Tyne Tunnel chiefs launched the new barrier-free system in November 2021, and have hailed the improved traffic flow and reduction in carbon emissions as a success for the system.
But figures released over Christmas by tunnel operator TT2 showed drivers were hit with almost £2,000 in fines every day in the first month of the new cashless system.
Fines totalling £507,000 were issued in November 2021, making ‘Unpaid Toll Charge Notices’ (UTCNs) worth 20% of the £2.8million of the tunnels’ revenue over the month.
She said: “My constituents and many others have been incorrectly subjected to large fines, have incurred debt and are being chased by bailiffs for alleged non-payment of the toll at our Tyne tunnel since it changed to an open-road system.
“Last year I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport and was advised that these problems had nothing at all to do with the Government, yet some of these issues relate to byelaws that can only be changed by statutory instruments.
"Will the Leader of the House please explain if, as the Secretary of State indicated, the Government are no longer responsible for changing this legislation, who is?”
The Leader of the House said he had ‘enormous sympathy on the issue’, adding: “There is nothing more vexatious for our constituents than being fined by officious bodies for doing things that are perfectly normal to do, whether they are private road or private parking companies, who seem to specialise in this, or people chasing for tolls."
He said Ms Lewell-Buck was ‘quite right to stand up on behalf of her constituents’ and asked for her to set out the issues in writing so he could examine which byelaws need changing and take it up with the relevant Government department.
The changes introduced in late 2021 mean instead of stopping to pay, drivers now either pre-pay, or must pay by midnight on the day after their journey, either online of or by cash or card at a PayPoint outlet.
Tunnel bosses say some 94% of customers made ‘compliant journeys’ within the first month.
The petition on the 38 Degrees website, however, is calling on TT2 to cancel all unpaid toll charges issued in the last six months prior to January 1, 2022, and increase the time period for which to 'pay later' from 48 hours to five working days.
Protestors also want a ‘concerted advertising campaign to ensure people are fully aware of how the Tyne Tunnel now works and encourage frequent travellers to sign up for a pre-paid account’.
The petition also suggests that the current fines system be scrapped and replaced with a system where those who do not pay their toll are issued with a £20 fine, lowered to £5 if paid within 14 days.
Currently, fines are issued at £60, lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days and if left unpaid can rise to more than £160, and can be handed to a debt recovery company.