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Last Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005, 15:06 GMT
Bridge board backs 4 toll plan
Operators said they need money for bridge repairs
Operators said they need money for bridge repairs
The operators of the Forth Road Bridge have backed a system of variable tolls which would see charges rising to 4 for lone drivers during the rush hour.

The decision was reached on the casting vote of the chairman of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta).

It must now seek ministerial approval before carrying out public consultation on the move, aimed at easing congestion and paying for repairs.

However, anti-toll campaigners have already promised opposition.

Feta has sanctioned an investigation into whether the bridge's suspension cables, which have been subject to corroding, can be replaced without shutting the crossing during the repair work.

Peak times

It warned that the structure could be closed to all traffic by 2019 if corrosion on the main cables was not tackled.

Tolls apply to those drivers using the northbound carriageway heading into Fife from Edinburgh.

Currently car drivers using the bridge must pay 1, with higher charges for bigger vehicles.

Lawrence Marshall, Feta chairman
At the moment, 80% of people crossing the bridge during the peak period do so alone in their vehicle
Lawrence Marshall
Feta chairman

The system proposed by Feta would see a basic 1 payment for cars, with extra charges at peak times.

These would rise to a maximum of 4 between 1600 and 1800 BST - although there would be a 50% discount to cars with at least one passenger at certain times.

Charges for goods vehicles would be based on their size and height.

Feta said it hoped the tolls would raise more money for repairs and maintenance and control congestion by deterring people from crossing at periods of peak traffic.

Five Feta members supported the proposal to raise bridge tolls and an equal number opposed it - in particular those from Fife and West Lothian.

They said it would prove too expensive and could cost some drivers up to 80 a week to cross the bridge.

Most efficient

They were angry about "insufficient provision" on the railways and buses to take over people who preferred to leave their car at home.

The casting vote went to Lawrence Marshall, the chair of Feta, who defended its decision.

He told BBC Scotland: "I think the anger of the people of Fife would have been greater were we to not manage the bridge in the most efficient way possible.

"At the moment, 80% of people crossing the bridge during the peak period do so alone in their vehicle. We're not managing the infrastructure as best we can."

Transport Minister Tavish Scott will have 60 days to decide on whether to support the plans.

tom minogue
It is going to be a disincentive for industry coming into Fife
Tom Minogue
National Alliance Against Tolls

If he does, they would go out to public consultation between February and May next year, with a public inquiry to be held in November.

Feta hopes that the scheme would then come into force in October 2007.

Friends of the Earth Scotland said the move was long overdue and added: "The sooner the measures are put in place the better."

But the decision was described as "disappointing" by Bruce Crawford, Scottish National Party MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife.

"The issue here is not one of tackling congestion as, for many people, there is no real alternative than to use the Forth Road Bridge," he said.

"No matter how many buses, trains or ferries they put on, most people will still have no option but to use the bridge to get to work and back.

"This is a cash-raising measure, not an attempt to tackle congestion."

Replacing cables

He said the minister should make planning for a new bridge his top priority.

Tom Minogue of the National Alliance Against Tolls said: "It is going to be a disincentive for industry coming into Fife. I know that as a businessman myself.

"Having run my own business in Fife and in the Lothians, I would not consider placing a new business in Fife when I was faced with my employees having to pay this charge."

Feta also agreed to call in expert advisers to carry out two engineering studies, at a total cost of 2.7m, to address corrosion in the main bridge cables.

One will look into dehumidification system estimated to cost 12m, while the other will examine the case for replacing the cables.

Bridgemaster Alastair Andrew said Feta was confident that the corrosion had been caught early enough to do something about it.

The meeting also approved the removal of discount vouchers from the end of May 2006, to be replaced by an electronic tolling system.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch how the reached the decision



SEE ALSO:
Forth Road Bridge closure warning
17 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Probe into bridge cable corrosion
10 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Capacity concern over road bridge
02 Sep 05 |  Scotland
Forth bridge project costs soar
24 Aug 05 |  Scotland


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