Friday, 9 February 2007

End bridge tolls

A motion to abolish tolls on the Forth & Tay bridges was narrowly defeated in the Parliament yesterday. This is my contribution to the debate.

Forth And Tay Road Bridge Tolls
[Debate Feb 2007 on Motion that the Parliament believes tolls on both Forth and Tay bridge shows be scrapped.]

The Scottish Socialist Party is opposed to tolls on our bridges and motorways and trunk roads etc and therefore support the motion in front of us today for 3 key reasons.

First – To my mind it is the governments responsibility to build, maintain, and operate our roads, motorways, bridges etc in the public sector. These are part of the infrastructure of our country of our economy and should therefore be owned and controlled by government on behalf of us all.
Tolls are a regressive form of taxation which hit poor people hardest.

Second – The situation where tolls have been abolished on all other bridges in Scotland –like recently the Skye and Erskine - or were never levied in the first place means there is an obvious unfairness applying to the Forth and Tay only.

The Executive told us that the tolls on both Skye and Erskine were abolished because they clearly had a poor effect on the local economies in those areas. Skye tourism and economy in general and Erskine particularly industry and commerce.
I supported their case.
But I think the same case applies to Fife and Tayside most especially obvious in the wake of the latest disgraceful decisions by Solectron in Dunfermline- the latest in a long line of Fife closures – and NCR in Dundee.
It seems to me what is good for the goose is good for the gander and the tolls are an economic disincentive to the Fife and Tayside economies .

The third issue to focus on is the need to address climate change , CO2 emissions, pollution and congestion

Toll collection causes traffic snarl ups and congestion on the bridge and adds to the deterioration of the bridge. I have seen as I’m sure we all have the tail backs up to Kirkliston and along the A8000 for miles and also the tailbacks into Dundee City centre which is caused by the tolls themselves.

I respect the work of Transform Scotland very much but I feel they have gone over the top in their briefing for this debate in suggesting that those opposed to tolls ‘undermine the nations attempts to reduce climate change emissions.’
Furthermore by their logic we would still have a £7 toll on the Skye bridge and tolls in Erskine.

I favour far more effective ways to tackle climate change.
SSP support free public transport provision as the way to address climate change, pollution , congestion etc.
The Scottish Executive have introduced free bus travel for seniors and free ferry travel for youngsters etc. I welcome those steps in the right direction.
As members may know the Belgian town of Hasselt has introduced a completely free public transport system and saw passenger numbers leap 870% and have dramatically reduced emissions, pollution and congestion as a result. That’s the way to do ii.

Transform Scotland and the Greens need to think more about persuading people to do the right thing not just punishment and penalty.

They say abolishing tolls would worsen congestion – b y acting as an incentive to use the car. Forth Estuary Transport Authority believe toll abolition could increase traffic volumes by 15% southbound and 20% northbound. This is an important issue to consider. They say
‘Action should be taken to remove traffic flows from the Forth Road Bridge’ yes, but not by increasing the tolls.
More charges with no alternatives provided represents the Luddite and backward approach.
This is precisely the approach so overwhelmingly rejected in Edinburgh’s congestion charging scheme.

Honesty needed in this debate
Remember the Dunfermline West by election last year and the Liberals voting two ways at once on the matter – calling for tolls to be scrapped in the by-election , voting via there rep on the Bridge management body for tolls to increase. And in this debate today they have still not made up their minds calling for ‘abolition to be considered’ in future months.

SSP will support the motion at 5pm.

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