A new report shows that the company running the M6 toll road is losing millions of pounds, while the toll road has only brought about a marginal reduction in congestion.
The new report by Campaign for Better Transport said the M6 Toll has been a "costly failure" and the Government should not rely on toll roads to solve transport problems.
Earlier this year transport secretary Philip Hammond signalled an interest in using tolls to pay for future road building schemes, many of which are expected to be halted after the October spending review.
However, the new report shows the 27-mile M6 toll motorway has failed to provide any significant congestion relief for the original M6 and the price, which has been increased significantly year on year, is bad value for drivers who use the toll.
Despite the toll now charging motorists £5 on weekdays, 2.5 times the initial cost, the report shows that operator Midland Expressway Ltd, a subsidiary of the international infrastructure group Macquarie, is losing millions of pounds every year and has written down the value of the road to below its cost.
Meanwhile, M6 congestion is now so bad that the Government is considering spending another £500m on it to deal with the problems the toll road was supposed to solve.
"The research shows that the toll road has failed to cut congestion on the original M6 and has made big losses for its operator. With Government coffers running empty, it is no surprise that politicians are looking at toll roads as a way to deliver funds for new road building projects.
"But our research shows that private toll roads such as the M6 Toll don't help motorists or the surrounding area, and don't make money for investors either,” said Richard George, Campaign for Better Transport's roads and climate campaigner.
"Instead, the Government needs to spend scarce public funds on maintaining the roads we have and giving people good alternatives to car use."
The Road Haulage Association welcomed the report.
“In 2009, road users contributed nearly £50 billion to Treasury coffers”, said RHA head of communications, Kate Gibbs.
“£32 billion of that came from fuel duty and VAT on fuel.
“If tolling were to be introduced on strategic routes then the estimated reductions in congestion would of course be welcome. In addition, their implementation would go some way to levelling the playing field in as much as foreign operators would, at last, have to pay for the privilege of using the UK road network.
“This is a case of swings and roundabouts. There must be a compromise in the form of reduced fuel duty for essential users of fuel”. If this is not achieved, tolling to lessen congestion will be nothing more than a short-term solution to a long term problem.
“If hauliers are to be expected to pay the ever escalating levels of fuel duty as well as road tolls, congestion will indeed decrease as more and more transport operations are forced off the toll roads on to other untolled, and in some cases, minor roads.
"The knock-on effect of increased journey times and disrupted to delivery schedules will place the providers of transport and businesses which rely on an efficient transport system in an untenable situation”.
Key findings of the report:
- the M6 toll road has failed to significantly cut congestion on the M6
- traffic which once used the toll is now returning, making congestion worse at peak times
- traffic has increased dramatically at either end of the toll, causing more congestion
- half a billion pounds of additional capacity is planned to relieve congestion on the M6 that the M6 Toll was supposed to deal with
- journey times on the M6 are only slightly better than before the toll opened
- outside of peak times, journeys on the M6 Toll are not much faster than on the M6
- average time savings were between 7 and 12 minutes in the opening year
- the cost of the toll has risen sharply each January, well above inflation
- the toll road's operators are exploring ways to charge more at peak times
- Midland Expressway Ltd has lost around £26 million a year since the toll opened
- revenue has been in steady decline, as traffic on the toll has been falling since 2006
- the toll road's value has plummeted, from A$2.2bn in 2008 to A$412m in 2009
- even when the toll was busiest (when there were major roadworks on the M6), MEL was still losing millions of pounds a year