Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Hopes for card payment on bridges

Gavin and Stacey at the Second Severn Crossing
The BBC's Gavin and Stacey found love across the cash-only bridges

Hopes are rising that drivers using the two Severn bridges between Wales and England may be able to pay by card.

A working group has reported back to the Highways Agency saying the proposal for the tolls is feasible in principle.

Legislation would need to change, but operator Severn River Crossing says it wants to improve the service.

The situation has turned into such a talking point that it became a joke on the BBC's hit anglo-Welsh comedy series Gavin and Stacey.

News of the potential change has emerged as tolls undergo their annual rise on both crossings from New Year's Day, with cars paying 5.40, a 10p rise.

Small goods vehicles and small buses will pay 10.90, a 30p rise, while buses and heavy goods vehicles pay 16.30, an extra 40p.

Second Severn Crossing

We're keen, as I know the Highways Agency are, to improve the service to motorists using the crossing
Jim Clune, Severn River Crossing

However, the Highways Agency said the new prices reflected the reduction in the rate of VAT and had been set below the level of annual inflation.

SRC general manager Jim Clune said it was difficult to say when credit and debit cards may be accepted but he hoped it would be within a year or two.

"We're hoping it will happen but it's early stages yet," he said.

"We would certainly like to see it in that timescale [a year or two] and the customers would like that too.

"We're keen, as I know the Highways Agency are, to improve the service to motorists using the crossing."

Mr Clune said before cards could be introduced, the legislation governing the crossings would need to be amended.

"They [the Highways Agency] would have to change the legislation because the Severn Bridges Act 1992 doesn't permit payment by cards.

Contractual issues

"I know they're working on it and are fairly determined that it should happen."

A working group was set up in November 2007 to look at the possibility of introducing card payments on both bridges.

The working group, featuring representatives from the Highways Agency, SRC, the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK government, presented its findings in early October to the Highways Agency.

"It established that, in principle, it is feasible to accept credit and debit cards as a method of toll payment at Severn crossings," said a Highways Agency spokesperson.

"A number of detailed operational, technical, financial and contractual issues need to be considered for the project to move forward."

Discussions are also taking place with banks and equipment suppliers, but the spokesperson could not confirm when card payments could start.

The BBC's Gavin and Stacey, about the love affair between an Essex boy and a Barry girl, has highlighted the anomaly by having Gavin complain that he has to use cash every time he crosses the bridge. His mother Pam protests: "Don't they take card? Everyone takes card!"

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said it had no "legal footing" in how bridge tolls were set or operated as it was a matter for the Highways Agency, but it did support card payments.

The RAC said it would also welcome card payments on the bridges but added that traffic flows should not be disrupted.

The bridges are due to become state owned once SRC has collected a figure thought to be about 1bn, a target not expected to be met until 2016.

In theory, tolls could then be scrapped.

Former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mike German has complained that motorists had already paid for the second Severn crossing twice over.

John McGoldrick from the National Alliance Against Tolls said the proposal for allowing the use of credit and debit cards on the bridges"misses the main point".

"Whether drivers pay by cash or card, the tolls cause delays as drivers still have to slow down and fumble to find the cash or a card."



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SEE ALSO
Bridge paid for twice, claims AM
31 Dec 07 |  South East Wales
New Severn crossing charges begin
01 Jan 07 |  South East Wales
'End Severn tolls' call
14 Nov 03 |  Wales

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