Members of the public are being invited to have their say on who should be able to cross the £600m Mersey Gateway bridge for free.
The Mersey Gateway Crossings Board (MGCB) and Halton Borough Council have launched a three-week consultation to see views on a draft revamped discount scheme for the river crossing.
Among the groups earmarked for free crossings are emergency and medical services.
The ECHO reports that under the proposed changes, the Halton Local User Discount Economic Hardship Scheme for Halton residents in council tax bands G and H homes would be rebranded as the Halton Local User Discount Support Scheme and extended to include apprentices and students in bands G and H to cross for free, after they have registered their vehicle for £10.
To qualify they will have to be either at university or college on a course lasting at least one academic year, requiring at least 24 weeks attendance a year and a weekly term time average of at least 21 hours of study, tuition or work experience; or they must be under 20 years old and studying at least 12 hours a week on a course lasting more than three months for any qualification up to A-level, ONC or OND standard.
Correspondence courses, evening classes or courses taken in connection with a person’s job, such as on day release, will not be included.
More disabled drivers would also be able to cross for free, after they have paid a £5 vehicle registration fee.
At present only those with blue badges are eligible for the discount scheme but the revamped scheme would extend this to Halton residents with disabilities who receive either the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance, attendance allowance, the enhanced rate of the mobility component of the personal independence allowance, or the War Pensioners Mobility Supplement.
The extended discount scheme would also allow more emergency service vehicles to be registered for free crossings when in work use, whether marked or otherwise but not covered by the existing tolls exemptions.
This would also include ambulance vehicles not registered with any ambulance service such as private ambulances.
Other proposed changes include exempting agricultural tractors and reclassifying motor homes as a Class 2 vehicle, meaning their drivers pay the same rate as for a normal car.
Halton Council said they would ask the Government to fund the estimated annual £250,000-£500,000 cost of providing free crossings for all Halton residents in council tax bands G and H homes.
The extended scheme has been proposed as part of the annual review of the Road User Charging Scheme Order (RUCSO), which is the legal order determining who pays what to cross.
A MGCB spokeswoman said the consultation does not cover the possibility of ditching tolls altogether as the bridge has to be paid for.
The consultation is due to run until Thursday, March 29, and members of the public have been invited to read the full consultation document online and share their views.
Alternatively paper copies will be available at Halton Council’s Direct Link buildings in Widnes and Runcorn.
The spokeswoman said: “The outcome of the consultation will be reported to (full) council at a meeting expected to take place in April 2018.
“If satisfied, the council will resolve to make an updated RUCSO.
“Once the updated RUCSO has been made, it is intended that it will have immediate effect, since it does not change the toll charges payable and it will be advertised.
“The existing RUCSO will be revoked by the updated RUCSO is made.”
Read and comment on the consultation at www.merseygateway.co.uk/consultation2018 , www.merseyflow.co.uk/Mersey-Gateway-Consultation2018 , or www.halton.gov.uk/consultations .