PENALTIES for not paying toll charges on the Mersey Gateway bridge are being issued at the rate of 800,000 a year, a Freedom of Information Request has revealed.

The figures, obtained by campaign group Scrap Mersey Tolls, show that between October 14, 2017 and January 31, 2018, a total of 242,690 penalty charge notices (PCNs) were issued to drivers who used the new river crossing without paying any tolls.

That is an average of 2,226 fines a day which, if continued, would result in over 800,000 fines being dished out to motorists in the course of a year.

John McGoldrick, a spokesperson for Scrap Mersey Tolls, described the findings as “staggering.”

He said:  “That is over 800,000 unwanted pieces of paper landing on people’s doormats and giving them an unwelcome surprise. Local politicians should be ashamed that they have inflicted such a widespread burden of financial misery.”

The £600 million bridge opened in October last year without toll booths,  and drivers have until 11.59pm after their journey to pay their toll or face a penalty charge of at least £40.

Campaigners were against a cashless system, referring to the Dartford Crossing in East London, which generated £53m in fines when toll barriers were removed.

Drivers can pay tolls in various ways including online, over the phone or at the Merseyflow walk-in centre in Runcorn.

In November 2017, A Merseyflow spokesman said: “The (11.59pm) deadline for payment is designed to encourage people to pay quickly before they forget to do so and to minimise the number of PCNs we have to issue.”

However, the Freedom Of Information Request from The Traffic Penalty Tribunal  suggests the cashless system has led to thousands of fines being issued erroneously, or because people have simply forgotten to pay. 

Under the Merseyflow penalty system, drivers can make a representation against their penalty charge in the first instance and then take this to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) as an appeal.

Figures show that up until the end of January this year, 3,010 appeals against the penalty charge notices were made to the TPT.

Of these cases, 547 are still awaiting decision and 31 were either rejected (2), closed (7), or withdrawn by consent (22).

Of the remaining 2432, 84 per cent of were uncontested, meaning Merseyflow – the company employed by Halton council to collect the tolls and take enforcement action – did not oppose the appeal,  and the other 16 per cent were found in favour of the appellant.

So far, not one case has been found in favour of  Merseyflow when they have chosen to contest the appeal. 

John McGoldrick said: “That is good news for drivers who challenge the penalty notices but it is not good news for the hundreds of thousands who have paid the penalties because of the threat of escalating penalties and costs. We urge all drivers who get a penalty notice to fight it.”

A Merseyflow spokesperson said: “The Penalty Charge Notices that have been issued represent a very small percentage of total journeys made, and the number of PCNs issued is falling as people become more familiar with the new bridge and tolling system.

“Over 9.4m people have now crossed the new bridge and more than 96 per cent of these journeys have been paid for on time and that figure is increasing. We owe it to the majority of customers who pay to pursue those who do not.

“We strive to be as customer-focused as possible to provide the fairest outcome when reviewing PCNs.”