On Thursday, 13 January the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee are launching a consultation exercise on proposals to address the financial shortfall caused by the impact of Covid 19 and ongoing reduction in traffic levels on the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferries.
Between them the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry carry around 18 million vehicles a year (16 million on the bridge and 2 million on the ferries), with the two crossings recognised as uniquely important to the economy of the region.
In accordance with the Tamar Bridge Act both crossings are funded on a “user pays” principle by toll income. This means that the money needed to operate, maintain and improve the two crossings comes from toll charges. No funding is received from Central Government or from the owners of the crossings – Plymouth City Council and Cornwall Council.
Before the coronavirus pandemic it was anticipated that tolls would increase during 2023. However because traffic levels at both crossings have been significantly reduced since the pandemic started, our income has been severely affected. A proposal to increase tolls last Autumn was deferred in December 2020 following financial COVID support from the Government. This support has now ended, with no prospect of any additional external funding.
Traffic levels remain significantly below those recorded prior to the pandemic and are expected to remain so for some years, and the organisation’s reserves are forecast to be completely depleted during 2022. Tamar Crossings are facing a significant and growing financial deficit unless there is intervention to increase income. The latest figures from Tamar Crossings forecast an annual funding gap of £3.2m by March 2024, with an accumulated reserve deficit of £6.9m by March 2025.
During the past 12 months the Joint Committee has looked in detail at all areas of spending, including staffing, reduced service levels and a range of other options to address the financial shortfall. In July the Committee’s Joint Chairs wrote to the Government requesting that National Highways (formerly Highways England) contribute towards the costs of maintaining the Bridge. Unfortunately the Government did not support this request. There is currently no prospect of further support from the Government, but the Joint Committee and the two Councils are continuing to lobby the Government.
With traffic levels still around 90% of pre Covid levels, and both authorities already facing significant and pressing demands on their finances, without ongoing funding support from the Government the only current viable option to secure the future of the crossings is to revise tolls.
After considering a number of proposals, including a 35% increase for all users and different levels of increase for cash and tag users, the Joint Committee is consulting on a 30% increase (the lowest increase of the options considered) for both the tag and cash tolls of all vehicle types.
This would mean the car toll charge for TamarTag customers would rise from £1.00 to £1.30 – equating to an extra £1.50 per week for a TamarTag car user making five return crossings a week. For those paying by cash the car toll would rise from £2.00 to £2.60.
The aim of the consultation is to provide information to users and key stakeholders on the Joint Committee’s finances, and to seek views on both the immediate proposals and the future structure of charges.
As in previous Tamar Crossings consultation exercises, a representative sample of people using the crossings – both cash and tag account users – will be consulted on two set days (a weekday and a weekend day). Using this method provides the views of a balanced cross-section of users.
Leaflets and questionnaires will be issued to users of both crossings on Thursday, 13 January and Saturday, 15 January. This will be carried out by hand, e-mail or post depending on method of payment – TamarTag users at the Bridge will be identified from their tag identification and subsequently contacted so they will not need to stop at booths to collect paper copies.
We are also inviting feedback from a range of key stakeholders including the emergency services, local councils and haulage associations.
Any interested parties who are not part of the structured survey exercise, including tag account holders who do not travel on those two days, can provide written feedback by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Tamar Crossings at Tamar Bridge Office, Pemros Road, St Budeaux, Plymouth PL5 1LP.
The wider public can access the background information on the Tamar Crossings website at Financing Consultation 2022 where they can also find a copy of the survey https://www.research.net/r/Tamarcrossings-web-2022.
Anyone who does not have access to the internet can write to Tamar Crossings at the above address to request a copy of the survey or they can telephone 01752 361577 or collect a copy from the offices at the Bridge or Ferry.
The consultation will run until 14 February following which the information gathered will be analysed and presented to members of the Joint Committee at their meeting in March 2022.