Cash tolls on Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge may have to double to meet the rising cost of running and maintaining the 146-year-old structure – but the trustees of the bridge aim to keep the increases down to inflation levels for most regular bridge users.
The news follows a review of the finances of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, the body responsible for the bridge, which reveals that it costs £1 million a year to run it – around two-thirds of its total income – and that excludes the £8 million cost of important maintenance projects planned to take place over the next ten years.
The charitable trust receives no outside help towards its costs, either from central or local government, or from lottery funds. Therefore the running and maintenance of the bridge has to be paid for through tolls.
During the past seven years, and in the wake of the more recent credit crunch, stock markets have suffered so much that growth in the investment income on which the trust also relies, to fund essential maintenance, repairs and safety work on the bridge, has not materialised. The value of the investments themselves has dropped.
Just a few of the costly and essential maintenance projects planned currently include painting of the bridge, waterproofing works, stone conservation, toll barrier improvements, and the provision of safe access to the honeycomb of 12 vaulted chambers discovered in 2002 within the stone structure supporting one of the towers of the bridge.
Built in the age of the horse and carriage and now subjected to the weight and movement of twenty-first century road traffic, the bridge is monitored by specialist engineers to ensure maximum safety for users and to deal with emergency repairs, like the one prompted by the discovery of a cracked suspension rod in April, 2009. For this reason, it is essential that additional funds are readily to hand, say the trustees.
In January 2007 the toll for driving a vehicle across the bridge rose to 50 pence but the trustees say that it may be necessary to raise it to £1 in the foreseeable future.
This is because there has been a consistent drop in the number of vehicles using the bridge in recent years. Reasons include growing use of public transport, park-and-ride services and bicycles.
In 2009 the number of vehicle crossings fell to 3.2 million – a 20 per cent drop on the average of four million vehicles per year between 1996 and 2004.
Tim Baines, clerk to the trustees, said today: “A proposal to increase the toll on Clifton Suspension Bridge would have to be approved by the Department of Transport with the support of Bristol City Council and North Somerset Council.
“While the trustees propose increasing the cash toll to £1 per crossing in order to ‘balance the books,’ they stress that regular users of the bridge still will be able to benefit from a reduced rate, purchasing in advance bulk quantities of crossings stored on an electronic pass card which operates the barriers.
“Details of the proposed new rates for card users have not yet been finalised but, for our most regular customers who purchase either 400 or 1,000 crossings in advance, the increases are expected to be in line with inflation.”
Mr Baines added: “While we can give no cast iron guarantees, because the bridge is now nearly 150-years-old, we believe at present that we can raise the additional sums we require from visitors to Bristol and from non-regular users. For such occasional users we do not feel that, in this day and age, a £1 toll is excessive. However, we are doing all we can to keep any toll increases down to the lowest levels for our regular cardholders.”
There are no plans to re-introduce tolls for pedestrians or cyclists.