Disabled drivers and students could be added to the list of groups who do not have to pay to cross the Mersey Gateway bridge.
Halton Borough Council will decide whether or not to back a raft of proposed changes to the Road User Charging Scheme Order (RUSCO) next Wednesday, March 7.
If approved by councillors, and agreed by the Department Of Transport, the full group of exemptions from tolls would be extended to include blood and organ delivery vehicles, unmarked emergency service vehicles, disabled drivers who are not eligible for blue badges but might now qualify under other criteria, apprentices and undergraduates under the age of 20 and living in Halton and in council tax B and G and H homes, and farm tractors.
Although blood and organ delivery bikes are not classed as emergency vehicles they do make life or death deliveries.
Motorhomes and campervans are earmarked to be reclassed as Class 2 vehicles and pay the same toll as cars – £2 standard or £1.90 or £1.80 discounted rate when registered with Merseyflow, down from the basic fee of £6, reduced £5.70 or £5.40 for registering, paid at present.
A ‘local user hardship scheme’ for assessing whether Halton residents in council tax Bands G and H, who have to pay at present unlike other borough residents in lower band homes, will be rebranded as a ‘local user discount support scheme’.
Halton Councillors have also been asked to approve a request to the Government to fund the estimated £250,000-£500,000 a year that would be required to extend the local user discount scheme to include all Halton residents living in Band G-H homes.
The local authority is also likely to ask the Merseylink bridge consortium to review the £150 charge breakdown removal regime.
It is not proposed that the tolls amount itself charged to motorists will change.
Since the bridge opened in October the tolls system has been subject to widespread criticism and has earned the ire of Cheshire and Merseyside MPs as well as drivers from across the North West and Wales.
A report published ahead of next Wednesday’s Halton Council meeting revealed that the local authority received ‘comments and observations’ of the system from the Department for Transport, The Treasury and the Traffic Penalty Tribunal – a government agency tasked with deciding the fairness of road fines.
(Image: Trinity Mirror Copyright)
Speaking ahead of next week’s meeting, Cllr Rob Polhill, Halton Council leader and a non-executive director on the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board, said the local authority is required to review and resubmit its Road User Charging Scheme Order (RUSCO) every year and has decided to ‘tweak’ some of the conditions so more motorists will be exempt.
He added that the council is supporting Derek Twigg MP’s efforts to press ministers to keep to former Chancellor George Osborne’s pledge that no Halton residents should have to pay to cross and bridge in their own borough.
He said: “We’re required each year to put a RUSCO in and what we’ve done with the order is taken the opportunity to tweak some of the things that need tweaking, like some of the signage.
“Previously, things like the blood and organ service and health services didn’t go over for free because they weren’t emergency vehicles, which is a bit silly.
“Where people are in Band G or H, they don’t get the local user scheme that the rest of us do – people can have a large house and be asset rich and cash poor.
“They have a hardship scheme, it’s not the right thing so we’re changing it to the road support scheme.
“The big thing that you’d had letters about is camper vans, they will go to Class 2, and those that are in full time education.
“It’s something we’ve had representations about and we’ve taken this opportunity to review it.
“We review it all the time and can only change it when an order goes in.”