For those of us who live in South East Cornwall, the Tamar Bridge plays a huge part in our lives. The same goes for the Torpoint Ferry further down river.
The two crossings play a vital role linking Cornwall with the rest of the country.
But first and foremost they enable thousands of people to go to work and earn a living everyday.
Plymouth is home to several major employers including the dockyard, the city council, Derriford hospital and the universities of Plymouth and Marjon to name just a few.
These are valuable jobs right on the doorstep of South East Cornwall. Yet the workers who happen to live in Saltash or Torpoint are immediately at a financial disadvantage compared to those who live in Ivybridge for example.
Every day the Cornish commuters have to pay extra for driving on a section of what is essentially the same road used by workers who drive into Plymouth from Ivybridge.
The difference, of course, is the toll to use the crossings, a toll that is taking its toll.
It now costs a staggering £2.60 to use that short stretch of the A38 if you don’t have a Tamar Tag.
The tag provides a discount, but that discount is offset to some extent because a little while back, in a clever revenue-raising wheeze, they decided to charge us every month for the privilege of having a tag.
A quick search online looking at the RAC and Government websites suggests the toll to use the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry is one of the highest in the country.
According to the RAC, the Humber Bridge is just £1.50, and with a discount tag it is £1.35. The Dartford River Crossing is £2.50. Mersey Gateway Bridge and the Silver Jubilee Bridge are £2 each.
Famously, the Severn crossings into Wales, that used to have quite high toll charges, are now free.
They are also significantly bigger structures to maintain compared to the Tamar Bridge.
Yet, here we are faced with another increase in the already high toll charges to use the Tamar crossings.
They only went up in January, by 30% I might add, but it turns out that still wasn’t enough to tackle the dire state of the bridge and ferry finances.
A consultation is taking place to ask users of the service how best to deal with the shortfall.
It’s not much of a consultation to be honest. Out of five options, four of them propose an increase of one form or another. The last option is to do nothing, but with the caveat that it would pose “significant risk” for the future of the service.
I think, therefore, we can assume option five is not an option at all.
So, we are left with four choices about how much more we pay. But I don’t understand why there wasn’t a sixth option.
Why are we even paying tolls? Why weren’t we asked if we’d prefer the crossings to be funded by central Government?
Why are the crossings still operated by the local councils? Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council jointly operate the bridge and ferry service.
Our councils can barely afford to deliver adequate statutory services such as social care, so why are they still saddled with a costly piece of the transport infrastructure?
Here’s a suggestion. How about diverting a tiny fraction of the vast amount of money that was going to be spent on HS2 and use it to subsidise the Tamar crossings.
Let’s face it, compared to the amounts now not being spent on HS2 and the amounts already wasted on the project, the cost of taking on the Tamar crossings is a drop in the river.
Governments of whatever political persuasion sign off on projects costing far more than the annual running cost of the bridge and ferries, on an almost daily basis.
We are currently being taxed at one of the highest levels in a generation. In addition, the recent rises in the cost of fuel will be generating more revenue for the Treasury.
Drivers pay Vehicle Excise Duty and from 2025 even owners of electric vehicles will be paying, therefore generating more revenue for the Government.
We live in a part of the world that is popular with visitors from all over the country. But we are also one of the poorest parts of the country.
Is it time that the burden of funding the road transport links between Cornwall and Devon was shared by the nation?
I know visitors pay the toll when they are here, but the bulk of the income to fund the bridge and ferries will come from the hard- pressed people of Cornwall and Devon who have no choice but to use the crossings on a daily basis.
I understand MPs have been in talks with the Transport Department about the Tamar crossings. But I am not holding out much hope of a successful outcome.
It has long been argued that the people of Cornwall and Plymouth have done their bit as far as funding the crossings is concerned.
Yet, the tolls are still in place, they keep on rising and it’s still not enough to adequately fund the service.
There will be some who will rightly point out that those of us who chose to live in Cornwall and work in Devon knew that we’d have to pay to cross the river.
But all over the country people live in one county and work in another without paying an extra amount to cross the border.
Also, where there are bridge crossings they are either cheaper or free.
As far as I am concerned ours is a bridge toll too far.
Bye for now!