South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck 'inundated' with complaints regarding Tyne Tunnel barrier fines, and raises concerns for upcoming changes
A South Tyneside MP says she has been inundated with complaints from drivers hit by fines at Tyne Tunnel pre-pay barriers – and fears the upcoming cashless non-barrier system could be chaotic.
Drivers will experience a massive change next month, when a new “open-road tolling” system comes into force – meaning motorists will drive straight through the tunnels without needing to stop and pay at toll booths.
Instead, tolls will have to be paid either via pre-payment accounts or by midnight the following day using an online pay later service, an automated telephone line, and at PayPoint tills found in shops.
There will be no way of paying in cash or using a contactless bank card at the tunnel, with the toll plazas on the northern side due to be demolished over the coming months.
The scheme is already in operation in some lanes, but some drivers have already found themselves coming a cropper, either with their pre-pay accounts, or using the pay-later method.
And South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck says her office has had a high number of complaints from drivers issued with fines.
She fears problems will only get worse once the full scheme goes live, and has called on tunnel bosses to put commuters first.
The MP is worried about the effect the change will have on already frustrated commuters, and has held a meeting with TT2 chief executive Phillip Smith to raise concerns of constituents.
She said: “We’ve been getting inundated with complaints from constituents for a long time regarding the wording of the pay later ticket and my office is constantly having to put appeals in on people’s behalf, which are usually rejected leading to a hefty fine.
“I think the cashless non-barrier system is going to cause problems as well. You’ve got to have an account, pay online or at a paypoint and there’s a lot of elderly people and people on low incomes that don’t have access to things like laptops, ipads and the internet. I think it’s unfair on people because the fine is so hefty as well.”
At one stage last year, almost one-in-five of the drivers taking a pay later ticket failed to pay by midnight the next day and were issued with a penalty notice – which can rise to up to £100, plus the original £1.90 fee.
A spokesperson for TT2 which operates the Tyne Tunnels said: “According to our latest customer survey, the majority of drivers are in favour of the tunnels changing to open-road-tolling because they want quicker and more reliable journeys. You don’t need a bank account, a computer or internet access to pay your toll.
“You can pay with cash or over the phone, as well as via the website or app. For the small minority of our customers who wish to pay with cash – they can still do so - at Paypoints, including ones situated right next to the tunnels.
"Drivers are required to pay-by-midnight-the-next-day because experience from other operators shows customers are most likely to remember to pay when the journey is fresh in their mind. Extending that period has been proven to reduce the numbers meeting the payment deadline.”