HAULIERS have reacted with outrage at the rise in Severn crossing tolls and Newport East MP, Jessica Morden, has piled on the political pressure following news that tolls on the Humber Bridge are to halved.

"If the Humber tolls can be halved, why not us?" says Jessica, Labour member covering Caldi­cot and Magor.

"Following last week's announcement by Severn River Crossing Plc that the Severn bridge tolls will go up to £6 and the UK government stating it won't do anything about it, we are now told by the Chancellor in his autumn budget statement today that the Humber Bridge toll will be halved, citing the decision will support economic development for the local area.

"If the UK government can come to some sort of deal over the Humber bridge because of the economic impact of the tolls, why can't they negotiate a similar deal with Severn River crossing Plc? The Welsh economy desperately needs support as well. How can we hope to see a substantial growth in the private sector in Wales when the Severn bridge tolls are forever rising? Why hasn't the UK government worked hard to get a deal here, so struggling commuters and businesses can also be supported?"

Meanwhile the Freight Transport Association representing lorry operators using the Severn crossing says the hike is: "Holding the industry to ransom."

Car drivers face an increase of 20p from £5.80 to £6, but for hauliers the rise is 90p, from £17.20 to £18.10 making the crossings the most expensive in the UK.

Ian Gallagher, FTA's policy manager for Wales, said: "It would seem that under the current contract the users of the Severn crossings are at the mercy of cynical charges to use, what is for the haulage industry, an essential piece of infrastructure.

"This nightmare of successive, above-inflation annual price hikes will end in 2017 when the bridge is back in public hands. But what this situation highlights is the need for private sector infrastructure projects in the future to more carefully consider the contractual terms so that those affected are not held to ransom with unreasonable demands."

FTA has suggested amending the current contract with SRC to reduce the level of tolls but to levy them over a longer period of time. This would still accrue the same level of income but would place less of a burden on businesses. FTA is also advocating a lower tariff for night-time crossings for commercial vehicles. 

Gallagher concluded: "Severn tolls already cost companies many thousands of pounds a month; this latest price hike will make life a lot tougher for hauliers who cross from England into south Wales and comes at time when companies are already struggling in the face of higher fuel costs.

"In an industry with notoriously tight profit margins, road freight operators often have no choice but to pass their costs on to the customer, which stokes inflation and is certainly not good news in a faltering economy.

"Clearly, the Severn Bridges Act needs amending, and the sooner the better."