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.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Buyer beware!

With the money markets and banking so unstable there are probably lots of investors out there looking for an unusual place to park their wad and get a reasonable long-term return. So goes the story in today’s Mail on Sunday.

The Swinford toll bridge may not offer a lot of annual return for £1.65 million (the asking price) - about £100k a year, plus any capital gains, of course - but one thing’s for sure; the traffic using it ain’t going to get any lighter any time soon. A super chance to invest in congestion, perhaps?
But any potential buyer will have to consider the cost of repairing this historic monument and not least being hated by the residents of west Oxfordshire who use the bridge and hate the toll. Buyer beware! There are thousands of us.

However, if you have thick rhino-skin, no social conscience and don't care about profiteering from other people's misery, then maybe the bridge is for you!

For the complete avoidance of doubt I want to say it again: the rightful owner of this beautiful bridge should be Oxfordshire County Council.

Friday, 5 June 2009

An investor's cunning plan?

I had an email from someone this week. Let’s call him Mr X. He said:

“I am one of those greedy, higher-rate tax payers that was searching for a cash-cow investment and [found out about] the Swinford Toll Bridge."

You have to admire such honesty!

He proposed a very sensible idea (regular readers will know how much I like ‘sensible’ even if it is unfashionable):

“One idea might be to try and bring in an external investor, remove the toll booths and get the council to pay an agreed toll each year, based on what the expected traffic flow is likely to be. They could install a meter (that cars trigger when they drive over it) to confirm how many cars actually travel across the bridge each year, and then there could be a balancing up at the end of the 12 months. That way the Council would not have to stump up the cash upfront, but could amortise it over a number of years."

If I've understood Mr X's idea correctly, the advantage for Oxfordshire County Council is that they wouldn’t have to find £1.5 million quid as capital expense all in one go. A private investor, say Mr X, would stump up the initial cash and effectively lease it back to OCC. OCC gets control of the bridge and relieves the appalling congestion and frustration west Oxfordshire currently suffers. And the private bridge owner gets a return on his investment.

Cunning, eh! What do you think?

The drawback of this plan is, of course, OCC's willingness - or not - to do anything at all about the bridge and find a creative solution. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Selling a tax-free cash cow

I was very interested to read the sales pitch from Humberts Leisure the agent instructed to sell the bridge, and thought readers of this website might like to see it, too.

In their glossy online brochure (pictured) they state that "In the last 3 years there has been an annual operating surplus of between £95,468 and £113,481". Nice! And tax-free too, remember. The blurb describes a charming little rural idyll, a pretty little cash cow standing in the sweet water meadows of Oxfordshire, waiting for a higher rate tax payer (for that is who the sales blurb is pitched at) to come along and milk it.

There is no mention in the blurb of the hatred and frustration that toll collection causes the local population. There is no mention of the avoidable environmental damage caused as more and more vehicles have to queue longer than ever before, their engines idling, pumping out choking emissions. There is no mention of the thousands of hours of time wasted by bridge users as they queue to pay that silly toll. No, of course they wouldn't mention that.

Sod the prospective 'higher rate tax payer' buyers looking for an easy tax-free investment; there should only be one buyer: Oxfordshire County Council.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Buy now, traffic calm later

We shouldn’t let our dread of traffic lights eclipse our need for OCC to buy the bridge.

Since the toll bridge came up for sale earlier this week I’ve been talking to people around Eynsham and online. Many are worried that if OCC buy the bridge and scrap the toll traffic might go too fast. The bridge is certainly too narrow for vehicles travelling at any speed. This is a very real worry, the bridge is narrow, but we mustn’t lose sight of the main thing: that there is now a rare opportunity for OCC to buy the bridge. This has to be our focus. The traffic calming can come later.

Once the bridge is OCC’s (and therefore ours) there are lots of traffic calming measures to consider before the blunt instrument of traffic lights are imposed.

Anything that allows traffic to flow safely, slowly and steadily would do the trick; perhaps some combination of rumble strips, speed humps, width restrictions, double white lines, flashing amber lights, a speed camera set at 20mph with zero tolerance (that would bring in extra revenue, too), and I’m sure there are lots of other ways I haven’t thought of. Any sane person would have to concede that charging a toll is a pretty weird and unusual way of traffic calming.

Don’t lose sight of what’s at the heart of the matter: OCC must buy the bridge, or we’re stuck with years of more of the same unnecessary daily misery. This is so urgent that whatever worries we may have – chiefly a fear of traffic lights, from what I’m hearing – must wait to be considered after the happy day when the bridge finally becomes public property and integrated into the public road network.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Letter to David Cameron

Yesterday I wrote a letter to David Cameron, which I'd like to share with you:

Dear Mr Cameron
I have written to you on numerous occasions about the problems caused by toll collection on the Swinford bridge.

