Proposals to abolish the tolls on the Forth and Tay Road Bridges have been endorsed by the majority of a parliamentary committee in a report published today.
However, the report makes strong recommendations on the need to ensure that steps are taken to deal with the expected increase in traffic congestion and the negative environmental impact of the toll removal.
The report also outlines the committee’s concerns that the first bill brought forward by the new Scottish Government will result in an increase in CO2 emissions.
The Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee has, by majority, agreed to recommend that the Parliament supports the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill.
The bill aims to repeal the legislation, which allows for tolls to be charged on the Forth Road Bridge and the Tay Road Bridge.
Committee convener Patrick Harvie MSP said:
"The majority of our committee agrees with the Scottish Government’s proposals to remove the tolls on the Forth and Tay Road Bridges, given that Fife is the only part of Scotland which routinely faces this cost.
"However, our committee is concerned that the removal of the bridge tolls on both the Forth and Tay Road Bridges will result in a negative environmental impact, particularly in terms of increased CO 2 emissions.
"We also accept that increased congestion and longer journey times are expected as a result of the removal of tolls. We have therefore strongly recommended in our report that measures are put in place in an effort to mitigate the extent of these negative effects.”
The committee has also recommended that all future transport proposals should be developed in a way that ensures they will make a positive net contribution to the reduction in emissions.
A series of unanimous recommendations are contained in the report, although the convener has dissented from the overall recommendation that Parliament endorses the general principles of the bill.
Speaking of his dissent, the convener added:
"Personally, I was unable to agree that the removal of tolls is a positive step given the negative environmental impact that will result and my concerns about the strength of the ‘equity argument’.
"I have therefore dissented from the majority view of the committee that tolls should be removed. However, if the bill is agreed, the Scottish Government must agree the strong recommendations of our committee on the introduction of measures to mitigate the negative environmental impact of the proposals.“
Other key committee recommendations are that:
the Scottish Government should provide appropriate funding for any remedial or mitigating measures that may be identified as being necessary to address any negative environmental impact;
the Scottish Government should explain in more detail what steps it intends to take to restrain road traffic across the Forth to 2006 levels, and to decrease CO2 emissions across Scotland in the next year, taking into account the increases likely as a consequence of the removal of tolls;
the Scottish Government should also fund any additional traffic management measures which may be considered necessary as a direct and quantifiable consequence of the removal of tolls;
the Scottish Government should provide the necessary funding for an appropriate scheme of bus priority measures and consider how it might support the further development of sustainable transport initiatives around the Forth Road Bridge, in terms of bus, rail and cycle use;
whilst the committee acknowledges the general and strong perception of Fife residents that they are treated unfairly in comparison to users of the road network in other areas of Scotland, it takes the view that equity should not generally be considered as a transport policy objective owing to its subjectivity;
every effort should be made to redeploy staff from the Forth Estuary Transport Authority and the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board in order that redundancies are kept to a minimum.
Patrick Harvie MSP dissented from the Committee’s recommendation to support the general principles of the bill.
All other committee members assented to the committee recommendation that the Parliament agree to the general principles of the bill.
The bill aims to repeal the legislation which allows for tolls to be charged on the Forth Road Bridge and the Tay Road Bridge; removes a time-limit which currently applies to repayment of money advanced to the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board by its constituent authorities; and repeals legislation connected with the previously abolished Erskine Bridge tolls.
As part of its scrutiny of the bill the committee took oral evidence from a range of witnesses including representatives of environmental organisations, local authorities, trade unions and business interests.