A procession of men and women crossing the Skye Bridge wearing black face masks, kilts and carrying beer kegs on their shoulders.
Photo courtesy of West Highland Free Press

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The campaign against the tolls on the Skye Bridge pitted plucky Scottish islanders against the might of the government and the Bank of America.

 

In the early 1990s, a consultation took place with islanders as to whether a bridge linking the Isle of Skye to the mainland was desirable. Islanders were in favour of the Bridge, but although there were toll bridges in existence in Scotland already, with minimal tolls (around 40p) the government decided to experiment with a new formula for funding public projects involving private commercial investment – Private Finance Initiative. ‘The Bridge Rising’picks up the story at the point at which the Bridge was about to be opened to traffic for the first time. At the peak of the toll regime on the Skye Bridge, a return journey cost a car £11.40, £57 for a lorry, and £82.40 for a bus – inhibiting workers, tourism and business.

 

As the ferry service was discontinued, the private toll Bridge became the only way on or off the Isle of Skye. With tolls priced to pay off the building of the bridge as well as make a profit for the key financier – the Bank of America - metre for metre, the Skye Bridge became the most expensive toll road in the world. By the end of the campaign, the Bank of America raked in over £30 million in tolls.

 

2014 was the tenth anniversary of the end of the tolls on the Skye Bridge.

 

After nearly a decade of campaigning, defiance, arrests and court cases, the tollbooths were finally bulldozed. The islanders’ outrage against Westminster’s policy of private funding for public works, and using Skye as a guinea-pig, led to victory… but at a high cost.