Business leaders have called for a renewed strategy for the Midlands motorway network after the operator of the M6 Toll made a £41.6 million loss.
Operator Midland Expressway revealed the loss after seeing revenue plunge to £55.9 million last year compared to £60.1 million the year before.
Executives from chambers of commerce in the West Midlands have called for a change after traffic volume on the toll road fell by more than 10 per cent last year after an increase in charges.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce is calling for a reduction in charges to encourage back transport firms already suffering with high fuel prices.
Paul Bennett, president of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, said with many drivers shunning the toll road it may be worth the Government considering means of funding it to bring the Midland motorway network up to capacity.
He said: “We need to ensure the maximum use of our existing infrastructure capacity and the results of the M6 Toll operator would suggest that we are not getting the most out of that capacity.
“Merely reducing the toll might not lead to the behaviour change that we need to reduce congestion on the M6 and other roads around the Black Country. What we might need is some shadow toll facility where the Government pays the toll on behalf of the users.”
Accounts published on Companies House this week show the number of people using the M6 Toll fell from 14.5 million in the 2010 to 13.1 million last year.
The loss for the financial year of £41.6 million compares to a loss of £49.1 million in the 18 months until December 31.
It leaves Midland Expressway owing £597.1 million to parent group Macquarie Motorways Group, up from £584.5 million when accounts were published the year before. The loan is unsecured and bears a fixed interest rate of nine per cent a year.
The firm increased the price of using the 27-mile stretch of road in March with car drivers now paying £5.50 to use the road, following a 20p rise, and lorries are charged £11, a 40p increase.
Some weekend and overnight prices, however, were reduced on the road which links junction 11a of the M6 near Cannock to Junction 3a at Coleshill.
The Midland Expressway directors’ report states that “the anticipated increase in toll revenue did not materialise” after the increase in toll charges.
It states: “Trading for the year was again affected by the weak UK economy, rising fuel prices and by the ongoing improvement of the competing networks, notably the M6.”
Directors believe demand for the toll road will increase as work takes place on the Birmingham Box Managed Motorways programme, which is going to mean narrow lanes and speed restrictions on the M6 for a period.
It adds: “Customers will return to the M6 Toll as has been seen in previous years when roadworks increased traffic on the road.”
A spokesman for Birmingham Chamber of Commerce said that against a backdrop of rising fuel bills and slowing spending the transport industry finds the M6 Toll too expensive.
He said: “I think for the private motorist it is still relatively affordable but the issue is it is too expensive for lorries.
“If you have got a fleet of lorris and you are considering using the toll road you are talking about an enormous amount of money.
“Obviously £11 each way is a great deal of money on top of the bills that transport companies already have to pay.
“While it is still cheaper for lorries to sit in traffic jams on the M6 proper then they clearly will not want to use the toll road.
“They have got to make it more popular.”
Nobody could be contacted at the M6 Toll press office.