If proposals to introduce tolls on the Blackwall, Rotherhithe and the as-yet-unbuilt Silvertown Tunnel go ahead, we realised that east London could be left without a free fixed river crossing.
There are a number of reasons why crossing tolls are a useful method of road pricing — it's easy to put in place, easy to monitor and control, and you've pretty much got a captive audience. After all, we don't think many people drive through the Blackwall Tunnel every day for fun. But is it fair to impose tolls on crossings in some of the poorest boroughs in London while bridges in wealthy City and west London remain free to use?
We looked at all the non-rail bridges and tunnels between Dartford and Hampton Court to assess their tollability. There's also the question of whether we exclude things like the Greenwich Foot Tunnel or the Millennium Bridge — cyclists and walkers would obviously say yes. We say no. We haven't included the cable car because we think quite enough has been said about it already.
Here are our (very) fag packet calculations.
Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and Dartford Tunnels
Completed in 1991, the soaring £120m crossing has been tolled from the very beginning. Famously, the tolls were intended to be abolished once the cost of building it had been recouped. It goes without saying that this never happened. Currently, cars pay £2 to cross while motorbikes are free and lorries pay up to a fiver. In 2013, the income was around £80.3m.
Woolwich and Greenwich Foot Tunnels
Opened in 1912 and 1902 respectively, neither tunnel has ever had a toll to use them. According to the Royal Borough of Greenwich, 1.5m people use the tunnels per year, so let's assume they're all doing a return trip. Charging cyclists £1 and pedestrians 50p each journey could raise £3m per year. We'd give cyclists their own segregated lane so they didn't have to dismount.
It might be free now, but in the 19th century, it cost a penny to use the ferry crossing at Woolwich. The free ferry was opened in 1889 and has been free ever since. It carries around 2.5m people per year and estimated annual running costs are in the region of £7m. Liverpool's Mersey ferry costs £2.80 for a return journey, so putting a return toll of £3.00 on it would net TfL £7.5m.
Built in 1897 and currently free to use, but proposals are to impose tolls to help raise money for the Silvertown Tunnel. TfL's consultation suggests a toll similar to that at Dartford (£2), so with 100,000 vehicles using it per day, that's £73m per year. Charge lorries more and TfL would be well on the way to being able to gold-plate the Silvertown Tunnel.
While the Rotherhithe Tunnel isn't currently included in the tolling masterplan, the local authority has hinted that it might not be averse to the idea. It doesn't have quite the volumes of the Blackwall Tunnel, but a toll of £2 on the 32,000 vehicles driving through it on a daily basis would raise £64,000 per day, or more than £23m a year.
London's most iconic bridge could be a prime candidate for tolls, and if you wanted to get really grabby about it, you could add a charge for traffic on the river as well as above it. It's used by 40,000 vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians per day, so in the interests of fairness, they can all pay a toll. Charges of £2 per car, £1 per bike and 50p per pedestrian could raise £23m per year. River traffic takes priority over road traffic so charging boats £20 to open the bridge (which happens around 1,000 times per year) would raise £20,000.
London, Southwark, Blackfriars, Waterloo, Westminster, Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges
We're grouping these together because they serve a relatively small area in central London. With bridges having been in situ on some of these sites since Roman times, it's no surprise to learn that London, Vauxhall, Waterloo and Southwark Bridges at least have been tolled in the past, and in fact boats were also charged to navigate underneath London Bridge. It's here where tolling cyclists would really pay off — last year TfL released figures which indicated the high volume of bikes using the bridges in rush hour.
We added up figures for cyclists using all seven bridges and came to a rough total of 36,800 per day. With our proposed £1 toll, that would add up to nearly £13.5m per year. And let's not forget the four-wheeled traffic which is even higher — 181,200 per day, giving a potential toll take of just over £66m. We don't have numbers of pedestrians for the central London bridges, so we've estimated 600,000 foot passengers per day across the seven bridges to raise £109.5m per year.
London Millennium and Golden Jubilee Footbridges
Again, we couldn't find any figures for daily usage for the bridge formerly known as Wobbly or the Golden Jubilee footbridge. On the opening day of the Millennium footbridge, it was estimated that 2,000 people were using it at any one time. If we assume a daily total of 40,000, that's £7.3m per year in tolls from pedestrians. Times that by two for the Golden Jubilee bridge and you get £14.6m. Look, we did say our calculations were fag packet.
South and West London
Chelsea, Albert, Battersea, Wandsworth, Putney, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew, Twickenham, Richmond, Kingston and Hampton Court Bridges
If the powers-that-be decided to introduce tolls in south and west London, we think they'd make so much money that they'd be able to afford to build river crossings to their heart's content in the east. In common with some of central London's bridges, nearly all of the south and west bridges were tolled until they came under public ownership in the 19th century.
For all 12 bridges, the vehicle usage is upwards of 133m journeys per year which at £2 per crossing gives £267m per year. The cycle usage is quite a lot less but still nets £3.6m per year. Again, we have no bridge-specific data for foot passengers so we've done a finger-in-the-air estimate to get an average of 200,000 per day across the 12 bridges. That still gives £36.5m per year at 50p a head.
Fulham Railway Bridge, Barnes Railway Bridge, Richmond Lock, Teddington Lock
We realise that we're probably clutching at straws here, but we can't put tolls on some bridges and not on others. At least not unless we want thousands of disgruntled pedestrians looking for a free crossing descending onto London's other footbridges. We're going to assume daily usage for these four pedestrian bridges averages out at about 20,000 per day, which gives us a yearly toll take of £3.6m.
Let's add all that up, shall we?
The total potential revenue from tolls in the east (including the existing Dartford toll) is £186.8m. For central, south and west London it's a massive £537.3m. It wouldn't be popular, but at least it would spread the burden of paying tolls more fairly across the capital. We'd definitely want some rules in place around spending the revenue on frivolities though.
Photo by Umbreen Hafeez in the Londonist Flickr pool.