Proposals to increase tolls and change vehicle classifications for the Tyne Tunnel have been criticised by a haulage company.
The charge for HGVs will increase to £3.20 and the way vehicles will be classified for going through the tunnel will also be altered if proposals get the go ahead.
There are currently two classes of lorries which pay a toll – Class 2 (up to 3.5 tonnes), and Class 3 (more than 3.5 tonnes) – and ever since 1967 they have been determined by their weight.
However, the new automatic tolling technology installed as part of the New Tyne Crossing project classes vehicles by their height. Since its installation, the new system has identified all vehicles three metres or more high as Class 3.
A very small number of these are less than 3.5 tonnes and so manual adjustments have been required to correct this and charge the right amount.
But the new proposals have not been welcomed by Paul Rea, managing director of Jarrow-based firm Rea Haulage.
Mr Rea said: “The charges already hinder companies working in the North East.
“We’ve all been ripped off, basically – the charges have been increasing year on year and now (if the proposals go ahead) they will have increased by more than 100%.
“These charges, which will only ever increase, could cripple business. We have had to factor in extra costs for customers and each time you use the tunnel that could mean your profits for the day.
“There is no difference for local people who use the tolls all the time, and strangers use them once or twice so it is the local people who are suffering and it is costing us.
“If they could not afford to sustain it, they should not have built it in the first place.”
The tunnels’ owners, the Tyne & Wear Integrated Transport Authority (TWITA), will discuss the proposal to change the classification system and the tolls for HGVs at its meeting on Thursday.
If the proposals go ahead it will mean the cost of a Class 3 vehicle will have increased from £1.50 in 2011 to £3.20 in 2014, as each year since 2011 the toll charge has risen by 50p until the proposed plans for 2014, which will see the cost rise by 70p from £2.50 to £3.20.
TWITA project director Paul Fenwick said: “On January 1, 2014, we move from a transitional arrangement for tolls following the completion of the New Tyne Crossing to the base toll required to fund the project – known as the concession toll.
“On that day, the toll for Class 2 vehicles will continue to be £1.60 and the toll for Class 3 vehicles will rise from the current £2.50 to £3.20. The 10% discount for permit users will remain.
“As part of the setting of the concession tolls, we are also required to specify the criteria for each class of vehicles. The new system will be based on the height of vehicles rather than weight.
“High-sided vans up to 3.5 tonnes are the only vehicles which will change class, if the Transport Authority approves the recommendation.
“We have looked at several permutations to reduce the impact of this change, which affects only about 90 journeys per week day, less than 0.17% of all traffic using the tunnels.
All the options to mitigate the impact are inordinately complicated, costly and difficult to administer.
“Reluctantly we have had to recommend the most straightforward option and to classify vehicles by height, meaning that high-sided vans will move from Class 2 to Class 3.”
The TWITA froze tolls from 2007 during construction until the project’s completion in November 2011.
The toll would also be frozen on Class 2 vehicles at £1.60 if the proposal went ahead for 2014.