Wednesday 2 December 2009

Over and out there somewhere

So the auction is over, the bridge has been sold for £1,080,000 and the new owner is not the county council (who were never in the bidding). This is hugely disappointing for 10,000 daily bridge users who are all losers in this tawdry tale of tax-evasion, highway robbery and time-wasting. A new private owner almost certainly means another generation of entirely unnecessary wasted time, frustration, idling engines and pollution just to line someone's pocket. A clear case of 'same shit, different bucket' or put more politely perhaps: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

People who don't experience the twice-daily frustration will continue to wonder what all the fuss is about and advise bridge users to 'get a life', 'find an alterative route', 'stop whinging'. To those people I say this: when you have a little local problem that affects yours and your neighbours lives, when you want help, advice or support I will walk on by. Check out the cries for help from local people who have had enough of the time-wasting and highway robbery.

So what happens now? Some of my fellow bridge-users will continue not to pay. Some may be verbally abusive to toll collectors and some may throw eggs (please don't, it's horrid). But most will continue quietly raging, saying "thank you" to the toll collector while the queues get ever longer.

I use the bridge most days but I neither pay nor wait in the queue. I found my own answer to the toll collection problem: I got a motorcycle. I advise all bridge-users to consider this alternative. I wish I'd done it years ago. So I'll bid the toll collector 'good day' and ride on, over and out there somewhere.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

BBC Radio 4's Today programme

BBC Radio 4's flagship news and current affairs programme Today will be reporting live from the bridge tomorrow morning just after 8.30am if all goes according to plan… Tune in!

Listen here - scroll down to 0851.

Monday 30 November 2009

Thursday is auction day

All the recent media coverage about the sale of the bridge should make for a pretty good turn out for Thursday's auction of the bridge in London, a once-in-a-generation event.

Realistically I know the bridge will almost certainly be bought by a private buyer, who will parasitically sit back and wait for all those tax-free 5ps to roll in, while local bridge users pay the real cost in hours of wasted time and wasted fuel. And the local environment will suffer entirely unnecessary pollution as idling engines from vehicles waiting to pay pump out exhaust fumes.

No, I will not be going to the auction. I have to go to work to earn my living and to pay my taxes.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Only in Britain

The story of next Thursday's auction of the bridge has gone international. Today I met a French journalist from international newswire (AFP) Agence France-Presse and a reporter from Swedish national radio. Tomorrow I meet a journo from German broadcaster ARD. Having spoken to the pro-toll people (the people selling the bridge) they all wanted to hear why I object so vehemently to toll collecting, what local people think and what ideally I would like to happen (which I am realistic enough to know won't).

While there is nothing internationally unusual about toll bridges and toll roads, the fact that the Swinford bridge generates tax-free income for a private owner as a result of an antique Act of Parliament is very unusual.

It means that this story will probably be reported as 'this-could-only-happen-in-Britain'. While normally I am proud of my nationality, the fact that as a nation we still retain such an archaic unfairness in our infrastructure makes me ashamed. Thankfully, Britain also allows me to express my opposition to such unfairness. I'm very proud of that.

A beautiful thing happened on the riverbank as the French journalist and I talked about the environmental cost of toll collection: a bright streak of blue and orange whizzed past - unmistakably a kingfisher! It reminded me of why I love this place so much.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

A local bridge for local people?

Over the past few days I've had quite a lot of correspondence from people about the bridge. I've been called names by cowardly, anonymous people. I've been applauded for my efforts in the name of fairness. And most welcome of all have been the very interesting opinions and suggestions about what might done to improve the situation, now that we know OCC have no intention of buying it: not least, how local people could take control of the bridge themselves.

It's just a thought, but if the bridge was run by local people as a social enterprise, we as owners could control how its run, plough any profits back as we choose, and cock a snook at absentee greedheads who wish to line their grubby pockets with our daily misery.
It could be done through some sort of co-operative share scheme, obtaining money to buy it through a social enterprise investment fund such as this. I had no idea these things existed! Alas, apart from personally staying solvent (which I consider to be an achievement in these difficult times) I have no financial expertise to make this happen in such a short space of time. (The sale is on 3 December).

It's an extremely long shot, but is there anybody out there who has the time, expertise and social conscience to make this happen in such a short space of time? I, for one, would be willing to buy into our beautiful local landmark. I'll have £1,000 worth, please.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

"Tax Haven-On-Thames" says Sky news

The story of the forthcoming sale of the bridge has been picked up by Sky News. The fact that we, the bridge users, will be lining the pockets of the new owner - tax-free - makes me sick.

There's also an article in today's Guardian property section.

All this free advertising! The vendor and auctioneer must be smiling.

Monday 16 November 2009

ITV news tonight and egg-pelting

ITV news
Earlier today I was interviewed and filmed by an ITV reporter for an item about the bridge on tonight’s ITV evening news at 6pm (in the meridian broadcast region).

Oxfordshire County Council today told the ITV news journalist that they have "no intention of buying the bridge". This is not exactly a surprise, but it is terrible news for the 10,000 bridge users held to ransom everyday. Another lost opportunity. No wonder I'm cross.

