Fleets to cut costs with free Severn Crossings from 2018 as tolls are axed

Tolls on the Severn Crossings are to be abolished at the end 2018, the government has announced.

The bridges are used by more than 25 million vehicles each year, saving significant travel time and distance for commuters and drivers using the M4 motorway.

However, said the government the tolls on both Severn Crossings were viewed as an economic and symbolic barrier to Wales’ future prosperity.

But there are warnings that fleet savings could be wiped out if traffic planners did not implement measures to combat anticipated congestion as a result of an increase in the number of vehicles using the Crossings.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced in the run-up to this year’s June general election that, if re-elected, the government would axe the tolls.

It is estimated that the announcement will boost the economy of South Wales by around £100 million a year and the average motorist could save over £1,400 per year.

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: “The decision to abolish the Severn tolls next year sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy.

“By ending tolls for the 25 million annual journeys between two nations we will strengthen the links between communities and help to transform the joint economic prospects of South Wales and the South West of England.

“I want to ensure that visitors and investors know what Wales has to offer socially, culturally and economically. Most importantly, I want the world to know how accessible we are to business. The decision we have taken is right for Wales’ future prosperity and I am sure that it will be welcomed by industry and motorists alike.”

The bridges are currently run by a consortium, the Severn River Crossing, but are due to come under public ownership, when they will be run by Highways England from the end of this year or in early 2018, when the current charging system will automatically end. It currently costs £20 for an HGV to cross into Wales, £13.40 for a van and £6.70 for a car.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Tens of millions of motorists a year will benefit from the end of tolls on the Severn bridges, saving them money and cutting journey times. People who use the crossing every day will save a minimum of £115 a month.

“Abolishing the crossing fee will also drive economic growth for businesses in Wales and the South West and further strengthen the bond between our two great countries.”

Ian Gallagher, head of policy for South West and Wales Freight Transport Association, welcomed the announcement saying: “It is excellent news for the growth of the Welsh and South West Economies, a real shot in the arm for those businesses and commuters who use the bridges on a daily basis.

“Removal of the tolls altogether has been a long-term policy position for the Freight Transport Association, with members on both side of the bridges incurring some of the highest tolls charges in the UK, money better spent on upskilling, recruitment and purchasing greener vehicles.

“Goods vehicle operators will be applauding this decision, a decision which will allow them to reinvest more than £43 million annually collected at the booths – money which can now be reinvested in job creation and improving fleets.”

The Road Haulage Association responded to the government’s decision with “guarded optimism”.

Chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Any measures that reduce a haulier’s operating costs are welcome and those who regularly use the Severn Crossings will be saving at least £20 per day. However, when the tolls end, it is inevitable that the traffic on the crossings will increase considerably as those motorists and operators who have seen the tolls as a deterrent begin to cross the river at these points.

“Although the new measures will leave money in the pockets of those using the Crossings, it will be a false saving if the infrastructure is unable to cope with the increase in traffic volume.

“We sincerely hope that the traffic planners will have given this serious consideration. If not, any savings made will be short lived as journey times increase as a result of congestion.”

“For the road freight operator time is money and there is a real danger that a saving of £20 could well end up being wiped out as a result of delayed delivery times.”

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