Tolled off

A rant about the problems caused by toll collection at Swinford Bridge, Oxfordshire

Tolled off!
7th March 2006 Jane Tomlinson

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.

swinfordtollbridgewithsignI live in a small village in west Oxfordshire, in David Cameron’s 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 is one I took 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.

An archaic 18th century Act of Parliament would need to be repealed for the tolls to be scrapped. So repeal it, for gods’ sakes.

The bridge should 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 four 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!