Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Humber Bridge Tolls

Yesterday saw the publication of a report into the impact of Humber Bridge Tolls. You can read it here - http://www.cbuchanan.co.uk/pdfs/Humberimpactreport.pdf

In eveidence submitted by bus operators Stagecoach and EYMS they say toll reductions are unlikely to see significant changes in fares or demand. The current bus toll is £8, but this is apparently a small part of operating costs.

From my last trip to Scunthorpe, I remember the bus fare from Barton was about the same as the Barton-Hull fare (currently £5.90). Hull is about 10-15 minutes nearer to Barton on the bus than Scunthorpe so making an educated guess the toll is about £1 of the bus fare. Bit 'back of a fag packet' but it does seem to support the evidence that other costs are far more significant than the bridge toll. However in the case of the X1, Hull to Grimsby service, a couple of years ago the bridge toll was one cost too far in terms of it being commercially viable.

So one would assume that reducing bridge tolls to nominal levels to cover maintenance would only lead to small fare decreases. 50p less is unlikely to be enough to tempt passengers from their cars to an hourly service on either the 350 or X1 that if you miss the bus you have to wait an hour. Or you can't go to the supermarket on your way home. Even if the 350 goes half hourly, a slight reduction in fares is unlikely to cause significant changes in demand, any change in demand would come from the frequency increase and extra options this gives passengers.

This point is made by Stagecoach and EYMS, saying a significant shift in fares would be needed to increase demand. Significant shifts in fares require significant changes in other costs such as fuel and staffing. The bus operators also mention concessionary bus pass users - those that will travel regardless of the fares - and quite a few of them use the 350 and X1. Makes no difference to them what the fare or bridge toll is.

Furthermore one must remember than any reduction in tolls for all users means cars as well - bus services could loose some passengers back to their cars. So all in all reductions in tolls for everyone will make very little difference to bus fares and bus services. Indeed with the 350 possibly going half hourly at current tolls, it shows that bridge tolls are not currently a crucial factor in service provision decisions.

But how likely are reduction in tolls for everyone - in other words the bridge debt being paid off? No sign of the government doing so. Maybe this is were the chance for buses are?

Getting bridge tolls for buses reduced further (as opposed to reductions for everyone) would still be hard but if it hapenned, leading to slight reductions in bus fares, compared to rising bridge tolls (increase due soon) for car users, could it start to make the bus more attractive? Help make the case for increased frequencies? Get car users onto public transport? That last point is obviously aligned with national policies as well as local government transport and environmental targets.

The Humber Bridge tolls are are huge cost for all users, notably hospital patients. And they damage the local economy. For the area as a whole getting the bridge tolls reduced would be great, though for bus services, could even be negative. But the chance of that are slim so maybe reductions or elimination for certain users are needed - and as well as health patients maybe bus operators can make a case to recieve some reductions or elimination?

Hope that wasn't too rambling or boring just a personal analysis of the situation.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Not at all rambling and good points made - I had never looked at the Humber Bridge debate from the public transport angle.

I fear reducing tolls would increase car usage, but with the debate raging, it's a good opportunity to promote the various routes and raise their profile.

I know many people still think humber bridge tolls are here to stay, but now it's circulating in Parliament, at least it's on the agenda.