales will not only benefit the Welsh economy but help to improve relations, boost tourism and increase the business growth in Wales.

There are over 20 toll roads across the country, and while some argue that they help to reduce emissions nationally, others argue that the cost of tolls is just another financial burden on the motorist that they don’t need, creating an unhealthy relationship between the government and the motorist.

It has been suggested by some of our members in comments of previous posts to either charge the motorist on fuel duty or to charge them for using the roads. Some mentioned France, where major roads are tolled, and you pay every certain distance as a potential option, but others pushed for a complete removal of tolls, as in Scotland who abolished all tolls in 2008.

The pro’s and con’s

One of the obvious benefits to this is the reduction in cost for daily commuters. Some could save up to £1,400 a year for daily travellers. For companies who pay £16.70 a time for a lorry to cross the bridge, it means that the half a million or so a year that one haulier company could potentially pay, this can be invested in otherwise developing the business.

However, the downside could potentially be increased congestion in the area as the routes become more popular. When the tolls were removed on the Tay and Forth road bridges, environmental campaigners protested the change saying the extra pollution would provide no benefit to the Scottish economy, who at the time had just released a paper stating the need to reduce emissions drastically.

Should this toll removal be reflected in other parts of the country? Do you agree with toll fares? Let us know in the comments below

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