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Roads to Nowhere

Look on the M6 Toll, ye mighty, and despair

Former campaigner's picture

31 January: It's rumoured that the Government will give the go ahead to a tolled bridge over the Mersey this week. They should consider the M6 Toll before doing so.

This isn't just another 'look at the M6 Toll' blog (I've written quite enough of them). There are two really pertinent lessons which ought to be prominent in potential Transport Ministers' bedtime reading. 

The first is that, when private businesses run major roads, they'll set the cost to suit themselves, not national, regional, or local interests. The M6 Toll has just announced that it's putting up the cost of using the road, from £5 to £5.30. When it opened, it cost just £2.50.

Put into that context, I cannot see how the Mersey Gateway could ever cost just £1.40, let alone provide discounts for local users. Charges of £3 or £4 are much more likely.

The second is that businesses may be excited about new infrastructure, but they won't pay to use it. This is partly because of the psychological impact of reaching into their pockets for coins, but also because they imagine the cost will be lower than it is.

78% of Birmingham firms are avoiding the M6 Toll, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Businesses in Merseyside won't have that luxury, as the Silver Jubilee Bridge, which is currently free, will also be charged.

Politicians like to put their names to 'legacy' infrastructure projects. But few would clamour to be associated with the M6 Toll, because it simply didn't work. The Mersey Gateway is cut from the same cloth; its tailors just haven't noticed yet.