Motorists face Mersey Tunnels toll hike to plug funding gap caused by pandemic

Kingsway Tunnel toll plaza

Mersey tunnels commuters face a price hike in tolls to pay for a shortfall caused by budget pressures and a fall in traffic flows during the pandemic.

If approved by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority the cost of a single crossing is set to rise by 20p for car drivers, from April 1, taking the cost of a single journey from £1.80p to £2.

This would be the first rise in tolls in five years.

The combined authority said it is due to increasing public sector budget pressures and increasing maintenance costs, as well as helping to cover the shortfall in revenues due to a reduction in traffic compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Around 60,000 Liverpool City Region residents using the Fast Tag or T-Flow prepayment systems will still qualify for a discount. Under the proposals, the cost of their single journey will rise from £1 to £1.20. Non LCR resident Fast Tag users will see their toll rise from £1.80 to £2.

The combined authority said many motorists will still be paying £1.10 less than the maximum amount authorised by the Tunnels Act.

The Mersey Tunnels are not part of the national road network and receive no government funding to support their operation and upkeep.

The loans originally taken out to fund the tunnels will not be paid off until 2048, with this money not only relating to the building of the tunnels, but also to their maintenance and improvement. The payments on these loans are also fixed, with penalties incurred for paying them off early.

The authority said electricity costs alone for the Queensway and Kingsway tunnels – which are over 80 and 50 years old, respectively – are more than £1m a year.

Liverpool City Region has set a target to achieve net zero by 2040 at the latest – a decade ahead of national targets – to tackle poor air quality locally and the global climate emergency. As part of this effort, the proposed changes include setting aside £500,000 to reduce tolls paid by buses, to support bus operators in cutting fares for cross-Mersey services and encourage people to choose public transport for cross-river journeys.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the public sector over the past two years and the combined authority is not immune to that.

“The costs of keeping our region running, supporting the local economy through the worst of the pandemic and investing to kickstart our recovery have been significant and will continue to be felt for some time. The Government’s failure to deliver its promise of ‘whatever it takes’ in funding support has tied our hands financially. It means that difficult decisions need to be taken to keep vital public services running while also investing for the future.”

He added: “The Mersey Tunnels are a critical part of our region’s infrastructure and require significant, year-round maintenance, yet we receive no central government help to keep them running safely and efficiently. Given the financial pressures the pandemic has forced on us, and the moral duty we have to tackle the climate emergency, we have taken the decision this year to raise Mersey Tunnel tolls to help us balance the books and continue develop a London-style transport system that offers people a reliable, affordable alternative to the car.”