A report that private toll roads aren’t a cost-effective answer to traffic problems confirms what Claire Evans, Which? Car deputy editor, believes – toll gates should be thrown open at times of excessive congestion.
The Campaign for Better Transport found that the UK’s only private toll, on the M6, had not significantly improved journey times since it opened seven years ago.
According to the organisation, most drivers are loathe to pay £5 a car to use the toll road. This means its operator, Midland Expressway, is losing out on more than £25 million a year, discouraging potential investors.
In contrast, the south east’s most prominent toll, the Dartford Crossing, seems to be a big revenue earner. Yet, after I’ve sat in patient frustration for more than two hours queuing in traffic to cross it, I firmly believe that everyone would benefit if toll gates were left open when traffic congestion reached a certain level.
The cost of blocked toll gates
While sitting in the traffic I had time to make a few calculations – there are 12 southbound booths, each letting in one vehicle every nine seconds. That’s 80 cars a minute, or 4,800 cars an hour. There’s often a tailback of an hour or more, which means that they’re holding up at least 4,800 drivers, even if no more joined the queue. That’s a hell of a lot.
Each working car driver (sales rep, engineer, etc.) is losing their employer £25 while sitting unproductively in their car, and each truck could be costing around £75 an hour. Assuming that 40% of the drivers are unpaid commuters, 40% are paid drivers and 20% are trucks, that’s £120,000 an hour lost to business.
And that’s not to mention the detriment to the environment of all those vehicles churning out pollution while they’re going nowhere.
Time to unblock the toll gates
The really annoying thing is that if the government just let the traffic through at the worst times, they would probably make more money from the increase in corporation tax.
And I bet they’d make more from toll fees in the long run too, as more drivers would feel inclined to pay the toll to use the route at less busy times. Surely this is a lesson the M6 toll operator should take a note of?