Fair tunnel tolls for minibus passengers and drivers
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I am a private hire taxi driver operating an airport transfer business from the Wirral and occasionally working as a general private hire driver.
A year ago I invested in an 8 passenger minibus to offer greater comfort and flexibility to my customers. I charge my customers fairly and in line with colleagues and fellow drivers.
A large part of my business involves regular journeys through both Mersey tunnels. Up to 6 trips both ways a day at times, taking people to Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Lime St station and, frequently, visitors to the fantastic city of Liverpool. However, it was after purchasing my minibus that I discovered that I would incur tunnel tolls of twice the rate normal car drivers pay. This is because my vehicle is a 9 seater (including the driver). That puts my vehicle in Class 2 in terms of tunnel tolls. If the vehicle was a van of the same size and weight, rather than a minibus, it would fall into the normal car class, being under 3.5 tonnes. My vehicle is under 2 tonnes unladen and the maximum laden weight is approximately 3.05 tonnes. This is typical of all 9 seater minibuses.
So if I make 6 return trips through the tunnel in a day I am paying over £40 in tolls. Which I might or might not be able to pass on to my customers.
I can use a fast tag which reduces the cost to £2.40 per trip, which is still too high. In addition, as a Class 2 fast tag user I would still need to queue to go through the manned toll booths. This adds insult to injury as there is no "fast" in that process!
The level of these tolls is now leading me to refuse trips through the tunnel unless I can pass on the cost to my customers, making me uncompetitive when I am carrying less than 5 passengers. I also have to pay the increased fare when travelling without passengers. I know that fellow minibus drivers face the same dilemma.
The only other option we have is to price trips to Liverpool to a level where customers consider going elsewhere.
I believe that this anomaly in the toll classes is simply a way of making unfair profit from a class of business that the combined authority know will be forced to use the tunnels, and incur these costs, or face a long detour over the Runcorn Bridge. Why else would we be charged twice the level of toll of a similar sized and weight vehicle which happens to have no passenger seats or less than 9 seats? Clearly it is not on the basis of increased wear and tear on the tunnel infrastructure.
I feel extremely frustrated at this unfair treatment of a minority but important group of tunnel users, who I feel the tunnel operators are treating with contempt on the basis that their hands are tied.
I am therefore urging Steve Rotheram, the newly elected Mayor of the Merseyside region, to force an urgent review and action to quickly remove this extremely unfair charge on a group of tunnel users who are, at the end of the day, bringing customers to Liverpool who are an important part of the city economy.
I would urge not only fellow minibus drivers but also anybody who is proud to promote Liverpool as the go to city for business, leisure and as a travel hub to other parts if the country, and indeed,the world, via John Lennon Airport, to sign this petition and share it as widely as possible.
Thank you in anticipation of your support.
Adrian Pattinson. Proprietor, AP Airport Cars.
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