But it's not just me who’s angry about the idiotic and grossly unfair tolls on bridge, which without a public (or public-spirited) buyer is going to continue into the next generation. I already knew that toll collectors got abuse shouted at them and coins hurled at them. It's not surprising. But today a journalist told me that the toll collectors were pelted with eggs at the weekend. While I understand completely the pelter's frustrations, I can't condone it. It's not nice and is as uncivilized as legalized highway robbery of ordinary road-users at antique toll bridges.

The fine old British habit of egg-pelting is probably best reserved for politicians at election times.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Bridge to be auctioned

According to this article on page three of today’s Sunday Times, the bridge is to be auctioned in London on 3 December 2009 by Allsop.

While an imminent sale is of course of great interest to all bridge users, I am most interested in the very last sentence of article. When the reporter (who spoke to me on Friday) approached the county council, they apparently “would not comment”.

Brace yourself, fellow bridge users; OCC aren't interested in acquiring the bridge and we’re going to be shafted again for the next few decades by another greedhead owner.

A case of 'same shit, different bucket'.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

"Raise the toll" says potential buyer

Today I received an email from Lee D who says he (I assume Lee is a he): "would love to buy this bridge and raise the toll.” (The typos in the following quotes are his.)

He goes on: "your plight reminds me of the same sort of person who buys a cheap home near an airport then moans about the noise. You moved into the area after the toll was in place. the toll goes towards the upkeep or potential rebuilding of this bridge. no toll would eventually have to mean no bridge, then see how many of you would rather pay not 5p but 25p a trip instead of the long alternative routes. the video you made shows the traffic moving quite swiftly in my opinion.

"if it is just the speed of flow, or the wait it causes drivers and their pollution, then i would suggest maybe explore getting a multi-booth centre built a couple of hundred meters down the road on a new wider plot using just a normal bit of road. this would speed up the traffic by the maximum two or three times the width of the bridge would permit anyway. making the toll 24hr could help pay for this. as i am typing i am thinking of more stuff. i reckon even if the bridge was free, the width of the bridge would force a wait at least 50% of what it is now at peak times since traffic simply can't go over it in both directions at once."

I happen to think Lee is totally misguided, probably doesn't live in west Oxfordshire, almost certainly hasn't had to waste years of his life to pay a pointless toll every day and he proposes profiteering from other people’s misery. That’s nice.

I'd like to pick up on just a couple of Lee’s points:

Don’t like it? Then move

His argument about people who buy homes near airports then moan about the noise is crude at best, insulting at worst.

Well, yes, none of us have to live near the bridge, or the airport, or the motorway, or the San Andreas fault, but some of us find ourselves there anyway. In a democratic society, Lee, we have a right to try to make things better and improve our quality of life. That could mean campaigning for changes in the law that improve women’s rights, or safer construction of buildings in earthquake zones, or building a wall that reduces traffic noise for people living by a busy road or scrapping a pathetic and archaic toll to relieve a needless traffic bottleneck and hours of timewasting.

He says: “the toll goes towards the upkeep or potential rebuilding of this bridge”. Actually only part of the toll is earmarked for this. According to the figures I’ve seen the bridge yields about £100,000 a year tax-free. Great for greed-heads and profiteers! If you buy it, Lee, you’ll be making yourself the most unpopular man in west Oxfordshire. But you have already demonstrated you don’t give a hoot about our lives anyway.

Complete nonsense
He says: “no toll would eventually have to mean no bridge” What complete nonsense. 99.9% of bridges in this country are toll free. If the bridge was bought by the county council – as it clearly should be – they could scrap the toll overnight.

There's more: “if it is just the speed of flow, or the wait it causes drivers and their pollution, then i would suggest maybe explore getting a multi-booth centre built a couple of hundred meters down the road on a new wider plot using just a normal bit of road.” A multi booth centre, eh? From profits of only £100K a year? And on precisely what land is this going to be built? In the water-meadow? And how does this keep traffic flowing when each car still has to stop to pay a toll?


He says: “i reckon even if the bridge was free, the width of the bridge would force a wait at least 50% of what it is now at peak times since traffic simply can't go over it in both directions at once." Poppycock. It may be narrow, but traffic simply CAN go over it in both directions at once - and DOES. Every day. Nice and slowly, no problem at all. The toll booth simply acts an expensive speed hump. Except speed humps keep the traffic flowing, whereas the toll booth forces vehicles to stop altogether. With no toll, there would just be an occasional halt when two very large vehicles just happen to be crossing in opposite directions at the same time.

Act of Parliament
Just one point you haven’t considered in your quest for easy money, Lee. To raise the toll you need to amend the Act of Parliament which allows a toll to be collected. You’ll want to look into this before you buy.

If my comments seem angry or barbed it’s because they are, Lee. Collecting tolls may be legal, but is is right? It basically comes down to this: is it really fair or ethical to profiteer from an activity that causes daily misery to 10,000 people? Not in my world it isn't.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

On the telly this Sunday!

For British readers of this blog, I will be appearing on BBC1 television on Sunday at 11am in a programme called Country Tracks, talking (or should I say ranting) about the Swinford toll bridge.