The operators of the M6 Toll have hit back at a report that claims the relief road has been an abject failure.
Midland Expressway said it had made a long-term investment in the £1 billion project after the Campaign for Better Transport said it had failed to ease congestion on the M6 and that it was losing up to £25 million a year.
Tom Fanning, chief executive of Midland Expressway, said it was too early to judge the toll road’s commercial success.
“The M6 Toll is a reliable, congestion-free route, used by more than 44,000 vehicles daily, giving drivers significant time savings,” he said. “We are pleased with the overall traffic growth on the M6 Toll and our customers recognise the benefits of our reliable service – the annual customer survey in May 2010 reveals a 90 per cent plus customer satisfaction level.
“The M6 Toll is a long-term, 50-year investment.
“The road cost almost £1 billion to plan and build, at no cost to the Government and our long-term investment approach takes into account these significant up-front costs.”
The 27-mile route was billed as the solution to easing congestion along the M6 through the West Midlands when it opened to great fanfare in December 2003 but the report by the Campaign for Better Transport said it had become an expensive white elephant.
M6 Toll prices are now more than double their initial £2 cost with car drivers paying £5 to use it on weekdays while the number of drivers has fallen from just under 60,000 a day in the spring of 2006 to just over 40,000 by the start of this year.
However, according to the most recent quarterly figures, from April to June this year, the road saw the average number of users rise by more than four per cent on the same period last year, with more than 46,000 motorists using the route.
Nevertheless, Richard George, from the CBT, said there were few winners.
He said: “The research shows that the toll road has failed to cut congestion on the original M6 and has made big losses for its operator. Private toll roads such as the M6 Toll don’t help motorists and don’t make money for investors either. The Government needs to spend scarce public funds on maintaining the roads we have.”
Will Rogers, from Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said the cost of using the road lay at the heart of its problems.
“The toll does not take enough traffic off the M6 and it’s primarily down to pricing,” he said. “During this time of austerity you can see why users have declined but we do hope user figures will pick up as the recovery continues. It’s clear the business model is flawed and leaves a lot to be desired.
“High-speed rail will be coming to the West Midlands and the runway extension (at Birmingham Airport) is still planned to go ahead so it’s vital that road infrastructure is not left behind.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said toll roads provided a choice for motorists and it was up to them if they used them.
She said: “We have no plans to introduce a charging programme for existing roads, which are publicly owned and have already been paid for by the taxpayer. The M6 toll was funded by the private sector, not the taxpayer, and provides a service which some motorists clearly value as they are prepared to pay to use it.’’