RHA bleating over M4 toll road plans

I’m becoming more and more irritated by the insistence of the RHA that the country as a whole should help hauliers run their businesses profitably.

This article about the proposed M4 toll road demonstrates my point perfectly. It reports ‘warnings’ from the RHA that “plans for an M4 toll relief road would cripple haulage businesses delivering into Wales and seriously damage the economy”.

RHA regional director Mike Farmer is reported as suggesting that a private company builds the road and then the Government repays it back over a period of time, based on traffic counts on the new road, or “shadow tolling” as it’s known.

While the PFI shadow toll suggestion is certainly workable, it’s hardly a fair solution to the problem. The A55 extension across Anglesey is funded by just such a scheme, the 20 mile stretch of dual carriageway is expected to have cost every Welsh resident over £130 by the time the road’s been paid for in 2026. This is for a road which provides no benefit whatsoever to the vast majority of the Welsh population and is mainly used by foreign hauliers who pay nothing at all towards the cost and don’t benefit the Welsh economy in any way.

Mr Farmer is obviously fully aware that there’s already a substantial toll for entering South Wales via the Severn Bridges; has that crippled haulage businesses delivering into Wales and seriously damaged the economy?

Has the M6 Toll crippled haulage businesses in the Midlands and seriously damaged the economy? It hasn’t because, as Mr Farmer points out: “hauliers have snubbed it due to time savings of less than 20 minutes being achieved, £11 for 17 minutes doesn’t stack up economically”. No doubt the hauliers would be happy enough to use it if it was paid for through “shadow tolling” as Mr Farmer suggests the proposed M4 relief road should be. So should the whole of England be contributing towards a road that saves a few truckers, many of them foreign, less than 40 minutes a day? 42,000 motorists per day do pay to use the M6 Toll, removing 42,000 vehicles from the M6 and helping to keep the delays for the truckers using the route down to (an apparently acceptable) 17 minutes.

Incidentally, I should point out to Mr Farmer that the M6 Toll is £7.66 plus VAT (£9 including VAT), not £11 as he claims, and is the same price for a Transit van as it is for an articulated lorry. I’m surprised that a regional director of the RHA who feels he’s qualified to discuss the relative benefits of a major road toll scheme, doesn’t seem to know how much his own members are being charged for the use of the only comparable scheme in the UK.

£7.66 seems a bit expensive to me for a Transit van, especially considering the relative amount of wear caused to the road by larger vehicles, but we still often use the M6 Toll when we’re carrying time-sensitive goods, the road appears to be widely used by many other same day couriers as well. Mr Farmer should be happy that his members are able to drive a fully loaded artic along the M6 Toll for the same price.

If the delays on the existing M4 aren’t bad enough to make motorists want to use a new toll road, then they can continue to put up with what are obviously very minor delays. If the delays are serious enough to warrant a lot of money being spent to improve the problem then why shouldn’t it be the people who benefit from the expenditure who pay for it? Why should a factory worker in Wrexham contribute towards making a Polish lorry driver’s day 20 minutes shorter when he delivers to Cardiff?

There are congested motorways throughout the UK and it’s clear that in most cases no new roads are planned to ease the congestion. As we’ve learnt from previous roadbuilding projects, new motorways soon fill up with motorists pushing the boundaries of their ‘drive to work’ area, causing extra congestion on feeder routes. Put simply, if you were to extend, for example, the M65 so that it went from Preston to York there would be people from both ends who would decide that it was a reasonable daily commute, the existing stretch of motorway would immediately become more congested than it is now and the local roads would all be full of cars heading for the motorway. The M6 Toll is one of the few major road projects that hasn’t caused this type of problem – precisely because people have to pay to use it. If it had been free it would already be suffering from congestion.

Posted under Tolls, Charges & Fines

Posted by Alec at 11:39 am, August 13, 2008

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