JTC statement on Tyne Tunnels
The North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) represents the interests of both the North East Combined Authority and the North of Tyne Authority on transport matters, along with the seven local councils in the North East (“LA7”). The Tyne and Wear Sub Committee of the JTC provides ongoing monitoring of the tyne tunnels operation and this statement has been agreed to by all concerned and represents a shared position.
The new barrierless tolling system (“Tyne Pass Scheme”) came into operation on 8 November 2021 at the Tyne Tunnels. We acknowledge that there have been some teething problems in the introduction of the new system and we have been monitoring complaints closely. Although we continue to believe that the new approach to tolling deliver major benefits for the region – as well as making the journey quicker for motorists by not having to stop at a physical barrier, the change makes a huge difference to carbon emissions and air quality on the approaches – we will be working closely with TT2 Ltd to ensure any issues are resolved as soon as possible.
TT2 Ltd carried out an extensive communication and marketing campaign in advance of go-live, involving TV and radio advertising, print and social media, community newsletters and publications, and leaflets handed out at the toll booths. The new charging policy was considered by the Joint Transport Committee following review by officers and expert advisers, and “post pay” was introduced by TT2 Ltd during a transitional period to allow time to become accustomed to the new payment option.
The implementation of the Tyne Pass scheme went well, albeit with some early problems related to the temporary road layout, and there have been around 2.5 million journeys since the system came into operation. Publicly available statistics show the vast majority of Tunnel Users paid the toll in the first month of operation, which compares favourably with other similar tolled crossings.
We are watching customer reaction closely and we have heard the concerns of tunnel users who have been affected by enforcement since the new system was introduced, some of whom have signed online petitions calling for change. We want people to be satisfied with the way the tunnel operates and, where they interact with the operator TT2 Ltd, for them to feel that they have been treated as a valued customer.
An enforcement process is necessary to ensure the toll is paid, but it is vital that TT2 Ltd provides the best possible customer service and works positively with people who have received a Unpaid Toll Charge Notice (“UTCN”). Where a UTCN has been wrongly issued because of a process error TT2 Ltd must act swiftly to resolve the problem and provide an apology.
We are in a “bedding in” period where adjustments will continue to be made so that the payment system is as customer friendly as it can be. TT2 Ltd is embedding newly-implemented IT systems and working processes, and is making adjustments to payment processes in response to customer feedback. Tunnel users themselves are in some cases adjusting to new ways to pay the toll. We will ensure that officers continue working with TT2 Ltd during this transition period to ensure that the payment and enforcement system in place is fair, transparent, clearly publicised and continuously monitored. Also that appeals processes are regularly assessed by independent bodies and improved where advised to ensure best practice.
We therefore believe that it is too early to consider major change to the charging and enforcement process, as requested by the petitions that we have seen. We will however keep all matters under review and we will not hesitate to instruct a change to the process where believe that it is necessary and justified.
The JTC’s Tyne and Wear Sub-Committee reviews the operation of the Tyne Tunnels regularly and holds both TT2 Ltd and officers working for the JTC to account. Members of the Sub-Committee will challenge poor practice if it arises, and will continue its work to suggest improvements that should be made on behalf of tunnel users and the wider community.
The Sub-Committee has already highlighted a concern about the impact of UTCNs on the most vulnerable people in our communities, where people who are already in difficult financial circumstances may have this worsened by enforcement charges. Officers have been asked to look at ways to support and reduce pressure on people who are suffering financial hardship, and they will report back to the Sub-Committee on this as a matter of priority.