Tolls for the Mersey Tunnels should be AXED in the new year while the rail lines under the River Mersey are closed, campaigners say.
The Liverpool city centre loop line will be closed for six weeks from January 3 as part of a six-month project to replace the tracks.
It means rail commuters from this side of the water will have to find other ways of reaching Liverpool, as it won't be possible to get there by train from the Wirral.
Just this week, regular Mersey Tunnel users were warned that there could be significant congestion as many travellers switch to the tunnels while the trains aren’t running,
Now Dave Loudon, chair of the Mersey Tunnels Users Association, has asked Liverpool city region’s six council leaders to make the tunnels free for the first six weeks of the year.
In an email to the leaders, he said: “Removing toll barriers and toll collection for the six weeks in January would ease the flow of vehicles into and out of the Tunnels and on behalf of all those drivers and businesses that will be using the Tunnels during that time I ask that you tell Merseytravel to stop the tolls for that period.
“To keep collecting tolls in this situation would show that Merseytravel and the Authority are more interested in profits than they are about the people and businesses that use the Tunnels.
“It is doubly unfair as Merseytravel may be expecting to make even more Tunnels profit for the six week period while those using the Tunnels experience lengthening queues.
“Merseytravel may tell you that removing the tolls for six weeks would increase the traffic, but in our view any increase in traffic would be more than offset by the benefit of removing the tolls.”
Mr Loudon’s email has been sent to Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, Wirral council leader Phil Davies, Sefton Council leader Ian Maher, St Helens Council leader Barrie Grunewald, Halton Council leader Rob Polhill and Knowsley council leader Andy Moorhead.
He said that even with the loss of six weeks of toll revenues, the MTUA estimates the tunnels would still bring in £8.1m in profit for Merseytravel this financial year.
A spokesperson for Merseytravel said: “The proposal by the MTUA that Mersey Tunnel toll charges are suspended for the first six weeks of Wirral loop line track renewal works would exacerbate travel issues and is therefore not something that we will be considering.
“Making the tunnels toll free would encourage more people to use them, adding to congestion both in the tunnels and on the surrounding routes on both sides of the river. Our focus is keeping the Liverpool City Region moving and we are actively encouraging people to leave their cars at home, using public transport cross-river wherever possible during the works.
“Additionally, the toll barriers have an important role to play in traffic management, helping stagger the traffic to keep it moving as best it can to reduce the likelihood of traffic queuing in the tunnel – something we try to avoid wherever possible.
“We will have plenty of staff on hand to help and will be carefully monitoring the tunnels and surrounding routes to respond quickly to any issues as they happen.”
The Wirral line work is being carried out in three phases:
* From Tuesday, January 3 until Sunday, February 12 there will be no trains at all between Wirral and Liverpool.
Wirral Line trains will all terminate at Birkenhead North or Birkenhead Central.
* From Monday, February 13 to Monday, May 29, Wirral trains will run as far as James Street on weekdays. The rest of the loop stations will be closed. At weekends, there will be no cross-river services and trains will again terminate in Birkenhead.
* The third and final phase, from Tuesday, May 30 to Sunday, June 18, will again see no trains at all between Liverpool and Wirral.
Merseytravel has pledged that it will offer 'high quality express' rail replacement buses, while existing bus services will be strengthened and customers are also being urged to use the ferries.
Announcing details of its alternative transport arrangements in October, Merseytravel suggested that people should aim to take public transport rather than switching to cars – and said people should avoid peak time travel.
This week Wayne Menzies, chair of the Liverpool City Region’s major events transport board and head of rail at Merseytravel, said: “Encouraging rail users to stick to public transport, and regular tunnel users to consider when they travel, can help manage the flow of traffic through the tunnels for everyone’s benefit, including those on express rail replacement or cross-river bus services.”
For further details on the Wirral loop line track renewal, visit www.merseyrail.org/trackrenewal.