MOTORCYCLES and electric-powered cars are to be allowed to cross the Itchen Bridge in Southampton for free.

Tory council chiefs agreed to scrap the current 20p charge after lobbying from the Southampton Motorcycle Action Group, which said that the move would reduce queues.

The move, which attracted no objections from the public, will cost the council about £19,000 in lost revenue.

The council will also have to spend £40,000 to build motorcycle channels alongside existing cycle lanes because of safety concerns.

Safety managers feared that once motorcyclists realised that they didn't need to pay, they would be more likely to weave through traffic and speed through the toll booths.

The decision was slammed by Liberal Democrat group leader Jill Baston, who said: "I'm not at all happy with this proposal, £19,000 will have to be found from somewhere else, ie, the tax payer.

"A large proportion of motorcyclists come from outside the city.

Why should the city expect them to cross the bridge for free simply because it's awkward to take their gloves off to pay the toll?"

However, Tory transport chief Cllr Gavin Dick said: "It shows we respect motorcycles and will speed up traffic in the city."

On the decision to exempt electric cars, he added: "It's building in future demand to encourage people to use them."

Motorcyclists have been charged for using the Itchen Bridge since it opened in 1977. However, half of other toll bridges across the country already exempt motorcycles.

The revelation last year that the £12.2m bridge had filled the council coffers with £50m since it opened raised the heckles of many motorists. However, the council confirmed that there was never any promise to scrap the tolls which were put in place chiefly to mange traffic flows, and the loss of £3.4m annual toll income, used on maintenance and other council transport schemes, would fall on local tax payers.

The council is separately paying off the construction costs under loans that are expected to run until 2016.

About 95,000 motorcycles crossed the Itchen Bridge in the last year.