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Taking its toll

13 Mar 2006 / in Oxfordshire, Swinford toll bridge

Since I posted Tolled Off about the daily misery caused by the Swinford Toll Bridge in west Oxfordshire, I have a number of responses from people by email and verbally.

“The situation is intolerable” said one. Another said: “the whole thing is now getting out of hand … thousands of people have to suffer this wretched toll bridge each day!” My brother said: “I queued yesterday morning for 50 minutes. It turned out to be the slowest journey I have ever made to work.” He lives three miles away.

Last week and this, resurfacing work at another bridge further upstream has forced traffic unable to cross there to use the already congested Swinford Bridge, all queuing up to pay their stupid 5ps. This morning the tailback was all the way into Eynsham village! This will be alleviated to some extent when work is completed on Friday but the daily misery will continue.

The councillors I wrote to responded thus:
Margaret Stevens: “… I fear there is little anyone can do about it. The county council have no plans to buy and maintain the bridge, and to build another wider bridge would be extremely costly … Basically it is down to the volume of traffic and the size of the bridge (as well as the Toll) the only possible solution is therefore to persuade people to leave their cars at home and use alternative methods of transport…”

Harry Wyatt: “It is forbidden by law to build a bridge with in about half a mile of the existing bridge. This would be very expensive and several miles of road would be needed to link the new bridge. As far as I aware the County Council has not the money to buy the bridge. If there were no tolls and I don’t know if traffic could cope with the higher volume speed.”

David Rossiter said: “… toll collection … acts as a traffic-calming measure! The width of the bridge is such that without the toll gate it would be necessary to introduce traffic lights. I’m very doubtful whether this would speed things up much … There is one alternative for the fit and healthy – bike.”

David Cameron’s Correspondence Unit said: “… we have been inundated with correspondence since David Cameron became Leader – however, rest assured you will receive a response in due course.”

The Transport Division of Oxfordshire County Council did not reply at all.

That Act of Parliament

King George III rode a horse and didn’t have to commute in a car!
What about that Act of Parliament? I emailed Simon Gough, Archives Officer at the House of Lords Record Office to find out more. His reply was swift and helpful. He found the bridge listed in here described as “An Act for building a Bridge cross the River Thames, from Swinford, in the County of Berks, to Eynsham, in the County of Oxford”, in Public Act, 7 George III, c. 63. dated 1767 (Ref No HL/PO/PU/1/1767/7G3n22).

This states that another bridge cannot be built within a certain distance of the Swinford bridge and that the owner of the bridge can charge tolls.

What business has King George III to effectively hold residents of this area to ransom in the 21st century? Eighteenth century transport monopolies have no place here. It’s time to repeal that archaic law now!
I spotted the plan for a bus lane in the Local Transport Policy Plan for Oxfordshire that I found trawling the web the other night. This is a great idea in that it will encourage more people to use the bus, which I already do. Built it soon please Oxfordshire.

What about cycling? During the summer months even I have been know to do this! But six and a half miles (from Eynsham) into the centre of town may be too far for some, especially if you have to carry laptops, shopping, documents and perhaps take children to nursery. And most workplaces don’t have showers for sweaty cycling employees. Personally, since a bout of ill health two years ago I have lost the confidence to do it. Expecting more people to get on their bikes sadly unrealistic.

The toll collection acts as a very effective traffic calming measure – in that it prevents a flow of traffic at all! The bridge is very narrow, but traffic DOES pass each other comfortably at slow speeds which could be achieved without toll collection using brutal speed humps and cameras set at zero tolerance. This would increase flow.

Where there’s life
Perhaps there is hope. Although I didn’t get a response from Mr Cameron’s office, my brother did. The email said: “A number of David’s constituents have written in about this issue, which he can appreciate is the cause of a great deal of frustration. We have been in contact with Oxfordshire County Council, and …on Monday we are going … to discuss a plan of action.”

I’m looking forward to finding out what this might be. In the meantime, for what it’s worth here’s what I think should ideally be done:
My suggestion requires only political will and some cash.
1. Repeal that antique Act of Parliament
2. Oxfordshire County Council to compulsorily purchase the bridge and maintain tolls for one year, raising the toll to 15p per journey per car. (The extra cash will help pay for the purchase and road improvements.)
3. Build that bus lane on the approach to the bridge now and encourage more people to use the bus
4. Install zero-tolerance speed cameras and lots of severe speed humps to ensure traffic crosses the newly toll-free bridge at speeds no higher than 15mph
5. Ban HGVs from using the bridge
6. Build a narrow bridge immediately next to the existing bridge for cyclists and pedestrians.

Please listen to our views Mr Cameron, and help thousands of us in and around west Oxfordshire. Until something is done, the sheer waste of time continues and it’s taking its toll.

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