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Itchen Bridge payment system takes its toll
IT has become one of the most controversial transport schemes ever introduced in Southampton.
The new automated toll system on the city’s Itchen Bridge was slammed by motorists before it was even in place, after council bosses revealed the machines would not issue change.
Complaints then flooded in from owners of larger vehicles and motorhomes, after the new height-based tariff system left them facing increased charges of up to £25 to cross the bridge.
And earlier this month the Daily Echo revealed transport chiefs had removed the automated barriers after they caused traffic chaos and crashed down on four vehicles, including a motorbike.
Now council bosses have admitted there are already plans to overhaul the machines because of difficulties for some people using the new smartcities card payment system, which has been dubbed “a complete shambles” by angry motorists.
Special readers have been installed on the automated payment units, allowing drivers to touch their pre-paid card on the sensor.
But after receiving complaints they were too high, council officials have already tried to lower the readers.
However, they are now planning a more radical overhaul next week because they haven’t been effective enough.
The cards are the only way disabled drivers will be able to continue to cross the bridge for free once toll booths become fully automated next month.
Sarah Norris, from St Anne’s Road, Woolston, said she had repeatedly been unable to use the reader.
She said: “It appears you need to be six feet tall or own a van or lorry so you can reach.
“What a complete shambles, yet again.”
Geoff Wilkinson, a founder of Southampton’s Shopmobility and member of Southampton Action for Access, said problems with the positioning of the reader could have easily been avoided.
Mr Wilkinson, from Bitterne, said: “If they had done an equality assessment this would have been picked up.
“Had we been kept on board when they purchased that machinery we could have highlighted that problem.
“Think of the thousands of pounds it must have cost.”
A council spokesman admitted there were problems for motorists, but said there had been an incorrect assumption the Spanish-made machines would be the correct height.
He said: “It’s a European standard height, but in Southampton we’ve rightly got a stronger commitment to put in a system that’s fit for purpose for everybody, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The spokesman said work to change the machines should be completed within a fortnight, but engineers must ensure readers aren’t placed too low for larger cars and vans.
He said: “We will do a modification for the proximity card reader which will involve putting a unit on the front of the machine to bring it out by five inches, and then lower it all by four inches.
“It’s still under warranty because it’s a new system, and there should be no cost to the council.”