The MP for Weaver Vale is calling on Mersey Gateway bosses to let people cross the new bridge for free on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.
Mike Amesbury has submitted a request to the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board’s chief executive David Parr and the tolls system operator Emovis, asking for the fee to be ditched for the festive period.
He said waiving the charge would also let staff spend Christmas at home providing a festive boost for visitors, friends and residents’ relatives.
The Liverpool Echo reports that his request was tabled ahead of the bridge board’s meeting on Tuesday, November 14, and Mr Amesbury said a number of decision-makers have indicated they would support the idea.
The call came as he revealed Freedom Of Information (FOI) data showing a major spike in the number of fines issued on the Dartford Crossing in Essex, whose tolls operator is the same firm as for the Mersey Gateway.
Mr Amesbury, who has consistently opposed the tolls, also argued that the Mersey Tunnels are already free on Christmas Day.
He warned that some drivers heading to visit relatives could be caught out unawares and have their festive period sullied by having to spend time on the phone or internet trying to pay.
This would in turn require staff to shun time with their loved ones at Christmas and work instead.
Mr Amesbury urged bridge bosses to opt for a gesture of goodwill and to prevent negative publicity that he said would result from travellers returning home to find a fine in the post.
FOI figures obtained by Mr Amesbury showed that the Dartford Crossing, also operated by Mersey Bridge tolling company Emovis, issued almost 17,000 fines from December 24-26 in the first year of its automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) operation, more than the average for the whole year of just under 4,000 per day, and he said he was keen for this to happen in Cheshire and Merseyside.
Mr Amesbury said: “Under current plans, thousands of Christmas visitors to our region will have to spend precious time on Christmas Day on phones or computers paying tolls.
“I also fear that people from outside the immediate area will be using the new system for the first time when they visit friends and family, and may not be aware of the tolls – meaning an unwelcome Christmas present of a £40 fine.
“Figures from similar crossings elsewhere suggest this is a real risk – so I very much hope we can avoid doing the same here.
“The most simple and effective way to do this is to waive the fees for a defined period over Christmas.”
“Whilst I welcome the access to the local user discount scheme for the majority of my constituents in Halton – that isn’t something that is available to residents in Cheshire West And Chester, despite previous pledges from the Government.
“A Christmas suspension would benefit not just those who don’t currently have free travel, but also the friends and family of those who do.
“It’s a win-win.”
He added: “Perhaps most importantly though, my proposal could mean many employees working to support the tolling operation will be able to have Christmas and Boxing Day off.
“We all want to spend Christmas with those closest to us, and whilst many people like emergency service workers have no option other than to work to protect us and keep vital services going, that isn’t necessarily the case here.
“I know that unions including the CWU (Communication Workers Union) back the campaign, and I’m aware from talking to staff employed by Emovis that people are being required to work on Christmas Day who would rather have the time off.”
He now hopes the bridge board will support the idea.
Mr Amesbury said: “I’m warned that there are legal, commercial and governmental issues to be considered, but I hope these can be overcome if the will is there.
“Figures so far seem to suggest that the bridge has been a big success, so I do hope commercial interests can afford to give up a small amount of profit at such a special time – and I have already been in touch with ministers to ask them not to stand in the way of what would be a very welcome gesture.
“The Mersey Tunnels are free on Christmas day – so I refuse to believe that these problems are insurmountable.
“It is Christmas after all!”