RAC Cars News


M6 Failure Casts Doubt On UK Toll Roads

By raccars Published

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The M6 is the only toll road in the UK to be run by a private company, but a sharp decline in traffic using the pay as you go route, has attracted calls for the system to be nationalised. In 2006, there were up to 55,000 vehicles per day travelling on the West Midlands spanning motorway, a figure which has since dropped by 40%. A particular decline has been noted in lorry traffic, with 90% of HGVs choosing to use the original, toll-free motorway instead.

The 27 mile toll-road section of the motorway was created to ease congestion around Birmingham at a cost of £900 million. It was opened ten years ago with the expectation of traffic reaching 74,000 vehicles per day, but the actual number of motorists using the route is only half that. It is estimated that the knock-on effect of congestion around Birmingham costs £2 billion a year to the West Midlands economy.

Motorists are allegedly deterred not only by the cost of using the toll-road but also by the slightly longer distance it covers compared to the original motorway route. Vehicle overload around Birmingham is currently so serious that work is already in progress to convert the original M6's hard shoulder into an additional lane of the motorway, to cope with the excess volume of traffic.

Centro, as the West Midlands transport authority is called, is leading calls for the toll road to be nationalised, which would allow its management to lower charges, to encourage more motorists to choose the chargeable route over the free motorway. Fees currently stand at £5.50 per car or £11.00 for lorries to use the 27 mile stretch, set by the road's owner and operator, Midland Expressway. When the tolled section of the road was first opened in 2003, the charge was £2 per car, but eight price rises in the last ten years have led to the current prices, which are considered excessive by critics of the scheme.

Centro is particularly keen to attract HGV traffic to the toll road, but haulage companies, which originally paid £10 for their vehicles to use the route, then saw a drop to £6 the following year, have seen prices rise again since 2005 and are unwilling to shell out.

The M6 nationalisation debate is part of a growing concern about new road financing shortages in Britain. Suggestions have been made and already shelved to privatise the UK's motorways and while tolls are a possibility, the government is apparently not keen to apply this option to existing routes.

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