People looking for cheaper travel across the new Mersey Gateway bridge are being urged to sign up for discounts well in advance.
Only the residents of Halton will be entitled to ‘free’ use of the bridge linking Runcorn and Widnes, in exchange for a £10 annual administration fee.
Attempts by MPs to gain an exemption for Cheshire West residents have so far come to nothing, meaning people in the Frodsham, Helsby, Chester and Ellesmere Port areas will be charged.
Operators Merseyflow have this week urged people to register online for discounts as quickly as possible to ensure they don’t get caught in a last-minute rush when the bridge opens this autumn.
From Monday morning, anyone can visit the website www.merseyflow.co.uk and sign up for an account. Signing up online is the easiest way to register, but locally-based walk-in centres and a call centre will also open.
Anyone who is eligible for the Halton residents’ discount scheme must register and pay a £10 annual fee in order to claim free trips. People will also be able to register for a pre-pay account, monthly pass or Blue Badge holder pass, all of which give discounts on the full unregistered toll fee.
A “free-flow” tolling system will mean journeys across the Mersey will be quicker, easier and more reliable, because drivers will need to stop or use a toll booth bucket.
It will still be possible to cross the bridge without registering but anyone who does will have to pay the full unregistered toll fee which is £2 per car per crossing, with additional charges for larger vehicles.
Anthony Alicastro, chief executive officer of Emovis Operations (Mersey) Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of emovis, which runs the Merseyflow operation, expects demand for registration to be high.
He said: “We’ve had a lot of enquiries from people wanting to know when they can register, so it is good to be able to confirm July 17 as our registration date.
“If anyone isn’t sure what this means for them, I would encourage them to visit www.merseyflow.co.uk and look at all the detail there about different registration options to make sure they don’t miss out. Whilst there will be a range of ways to sign up, we’d like to encourage people to register using the Merseyflow website, as this will be the quickest method.”
Blue Badge holders can cross both bridges for free once they have successfully registered and paid a £5 one-off registration fee.
The discount scheme means anyone, wherever they live, can save up to 10% on the unregistered toll by registering for a pre-pay sticker account and paying a £5 one-off fee
Anyone who drives a car or a small van can cap their costs by buying an “unlimited travel” or “off-peak” monthly pass.
The new bridge is scheduled to open in autumn 2017. When it does, the neighbouring Silver Jubilee Bridge will be closed to road traffic for up to 12 months while it is refurbished.
During this time the old bridge will remain open to pedestrians and cyclists. It will also be tolled for motorists once it reopens.
Work started on the six-lane Mersey Gateway bridge linking Runcorn and Widnes in May 2014. It is being built to relieve the congested and ageing Silver Jubilee Bridge.
Chester MP Chris Matheson has previously described the tolling on both bridges as a “broken promise” from the government to the people of Cheshire West. Former Weaver Vale MP Graham Evans lobbied officials at the Treasury and Department for Transport “tirelessly” for exemptions for his constituents, but earlier this year it was confirmed that the ‘Local User’ discount scheme would not be extended for residents of Cheshire West and Chester and Warrington.
See full story in the Chester Leader