Tolls abolished for Skye Bridge
The Scottish Executive has abolished the controversial Skye Bridge tolls. The government announced an end to the charges on Tuesday morning after it bought back the bridge from its private owners for £27m.
The deal to bring the tolls to an end was understood to have been brokered on Monday night and the last toll was paid as the announcement was made.
The charges had been in force since the span opened in October 1995 and were bitterly opposed by protesters.
The executive officially takes control of the bridge on 1 January from Skye Bridge Limited, which built the bridge under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal with the government.
The exact figure the company will receive will not be known until then, when its final audited accounts are prepared.
However, according to the executive, if it had not bought out the bridge when it did, it would have had to provide a further £18m in subsidy and drivers would have had to pay a further £20m in tolls before the PFI contract ended in eight years time.
The 21 workers who collected the tolls from motorists will now lose their jobs.
Scrapping the tolls has long been a priority for the Lib Dems and featured in the party’s coalition pact with Labour. The Skye tolls were brought to an end immediately by ministers
The Liberals said they wanted to end ‘the discredited tolling regime for the Skye bridge’ by 1 January, 2005, and hinted in June that they would follow through on their pledge.
Party leader Jim Wallace told parliament the tolls would be abolished by the end of the year and negotiations began to put an executive-funded buy-out together.
William Easingwood, 59, a fisherman from Dunbar, was the first motorist to legally cross the bridge without paying on Tuesday. He said: ‘I certainly feel better for it. The government has got the money to do this so I’m glad that they have.’
Despite the good news, the Scottish National Party claimed questions still remained about the Skye Bridge. Transport spokesman Fergus Ewing said: ‘Will there be a public inquiry? And what about those people who have been convicted wrongly – will they be overturned?
‘How much did the bridge actually cost and how much has been received over the last nine years in tolls? Isn’t this the most expensive contract that has ever been in the history of PFI procurement in Scotland?’
The Skye Bridge was the first-ever PFI deal and since the five-minute crossing first opened it has caused much controversy.
The bridge was built by a commercial group led by the Bank of America and under the deal it used the charges to recoup its £39m costs.
Its tolls were based on the old ferry fares between the island and the mainland and as a result were the highest levied in Europe.
More than 100 people have been convicted for refusing to pay the tolls, some even ending up in prison.
Protesters claimed the tolls were unfair and too high and complained the owners had collected much more than it cost to build the bridge.