A RISE in Mersey tunnel tolls has been condemned as a tax on the people of Wirral.
Transport chiefs Merseytravel is this week expected to approve an increase in the cost of crossing the river - from £1.50 to £1.60 for cars.
And as anger among motorists grew one Wirral councillor who sits on the authority pledged he would vote against the move.
The 7% increase will net an extra £2.6m annually for Merseytravel – which is not needed for the upkeep of the Kingsway and Queensway tunnels.
Around £10m annually is still being used to pay off historic debts on the tunnels, which stand at more than £58m.
A surplus of £8.1m was returned on the tolls in 2011/12 – with £5.6m of that used to subsidise other forms of public transport.
But despite Merseytravel not needing the additional £2.6m for funding the tunnel operation, officials have recommended the rise.
Moreton West and Saughall Massie Cllr Chris Blakeley said: “I find this absolutely incredible. This increase is coming at the wrong time for thousands of drivers.
“The ill-conceived 2004 Tunnels Act has allowed Merseytravel to fleece drivers. It is nothing more than a tax on the people of Wirral and the wider community.
“Councillors who serve on Merseytravel should remember who they are supposed to be representing. Merseytravel needs to get its own house in order before coming back to the hard pressed drivers in Wirral.”
And Leasowe and Moreton East Cllr Ron Abbey, one of four Wirral councillors on Merseytravel, said he would vote against increasing the tolls.
He said: "My track record speaks for itself – I have consistently opposed any rise in tunnel tolls and I will continue to do so."
John McGoldrick, secretary of the tunnel users association, had warned that the “usual excuses” would be trotted out to justify the increase – and said the increase was coming in a year with no local elections.
He said: “If this rise goes ahead we hope that as many people as possible will join us in protesting against this highway robbery - which in the main hits the people of Wirral."
Under the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004 the transport authority has the power to increase tolls, in 10p increments, to match inflation.
The Merseytravel report contains a comparison between tunnel tolls and other forms of transport for getting across the river.
Since 2006/07 tunnel tolls have increased by 15.4% from £1.30 to their current level of £1.50.
Rail saw the biggest increase from £1.60 to £2.30 (43.75%), followed by bus £2.20 to £2.85 (29.5%), and the ferries at £1.35 to £1.60 (18.5%).
If, as expected, councillors vote to approve the rise on Thursday this week the changes will take effect from April 1.
The 7% rise will also apply to other classes of vehicles. So that class 2, 3, and 4 (different size HGVs) will pay £3.20, £4.80, and £6.40 respectively.
Fast tags will also increase to £1.40, £2.80, £4.20, and £5.60 for each class.
Merseytravel does not comment on reports ahead of meetings, but earlier this month chairman Cllr Liam Robinson defended the overall tunnels policy.
He said: “Clearly, Merseytravel is responsible for developing and maintaining a truly integrated transport system for the whole city region. This means that aspects of the whole system depend on each other, with tunnels, ferries, bus and train services all inter-dependent.”