Spanning a sleepy stretch of the River Thames in southern England,the 242-year-old Swinford Toll Bridge seems an unlikely source of controversy.
But its auction in London this week has whipped up emotions as disgruntled motorists step up demands to end the ancient toll and keen international buyers are said to be lining up to make their bids for a tax-free investment.
The guide price for the picturesque stone bridge en route to the university city of Oxford is 1.0-1.25 million pounds (USD 1.65-2.1 million),according to auction house Allsop.
Built in 1767,the bridge carries just under four million vehicles a year with toll charges starting at just five pence for cars — an income to the private owner that is tax free under a centuries-old act of parliament.
“It’s highway robbery,” charged Jane Tomlinson,a local artist who heads a “Scrap the Toll” campaign that she said is backed by more than 800 signatures.
The campaign calls for all charges to be dropped,claiming the tax-free provision is unfair and that traffic back-ups caused by the toll collection waste time and money.
“We’re held to ransom,” Tomlinson said. “All that money is entirely tax-free (but) I have to pay my taxes,” she added,struggling to be heard above the din of cars and lorries crossing the antiquated structure.