On Saturday, October 7 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 higher than expected levels of inflation and interest rates, extreme rises in energy and fuel costs, and ongoing reductions 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.
A spokesperson from the crossing explained: "The income needed to operate, maintain and improve the two crossings comes from tolls. Since the invasion of Ukraine in Spring 2022 we have seen extremely high and unpredicted levels of inflation which have significantly affected the cost of everything we do, and this is compounded by the fact that our traffic levels are still only 90% of pre-Covid levels with a corresponding effect on income.
"As a result we are now operating in deficit and have minimal reserves. The crossings operate on a self-financing basis with no subsidy from either the Government or the owners of the two crossings - Plymouth City Council and Cornwall Council - both of which have very pressing demands on their finances and are not in a position to offer financial support."
It is said that the organisation’s reserves are forecast to be completely depleted during 2024/ 2025, with Tamar Crossings facing a significant and growing financial deficit unless there is intervention to increase income.
A spokesperson continued: "Neither Council is in a position to fund a deficit and there is currently no prospect of support from Government, although the Joint Committee and the two Councils are continuing to actively lobby for that support."
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.
Members of the public will be asked for their views on five options that are under consideration:
1 Increase tolls for cars to £3.00 cash and £1.50 tag. This option follows our previous approach of increasing both cash and tag rates by similar percentages, keeping the 50% discount. It would however provide very little resilience and is within the margin of error on our forecasts. If costs increase faster than expected, traffic levels are lower than anticipated or there are other unexpected events impacting on finance, further increases will be required.
2 Increase tolls for cars to £3.20 cash and £1.60 tag. This option also follows our previous approach of pro-rata increases but provides the resilience that is missing from option 1 whilst maintaining a 50% discount.
3 Increase tolls for cars to £3.00 cash and £1.80 tag. This option keeps the ceiling price of tolls the same as option 1 but addresses resilience concerns by reducing tag discount.
4 Increase bridge tolls for cars to £3.00 cash and £1.50 tag and ferry tolls to £4.00 cash and £2.00 tag. This option reflects the higher unit cost of moving traffic across the Tamar via the ferry. The option provides a satisfactory level of resilience compared to the similar option without supplementary charges for ferry users. The option does however change the historical approach of equal pricing and may have an effect on usage patterns, encouraging less use of the ferry and more traffic at the Bridge.
5 No change in tolls. This ‘do nothing’ option is being presented but this is not a practical way forward as it carries very significant risk for service delivery into the future.
The consultation catchment has three components:
On Saturday, October 7 and Tuesday, October 10 2023, those using either of the crossings will be invited to participate in a structured survey. Those paying cash will be handed a leaflet and questionnaire with tag users receiving an email or letter in the week following their crossings asking them to complete the same form. This structure ensures feedback is received from a balanced cross-section of users.
A set of specific key stakeholders will be contacted directly including MPs, haulage industry representatives, parish and town councils, emergency services, interest groups and local politicians.
"We are also keen to receive written feedback from any interested parties who are not part of the structured survey." a spokesperson added.
Information about the consultation, including a copy of the consultation leaflet and a link to the questionnaire, will be available on the crossing's website - www.tamarcrossings.org.uk - from 00.01 on Saturday, October 7 when the consultation goes live.
People can also provide written feedback by email at [email protected] or by writing to Tamar Crossings Consultation at Tamar Bridge Office, Pemros Road, St Budeaux, Plymouth PL5 1LP.
“The crossings over the Tamar are crucial to local residents and businesses, as well as to people visiting Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall” said Joint Chairs Councillor Martin Worth and Councillor Neil Hendy.
“We recognise that many local people have no choice but to use the crossings, particularly to access health care and education services. Even with the tag discount, the cost of living crisis means that some are already struggling and would not be able to cope with any further increases. However we are facing unprecedented financial challenges and need to ensure that we have funding to continue to deliver these services.
“We have already written to the local MPs and are awaiting all the responses to come in so we can approach Ministers together with one voice from the South West. However, in the meantime, as our only source of revenue is currently toll charges, we need to go ahead with local consultation to seek the views of people using the crossings on the options which are before us”.
The consultation will run until October 29 following which the information gathered will be analysed and presented to members of the Joint Committee at their meeting in December 2023.