Commercial fleet operators have welcomed the beginning of the end for year-on-year toll increases for users of the two Severn Bridges on the M4 and M48.
However, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has urged the Government to confirm the date by which tolls will be removed from the bridges altogether.
Ian Gallagher, FTA policy manager for Wales and the Southwest, said: “Today marks a turning point for users of the bridges, although the reduction by the rate of VAT has little impact on the business community which, in many cases, can reclaim this cost.
“The intended removal of all charges on the bridges by the end of this year is a welcome boost to logistics businesses in both the South West and South Wales already facing serious financial pressures. With the uncertainty of Brexit looming, anything which can help to boost business revenues is great news to keep economies on both sides of the Severn estuary trading effectively.”
From today (Monday, January 8, 2018) control of the bridges will come back into public ownership and become the responsibility of the Government owned body, Highways England. At this point the charges will be reduced by the level of VAT, which will see the rate for crossing the bridge reducing to £5.60 from £6.70 for car drivers, £11.20 from £13.40 for van operators and £16.70 from £20.00 for Large Goods Vehicles.
Gallagher said: “At such an uncertain time for the logistics industry, the injection of capital previously used for the payment of tolls will go a long way to future-proofing those businesses which keep Wales and England trading.
“What’s required now is a commitment from Highways England to a date in 2018 when all charges will go, and for any business looking to invest along the M4 corridor, a guarantee that charges will not be reintroduced at some point in the future.”
Although generally optimistic, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) remains cautious about the reduction, and eventual scrapping of tolls on both of the Severn crossings that link England and Wales.
The Government has pledged that both crossings will be toll-free by the end of the year, but what will the impact be on traffic management?
“Hauliers operate to very tight margins so any measures to reduce their costs is welcome,” said RHA chief executive Richard Burnett. “The eventual removal of tolls will be a tremendous boost to the local businesses and haulage firms who rely these major routes.
“However, the inevitable increase in traffic will put a big strain on the current infrastructure. Hauliers and businesses need strong reassurance that, as the deadline for the end of tolls approaches, the necessary steps needed to maintain smooth traffic flow are put in place as a matter of urgency.
“If the roads can’t cope then any potential savings will be in vain.”