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Tolled off!

07 Mar 2006 / in Oxfordshire, Swinford toll bridge

I live in a small village in west Oxfordshire, in David Cameron’s (Leader of the Opposition) constituency. Like many living here, I work in Oxford. There are only two routes into town: one down the congested main A40 and the other down a smaller road, the B4044. The latter is the route I have been taking to get to work every morning for 13 years.

The B4044 crosses the Thames half a mile outside my village on a beautiful bridge built in 1769 at Swinford.

The catch is that it’s a Toll Bridge. Motorists using it outside of peak hours might think this quirk of history ‘quaint’, but for those of us who have to use the bridge every morning, it’s no joke. Every vehicle must stop to pass a stupid 5p coin to the toll collector. The stupid queues weren’t as bad when I first moved to west Oxfordshire, but since vast new estates have been built in nearby Witney the pressure on this route is now at crisis level. This morning the queues were right back into the village and all the way back to the Eynsham roundabout on the A40.

If only everyone didn’t have to pay that silly toll, then the traffic could keep moving over the narrow bridge – even if it was only at 15mph – enforced strictly with vicious speed humps and cameras set at zero-tolerance.

In an average week I waste 95 minutes of my life in a queue of traffic on the bus waiting to get over the bridge. That’s six and half hours a month – virtually a whole working day. And that’s only me! Collectively the costs of this pointless toll bridge are massive. The needless waste of time by commuters must run into tens of thousands of lost hours a week. And environmentally the cost is huge. Between 7.10 and 9am and 4.30 and 6.15pm thousands of cars, their engines revving and idling, crawl slowly along wasting petrol and creating clouds of choking emissions. On hot, still summer days you can actually see the fumes. This hardly encourages cyclists to use it more.

Attempts were made by Oxfordshire County Council to compulsorily purchase the bridge in 1993 I believe, but for some reason unknown to me, were unsuccessful.

From the little I can glean, it is to do with an archaic 18th century Act of Parliament which would need to be repealed for the tolls to be scrapped. So repeal it, for gods’ sakes.

The bridge must be purchased by the council from its private owner right now and the toll scrapped. I would bet big wads of cash that not a single person who uses that bridge in the morning would complain about public money being used to purchase it if it alleviated the misery of the lengthening queues and consequent frustrations. Quite the reverse!

There are plenty of people who have to sit in queues of traffic. But when the queue is wholly avoidable it makes my blood boil. One day I am going to die. How much more of my precious three score years and ten have to be wasted queuing up nicely to pay 5p to the private owner of the bridge. Let him be Tolled Off!

Time for action?
Perhaps we need a campaign to scrap the tolls? A combination of direct action and political lobbying at local level and to David Cameron, our local MP, might do the trick.

Engaging those affected by the tolls would be easy! Just stand at the side of the road and hand out leaflets to the poor sods crawling past in their cars. Encourage them to sign an online petition, bombard the council with letters and take part in a No Tolls Day, when Bridge Users en masse refuse to pay their 5ps and simply drive slowly and steadily over it, horns blaring. A No Tolls Day could ideally happen over a series of busy Monday mornings and be designed to cause maximum traffic chaos and therefore publicity. It would need mass participation and a huge quantity of good-humoured patience by Bridge Users to work. But Bridge Users have been patient, very patient – to the tune of hours and hours of their own time. I think its time for action.

I will be sending links to this article to David Cameron MP (camerond@parliament.uk), to the Oxfordshire County Council Transport Policy people (transport.policy@oxfordshire.gov.uk) and to my local councillors, who – as residents- undoubtedly have an opinion.

If you’re a local fed up Bridge User, you might like to write to them too.

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