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Asset Stripping – A Bridge Too Far

October 15, 2009
Dartford Crossing - Queen Elizabeth II Bridge

Dartford Crossing - Queen Elizabeth II Bridge

Brighton, England – UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown’s, announcement of a ‘fire sale’ of Government assets in an attempt to off set the UK’s budget deficit has had ramifications in the biking world.

Brown intends to sell off the Dartford Thames River Crossing, a section of the M25 orbital motorway which encircles Greater London consisting of two two-lane northbound tunnels and the four-lane southbound Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. The Crossing is tolled but since April 2003 has been free to use by motorcycle and scooter riders. Hence Browns intended sell off has raised fears that under a new ownership regime bikers and scooterists may once again be faced with charge for using the crossing.

Do not fear fellow bikers for galloping over the horizon to ensure that our toll free rights are preserved comes none other than the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG). Pausing only to ensure their new General Secretary, fresh from the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA), is well briefed and to refresh the horse at the trough of exaggerated lobbying claims, MAG have ‘contacted’ the Government to demand that the Dartford Crossings new owners continue to allow the free passage of motorcycles.

I’ll pass over MAGs claims that it’s all down to then that the Crossing went toll free to bikers in 2003. Actually I it wasn’t. I won’t mention the last MAG Dartford Toll demo when more reporters from Motorcycle News (MCN) turned up than MAG people. No I won’t mention that cos its small minded and catty. Bit of a grin though!!

Reality check starts here.

The only reason the Crossing went toll free for motorcycles and scooters in 2003 was because of the small number of riders actually using it. Sur there are loads of bikes on days when racing takes place at the nearby Brands Hatch Race Circuit but that’s an exceptional circumstances, it’s not the norm. Couple the small amount of bike traffic with the fact that bikers paying at tolls holds up other traffic then it made sense for the Crossing Operating Company to simple let bikes and scooters through the barriers for free. It was not going to cost them much, of course they refused point blank to build a motorcycle and scooter passing lane at the toll booths as that would have cost them money.

The Crossing is currently operated on behalf of the UK Highways Agency by Connect Plus M25, which is made up of a consortium of Atkins, Egis, Skanska, and Balfour Beatty. Under the user charge regime, Connect Plus M25 collects the charges which are set in statutory Charging Orders under a Parliamentary Act passed in 2000, with the revenue passing in full to the government for redistribution, and annual public accounts of the operation published showing expenses/revenues of the crossing.

I would not be at all surprised if Connect Plus M25 makes a bid to buy the crossing. It’s a licence to print money especially if the Government do not take steps to have statuary control of the toll fees. It’s there where we need to focus. The Crossing sale will almost certainly need a Parliamentary Bill. That Bill needs to ensure that the tolls are independently set and we need to ensure that motorcycles and scooters are either toll exempt or zero rated for tolling purposes, otherwise the new owners will be able to do what they like charges wise.

A smart pressure group would also buy some shares in the new owner/operator company, always a good move to get a voice at the shareholder’s meeting, and have a serious look at ways and means of getting a motorcycle and scooter pay booth passing lane in place. Hey why not move the bike lobby into the 21st century and offer to part fund one.

Oh yeah and someone better come up with reason why we shouldn’t pay. In the real world just saying we don’t want to isn’t a reason.

Answers on a postcard to…………

© Back Roads Rider 2009

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