The M6 Toll has been slammed as a “colossal and expensive failure”, with traffic on the M6 returning to pre-toll levels, rather than being cut by the privately operated relief road, according to the Campaign for Better Transport.

A new report from CfBT claims the project has proved toll roads don’t work, and that any money earmarked for future schemes could be put to better use.

“Instead of promoting toll roads as a viable alternative to central Government money, the Department for Transport should use what little money remains in its coffers to maintain the roads we have and provide

people with viable alternatives to car use,” read the Counting the Cost of Congestion Relief report. “Toll roads are not, and will never be, a solution to congestion on Britain’s roads, no matter how attractive they may appear to cash-strapped politicians desperate to deliver otherwise unaffordable road schemes.” CfBT claims the road only saves around 10 minutes in the majority of off-peak cases. In 2004, the only year where comparative data is available, the average saving was 12 minutes on northbound trips and seven minutes when heading south. “Whilst average time savings are likely to have increased because of rising congestion on the M6, the majority of off-peak trips are only slightly more reliable6,” said the report.

It found Midlands Expressway Ltd has lost between £21.2m and £29.4m per year since the road opened in 2003, despite above-inflation price hikes that have seen the charge for cars rise from £2 to £5 for the full toll length during weekdays, and though year-on-year traffic is up in 2010, CfBT pointed out that levels are well down on 2004 figures. In the second quarter of 2009, weekend traffic was down 23% and overall traffic down 9% on 2004 levels.

According to CfBT, journey times on the M6 itself are slightly better at certain times since the toll road’s launch, with northbound journeys on weekdays at 5pm around 15-20mins shorter, though evening trips are 5-15mins longer. CfBT claimed the change is down to people modifying behaviour by working later, rather than being the toll road’s impact.

CfBT claims that the toll road’s lack of success has driven the Government to look at spending up to £500m on improving the M6 by introducing hard shoulder running, as the toll hasn’t alleviated congestion, though that move is now subject to sign-off under the Government Spending Review.

“Overall, the M6 Toll has, for the moment, made some journeys on the M6 more reliable,” said the report. “However, any gains are being steadily eroded by increasing traffic levels. Although the most extreme delays are now much less likely to occur, the majority of journeys take almost as long as they did before the toll, and in many cases actually take longer.”