Northeastern councils have given a £ 7million loan to Tyne Tunnel patrons to avoid delaying the removal of all toll barriers at the crossing, it emerged.
Major changes will come later this year, with all cash payments and tunnel toll booths being scrapped in favor of a new automated system designed to avoid traffic jams and reduce air pollution.
But it was revealed that the operator of the TT2 tunnel was planning to postpone the program due to a huge loss of revenue caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, until local council leaders intervened with an offer in cash to maintain the “Tyne Pass” project on Piste.
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The £ 6.67million loan was issued from reserves held by the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC), which is made up of representatives from the region’s seven councils, and was signed at a meeting behind closed doors in September 2020.
A JTC spokesperson said the money came from reserves specifically earmarked for the Tyne Tunnel, so it cannot be spent on supporting other ailing services, and will be refunded over the course of the TT2 contract to manage the crossing until 2037.
Gateshead Council chief Martin Gannon told a JTC meeting on Tuesday that the loan deal was made to “secure the long-term future” of TT2 after toll revenues fell dramatically in the tunnels during the first Covid lockdown, when traffic levels declined by up to 70%.
Paul Darby, chief financial officer of the North East Combined Authority (NECA), confirmed that TT2 had suggested delaying its investment in the Tyne Pass program in order to cut costs, but the boards wanted it to move forward by because of “a number of advantages”. of this system being deployed as planned in terms of carbon emissions ”.
From November, drivers will no longer have to stop to pay at the toll booths on the north side of the tunnel – instead of driving directly, a change that will hopefully reduce congestion and pollution significantly. the resulting air.
Rather, tolls will be paid using prepaid accounts, a subsequent payment website, or through PayPoint checkouts at retailers, with automatic license plate recognition cameras recording vehicle trips.
The “open road toll” plans have been criticized by some tunnel users, who questioned why a contactless card payment toll is not left in place and how people without internet access will pay.
Mr Darby added that TT2 has “no risk of going bankrupt” and that the introduction of the free movement system will make them “sustainable in the future”, while traffic levels have already risen to over 90 % of pre-Covid rates. .
This contrasts sharply, however, with Tyne and Wear Metro’s dire financial situation.
There were again warnings on Tuesday that the rail network could face cutbacks next year, after the government announced it would end emergency financial support that covered its losses linked to the pandemic next April.
The latest projections estimate that operator Nexus faces a budget deficit of £ 19m in 2022/23, as a result £ 16m is directly linked to metro services.
Councilor Gannon said the options for dealing with the deficit were for local councils to commit more of their own money, get more bailout funds from the government, or cut services – or a combination of the three.
The Labor adviser added that it would be “extremely difficult” for local authorities to find this money in their own coffers, given the level of funding cuts suffered over the past 10 years, and the increase in the price of Metro tickets would have the effect of driving passengers away rather than increasing income.
The JTC covers transport issues across Newcastle, Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.
A TT2 spokesperson said: “In March 2020, TT2 toll revenues were significantly affected by the COVID pandemic and the lockdown that followed, which impacted TT2’s contract payments. No government relief was granted throughout this period.
“As a result, planned spending for Tyne Pass was affected at the time and TT2 reached an agreement with local authorities that allowed Tyne Pass to be delivered as planned. The project will bring a number of benefits. positive for the region, including lower carbon emissions, increased travel times and up to 80 new jobs.
“NECA has provided a sum of money which will be reimbursed with a premium over the coming years, which has enabled the upcoming modernization of the toll system in November. TT2 is grateful for the support from NECA and we look forward to bringing Tyne Pass to customers in November. “
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