Councillor demands freeze on Tyne Tunnel toll rise and says drivers are being treated as 'cash cows'
Tyne Tunnel users are being seen as "cash cows" and a toll rise planned to start next week should be scrapped, Liberal Democrats have demanded.
The call is being led by commuting councillor Heather Fagan, who represents the Lib Dems in Sunderland's Doxford and Tunstall ward and journeys under the river for work.
She said it was unfair that motorists passing through tolls at other UK transport hubs, such as the Severn Crossing and the Humber Bridge, had had prices frozen or scrapped.
From midnight on Sunday, it will cost £1.80 for cars and £3.60 for drivers of HGVs to pass through the tunnel – increases of 10p and 20p, respectively.
Pre-pay customers will continue to get a 10 per cent discount on each journey, with motorbikes and service buses passing toll-free.
Coun Fagan said: "Once again, North East commuters are being treated as cash cows by transport bosses on local councils who have allowed increased tolls for hard pressed commuters.
"Councillors and MPs in other parts of the country have clearly been successful in getting the government to provide funding in order to scrap or freeze tolls.
"It begs the question why the North East's political leaders have failed to do the same.
"Labour's transport bosses on North East councils are trying to sweeten the pill by promising an end to barriers and the introduction of number plate readers but there's no timescale as far as I can see.
"So, for the foreseeable future, we'll be paying more for the privilege of sitting in huge queues every morning. It beggars belief."
The increase, the first in three years, was agreed by the Tyne and Wear Sub-Committee in January.
The North East Joint Transport Committee (NEJTC), which owns the tunnels, insists the tolls generate income which covers the maintenance and financing costs of building the second tunnel, which opened in 2011.
A spokesperson for the North East Joint Transport Committee said: "Tolls are required so the public and private borrowing costs of constructing, maintaining and operating the Tyne Tunnels are paid.
"Government and local authorities determined that these costs should be met from tunnel users as opposed to national or local council taxpayers.
"Tolls only rise in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation, which prevents the debt from growing."
A spokesman for TT2, which operates the tunnel, said: "The toll increase for cars, vans and small buses is the first for almost three years.
"The tolls are set by the local authorities via the North East Joint Transport Committee and are considered by them for managing and maintaining both road tunnels.
"It has implemented a modest increase due to inflation since the last increase in early 2016.
"TT2 Limited does not receive the toll money paid by customers, but is paid via a direct mechanism with the local authorities under the project agreement."