The bridge is now for sale. Last time the chance came up for OCC to buy the bridge they did not act swiftly enough and the whole of west Oxfordshire lost out.

OCC's official statement says they will "discuss the issue in due course". But this may not be fast enough. The chance for OCC to buy the bridge comes up no more than a couple of times a century, so together we must act now.

I urge you to write immediately to Councillor Ian Hudspeth ( and Steve Howell, OCC’s head of transport (, and encourage them in the strongest possible terms to buy the bridge. The residents of west Oxfordshire are entirely fed up with being held to ransom every day and being forced to waste our time and our fuel, to say nothing of adding to the totally avoidable emissions created by our vehicles as we queue the pay the toll.

'In due course' is not good enough; and it's not like they haven't already had years to consider this matter!

Yours sincerely
Jane Tomlinson

You too can write to David Cameron, urging him to do the same, at

UPDATE, 15 May 2009
I received a swift reply from Mr Cameron's office. His assistant will show Mr Cameron my letter. Let's hope a little political pressure from someone so high profile will make a difference. We can but try, after all.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

OCC must buy the bridge now

The last time the bridge came up for sale Oxfordshire County Council missed buying it because they weren’t quick enough off the mark.

OCC’s official statement says they will "discuss the issue in due course". Hmmm… in due course may not be fast enough. The chance for OCC to buy the bridge comes up no more than a couple of times a century, so we must act now.

What you can do
I strongly encourage all readers to write to Councillor Ian Hudspeth and Steve Howell, OCC’s head of transport, and urge them to act immediately to purchase the bridge.

Don’t accept their 'in due course' flannel. It’s not like they haven’t already had years to consider this matter.

Pictured above: page 7 of The Oxford Mail, 14 May 2009

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Toll bridge for sale!

It's true! When I found out I couldn't believe my ears; indeed, I actually had to sit down.

The Swinford toll bridge is for sale for £1.65million, apparently, and there should only be one buyer: Oxfordshire County Council (OCC).

OCC had the chance to buy it and incorporate it into Oxfordshire's road system back in the early 90s. But they didn’t. The opportunity to buy the bridge comes up so rarely - perhaps only a couple of times a century - that if they don’t act now we may have to wait another 20 years, possibly longer, for another chance.

OCC are likely to say they can’t afford it. But that’s rubbish. Yes they can! And it couldn’t be simpler. Make the bridge users themselves pay for it over a number of years by continuing to charge the toll for a fixed period (a number of years). After which, with the money recouped, they can scrap the toll, stop the highway robbery and get west Oxfordshire moving again. The Act of Parliament, which allows the bridge owner to collect a toll, doesn’t say a toll HAS to be collected, after all.

Do the decent thing, OCC. Buy it now. Buy it for the people you’re meant to be serving. £1.65million seems remarkably cheap to me, and in the light of the current row about MPs’ expenses is little more than beer money.

What I fear is that OCC will whine: "we can’t afford it", which really means "we can’t be bothered"; and yet another private greedhead owner will buy it, creaming off the profits from this cash cow at the expense of bridge users in West Oxfordshire, who will line his pockets every morning and evening with their wasted time, wasted fuel, and their patience while simultaneously damaging the environment with needlessly-emitted exhaust fumes.

Buy it OCC. Buy it now.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A short film

The real cost of the toll on Swinford bridge in Oxfordshire is far higher than 5p
In case you haven't got to time to read all the stuff on this website, I've made a short film (four an half minutes) about why it's time to scrap the tolls on Swinford bridge.

Find out how 18th century transport policy is holding west Oxfordshire to ransom. It's highway robbery!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

BBC Country Tracks

This morning I met a BBC TV film crew to record some footage for a forthcoming programme of 'Country Tracks'. The programme is about the Thames Path and will feature a short section about the bridge which crosses the Thames Path at Eynsham. The presenter, Ellie Harrison, (pictured below, left) was delightful and asked me (pictured below, right) lots of questions. If you've read any of the contents of this website, (I recommend this page) you can imagine the points I made!

The film crew took lots of footage of the slow-moving queue, of tolls being collected, and they asked random drivers in the queue what they thought of the ludicrous toll. Unsurprisingly, the response was overwhelmingly against it.

I’ll let you know when the programme is scheduled to be on.