Parties pledge to scrap road bridge tolls for car-sharers

LABOUR and the Lib Dems today said they would scrap tolls on the Forth Road Bridge for cars carrying more than one person.

Both the parties revealed their manifestos for the Scottish Parliament elections on May 3 will include the pledge, along with a proposal to abolish tolls altogether on the Tay Bridge. They claimed the move would help cut congestion on the Forth Road Bridge by encouraging car-sharing and so prolong the life of the crossing, while still bringing in money to help pay for repairs.

But they insisted the SNP's policy of scrapping all tolls over the Forth was "irresponsible" because it would increase congestion and mean losing the 20 million a year raised by the charges when it has not yet been decided how to pay for the planned new Forth crossing.

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First Minister Jack McConnell said: "I am still concerned that removing tolls completely on the Forth Bridge could lead to increased traffic congestion and ending the revenue stream from tolls before detailed costs and proposals are prepared for a new crossing of the Forth is simply irresponsible.

"That is why Labour will remove the Forth tolls for vehicles with more than one person in them. That way, we provide an incentive for people to car-share, we reduce congestion, and we may help to extend the life of the current road bridge."

He said the change to the tolling regime would be made early in the next term of the Scottish Parliament. It is understood there is no proposal at the moment to make solo drivers pay more than the current 1 toll.

It is estimated ending tolls for multi-occupancy cars would mean losing around 7m a year in revenue.

Just last month, Labour and Lib Dem ministers defended bridge tolls during a debate in the Scottish Parliament on an SNP motion calling for their abolition.

But today a Labour source said: "Ministers from both parties have had more time to consider the economic impact and the various reports."

The current bridge, opened in 1964, is carrying twice as many vehicles as it was designed for and its main cables have lost ten per cent of their strength. Projections say it could have to close to heavy goods vehicles by 2013. Transport Minister Tavish Scott announced last month the Scottish Executive would build a new crossing, but he could not guarantee it would be completed by 2013.

The idea of higher tolls for single-occupancy cars, with discounts for vehicles carrying passengers, had previously been floated by the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, but was knocked back by ministers.

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Scottish Nationalists today accused Labour of a partial U-turn on tolls.

SNP Mid-Scotland & Fife MSP Tricia Marwick said: "It is only weeks since Labour and Lib Dems voted against an SNP motion calling for abolition of tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges.

"Unlike Labour and the Lib Dems, the SNP have a clear and consistent policy to abolish all tolls on the Forth - what Labour are proposing for the Forth is a dog's breakfast, and would leave it as the only bridge in Scotland with a toll."

Lothians Green MSP Mark Ballard attacked the proposal, saying:

"This is a blatant piece of electioneering. Scrapping tolls will make it cheaper to drive into Edinburgh and it will mean problems at the Barnton roundabout will get even worse.

"Instead of removing tolls, the money should be spent on improving the dire public transport between Fife and Edinburgh."

Anti-toll campaigners welcomed plans to scrap the Tay charges but expressed dismay that Labour and the Lib Dems wanted to retain tolls over the Forth.