This blog was originally written in May 2006 – and I am no longer campaigning actively about the Swinford toll bridge. However my ‘Scrap the Toll’ website is still live here. It is intended to inform other people what I have already tried.
There are lots of solutions to the problems caused by toll collection at the Swinford toll bridge.
My position is that toll collection causes unnecessary long delays to traffic and unacceptable and increasing levels of pollution. Ideally we’d all use the bus, as I do, or cycle or but thousands cannot for very good reasons (such as they drive commercial vehicles, they transport children/animals/goods in their cars, buses don’t go to the place they need to, and so on.) None of my ideas below are set out as The-One-And-Only solution, they are all simply based on common sense, talking to other bridge-users and my daily observations of the bridge over 13 years. Underpinning it all is that traffic must be allowed to move steadily and safely.
I am an artist, not a transport policy expert, but I’d like now to propose, in some depth, what I think the answers might be. I have written everything I can think of irrespective of cost; a viable future-proof solution needs to be sought before the nasty question of how it gets paid for is answered, (though where an obviously money-generating answer crops up, I’ll mention it.) A combination of these ideas may form the solution we all so desperately want.
ACT OF PARLIAMENT
Repeal or amend the Act of Parliament (AoP) Public Act, â€œAn Act for building a Bridge cross the River Thames, from Swinford, in the County of Berks, to Eynsham, in the County of Oxfordâ€, 7 George III, c. 63. dated 1767 (Ref No HL/PO/PU/1/1767/7G3n22), which allows the bridge owner to collect tolls and makes the building of bridges across the river illegal for three miles either way up or down stream from Swinford.
Repealing the AoP wouldn’t be hard but we would need David Cameron’s help to do this. It was amended in 1994 to allow the owner to charge higher tolls, if you remember. I suspect that the AoP is a smoke screen and that compulsory purchase is the better way.
Oxfordshire County Council should compulsorily purchase the bridge. Tolls could be maintained and even raised temporarily to perhaps 10p or even 15p per journey per car for an agreed fixed period, say one year. The cash raised would help pay for the purchase and necessary road improvements. It would effectively then be a temporary tax on those that use the bridge, which seems fair enough to me. After all if you want something in this world you have to pay for it.
EASING THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC
Once the tolls are scrapped some or all of these yummy things could happen to allow traffic to flow more easily:
- Build a short single lane road going east off the B4449 just north of the toll bridge roundbout by the allotments (… sorry, allotment holders! … ) so that staff at the offices and workshops at Siemens/Magnets can get into work without getting tangled up in traffic going towards the bridge. Siemens may like to stump up some dosh for this. I believe something like this is already being discussed somewhere.
- Build a bus lane from the B4044/B4449 roundabout to the bridge so that buses can swiftly get to the bridge and have priority over private vehicles, hopefully encouraging more people to use public transport. This is in Oxfordshire County Council’s transport plan anyway I believe, and should be started without delay, irrespective of whatever else happens.
- Install zero-tolerance speed cameras set to no higher than 20mph or possibly even slower and slap in a couple of speed humps at either end of the bridge to ensure traffic crosses the newly toll-free bridge slowly but steadily. Speeding fines will help pay for the purchase of the bridge and necessary road improvements.
- Impose width and weight restrictions. I’d need expert advice on what these should be, but what I do know is that humungous lorries should not be rattling over a glorious 239-year-old bridge constructed for horse-drawn transport.
- Widen the internal carriageway by more than a foot – yes, there is room, I have seen it with my own eyes! – allowing wider than usual vehicle to pass safely. The extra width can be found by scrapping the silly, dangerous pedestrian path from the bridge and then…
- Build a narrow bridge immediately next to the existing bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, just like the ones built in the 1990s alongside the bridge by St Frideswides Church on the Botley Road in Oxford. The new cycle/pedestrian bridge would follow exactly the line and contour of the toll bridge and fit sympathetically into its architectural style. Probably built of metal, it would be self supporting and would not interfere with the fabric of the toll bridge in any way.
- Any other practical, workable, safe ideas that promote steady flow of traffic that anyone can come up with!
Just don’t give us traffic lights. You’d best prepare the riot gear if you do!
If – perish the thought – the bridge is to remain a toll bridge, then tolls must be collected more effectively to allow traffic to pass through steadily. As it is at the mo, somedays I feel like handing the toll collector a tenner and saying: “Let the next 200 cars through gratis. My treat.”
Automatic toll machines could be installed or electronic recognition equipment that scans a vehicle and bills the owner later. Or some prepay system that allows users to pay for say 500 crossings in one go (with a discount for bulk perhaps, or is that pushing it? ) Perhaps the present owner would consider installing these for us?
Right now, on average according to OCC 10,000 vehicles pass over the bridge every day, their engines idling and revving as the queue to pay the toll. I don’t know how many tons of choking emissions are pumped out into the air every day – perhaps someone can do that calculation for me? – but I do know that when I have walked or cycled across the bridge at peak times, my eyes sting and my throat catches. On hot, still days when I have been fishing or swimming in river you can actually see the pall of smog hanging over the bridge. Yuk!
Allowing traffic to pass steadily across will reduce the emissions immediately to no more than any other road of comparable use.
WHAT ABOUT EXTRA TRAFFIC?
Anyone who says doing this lot will encourage more people to use the bridge ought to get real and banish their negative thoughts. This argument is designed to maintain the status quo and is lazy or it could be perceived as even scare-mongering. The bridge is there to be used, for goodness sakes, and if it does encourage more people to use the bridge then their change of journey will have alleviated congestion elsewhere, won’t it?
… AND THE OWNER AND STAFF?
I’m not suggesting we ‘steal’ the bridge from the family, we compulsorily buy it off them. I don’t know what compensation they’d be offered, if any, but I wonder if they’d like to compensate me for the time in my life they have stolen? Say x=95 minutes a week for y=13 years at say z= £25 per hour … you do the maths. Bridge users: add your own figures for x, y and z.
I have some sympathy for the lost jobs of the toll collectors. But times change and things change. At least toll collectors won’t have to be gassed by choking exhaust fumes every time they go to work putting their health at risk.
At the moment we’re paying in wasted time, in 5p coins and in the air we breathe. And we will have to pay the price for this progress, too. I know nothing about budgeting and what criteria are needed to raise local taxes. There are people paid to to that. But I work for a charity so I know there are lots of creative ways of raising funds from central government, grants, trusts, donations, sponsorship, local individual fundraising and as I have already suggested, temporary tolls. A combination of ways to raise the dosh needs to be investigated. I suspect that one of the fairest way to raise some of the dosh may be from bridge users themselves using temporary tolls, after all, we’re used to paying them. This might not be popular but it is fair, practical, predictable and most of all common sense.
I’ll start the ball rolling with a tenner if you like – you can’t even buy a round of drinks with that these days. Anyone else want to donate? Yep, I reckon a tenner is worth 95 minutes of my life saved every week. In fact, it’s dirt cheap.
Presumably a council transport committee somewhere. That committee needs to understand that bridge-users can tolerate no more nonsense.
What you can do to help scrap the tolls
- send an email to David Cameron MP and tell him what you think
- send an email to Councillor David Robertson who is Executive Member for Transport on Oxfordshire County Council and tell him what you think
- find out who your district councillor is by using this clickable map and send them an email telling them what you think