Experts surprised by sharper than expected spike in Severn Crossings

Rhodri Clark

Traffic on the M4 Severn Crossings has risen sharply, ahead of the promised abolition of tolls at the end of this year.

The twin bridges were operated and maintained by a private concessionaire until 8 January, when they passed to the UK Government.

There was an immediate reduction in toll charges – which are collected westbound only – because VAT was no longer charged. Figures released by Highways England reveal that 1,419,530 vehicles used the crossings westbound in June, compared with 1,289,588 – an increase of 10.1%. In May the increase was 10.7%.

Professor Stuart Cole, emeritus professor of transport at the University of South Wales, said the increase was double the usual elasticity.

'If you put the price down by 10%, demand would increase by 3%,' he said, explaining the usual scenario.

Severn toll prices had reduced by 16% in January. 'Here I would have expected demand to increase by 4% to 5%, but it’s double that. The extra 5% is probably the result other factors [apart from the price reduction].'

One probable factor is a flurry of house-buying in South Wales by people who work in the Bristol and Bath area, stimulated by the Government’s announcement in July 2017 of Severn toll abolition.

Houses are significantly cheaper on the Welsh side of the Severn. Prof Cole said some commuters may already have moved house, to beat expected increases in property prices.

Another factor was disruption to train services through the Severn Tunnel this summer, particularly during engineering blockades for electrification. For example, some passengers travelling to London from South Wales might opt to drive to Bristol Parkway station to avoid using rail replacement coaches from Newport, he suggested.

If the usual demand elasticity applies after toll abolition, traffic on the Severn Crossings is likely to increase by about 30%, said Prof Cole.

'The concern is the capacity of the M4 to deal with this extra traffic,' he added, suggesting roads on the English side of the crossings were already congested in the morning peak.

The Welsh Government is awaiting the results of a public inquiry into the proposed £1.4bn M4 Relief Road, designed to avoid a notorious bottleneck at Newport.

If the controversial project goes ahead, the anticipated opening date is 2024, five years after abolition of tolls is expected to result in a major increase in traffic on the M4 west of the Severn.

Highways jobs

Team Leader NRSWA & Traffic Management

Bedford Borough Council
£37,107 - £41,846 per annum
To Manage a team carrying out the Councils duties under the Traffic Management Act and the New Roads and Street Works Act. Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Bedford Borough Council

Strategic Director - Regeneration & Environment

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
Competitive Salary
As the Strategic Director of Regeneration & Environment, you’ll be part of the strategic corporate leadership team Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Recuriter: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

Senior/Principal Highway Network Management Officer

Bristol City Council
£30,746 - £37,107
These are exciting times in Bristol, as there is considerable investment in its transport and highway infrastructure in recent years City of Bristol
Recuriter: Bristol City Council

Site Inspectors

Oxfordshire County Council
£29,909- £36,153
You will provide specialist technical support to some of the most imaginative transport and town planning challenges imaginable. Oxford, Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Local Transport Policy Lead

Oxfordshire County Council
£37,107 - £43,757
Define your true potential with Oxfordshire County Council Oxford, Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Planning Obligations Team Member

Oxfordshire County Council
£21,074 - £29,055
You will witness first-hand the exciting developments currently taking place in Oxfordshire Oxford, Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Transport Development Control Team Leader

Oxfordshire County Council
£48,551 - £55,374
We need visionary Team Leaders to help our people meet their targets. Oxford, Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Head of Property, Planning and Public Protection

Powys County Council
Head of Service 2 £66,854 - £73,540 per annum
Powys County Council, open and enterprising Llandrindod Wells, Powys
Recuriter: Powys County Council

Senior Engineer

Wirral Borough Council
£30,756 to £33,136
No holding back. No excuses. Just change Wirral. Bring it on. Wirral, Merseyside
Recuriter: Wirral Borough Council

Chief Executive

Epping Forest District Council
up to £120k
A role with roots in our community. Epping, Essex
Recuriter: Epping Forest District Council

Housing Renewal Technical Officer

Torridge District Council
£21,074 — £26,470 per annum
Advice to private sector tenants, landlords, & owner-occupiers about housing disrepair & energy issues. Bideford, Devon
Recuriter: Torridge District Council

Principal Traffic Engineer

Telford & Wrekin Council
£34,106 - £37,107 - PO6/SCP 38
To provide project leadership on the design, implementation and project management on major traffic Engineering schemes. Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Programme Manager Central

Oxfordshire County Council
£37,107 - £43,757
We’re on a mission to enhance Oxfordshire – and with you by our side, that vision just became a reality. Oxford, Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Planning Obligations Manager

Oxfordshire County Council
£37,107 - £47,575
Committed to supporting growth across the county, you will ensure financial contributions are being actively and efficiently managed. Oxford, Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Funeral Assistant

Brent Council
£28,356 - £30,108 p.a. inc. plus Standby Allowance
Salary range
Recuriter: Brent Council

Area Engineer

Camden London Borough Council
£31,836 to £36,931
Does a combination of outdoor and office based work appeal to you? Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Economic Development Officer

Amber Valley Borough Council
Grade 6 - £24,657 to £28,221 per year
Amber Valley Borough Council are currently recruiting for an experienced Economic Development Officer Ripley, Derbyshire
Recuriter: Amber Valley Borough Council

Technical Officer (Highways & Drainage)

Oxfordshire County Council
£29,909 - £36,153 per annum (depending on experience)
Do you want to improve Oxfordshire's highways to make them better for residents, business, and visitors? Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Assistant Director, Public Space

London Borough of Merton
Up to c.£96k
Recuriter: London Borough of Merton

Assistant Director, Public Protection

London Borough of Merton
Up to c.£96k
Recuriter: London Borough of Merton

Download your Highways App

Google App Apple App

Highways on Fridays

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue


  • Interviews with Jesse Norman and Jim O'Sullivan
  • Michael Matheson on road safety in Scotland
  • Traffex Road Expo Scotland review
View the latest issue

Latest Video