Private toll roads hit a dead-end

Britain's first privately-built motorway isn't going to get us very far...

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
The M6 Toll has done little to ease congestion around Birmingham – largely because motorists aren’t exactly revved up about paying the five quid charge.

That’s according to the M6 Motorway Report, issued by green group Campaign for Better Transport. It spells more bad news for operator Midland Expressway, which had already lost around £26m a year since the road opened in 2003.

The toll, which charges cars £5 and HGVs £10 to use the 27-mile stretch of motorway, was designed to clear what is one of the most notoriously congested stretches of road in the country. But the report found that, despite being used by just under 60,000 drivers a day in spring 2006, by the start of this year the number fell to just over 40,000 – only a touch more than when the toll opened.

The failure of the toll system is nothing new. As far back as 2005, Steve Allen, CEO of Midland Expressway’s parent company, was telling the Australian press: ‘What we need is to slow down the M6’. A sign of desperation perhaps, but understandable for a company that can go from nought to minus £26m in 31.5m seconds.

The report branded toll roads as an ineffective solution, ‘no matter how attractive they may appear to cash-strapped politicians’. Now it looks like the government, in its search for a cost-effective solution to its traffic problems, is stuck between a rock and the hard-shoulder: while it may be easy to point across the Channel and moan that toll roads work perfectly well in France and Germany, our European brethren do at least benefit from having way more space.

Any plans to introduce widespread tolls here would be scuppered by the fact we wouldn’t be able to provide a free, slower alternative like they do across Europe. Here, in a country with an ever-expanding population and a finite amount of space, you’d end up concreting the whole place in order to fit them in.

It seems the government is struggling to change lanes. It's saying that private money is needed to build roads. That’s all well and good, but it’s hard to imagine potential investors hooning up the slip-road waving wads of cash at the project given Midland Expressway’s roaring losses.

Perhaps roads should be part of the Big Society. Motorists: get out there with a shovel and a cement mixer and start building them yourselves.

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