16 October 1995: The toll bridge to Skye opens

In 1989, the British government decided to commission a bridge to connect the Scottish mainland to the Isle of Skye. There was already a ferry service, of course, but the island was popular with tourists and many islanders commuted to the mainland. A bridge seemed a good idea.

But to pay for it, the government decided on the controversial Private Finance Initiative. This allows for a private consortium to pay for the construction and then collect the tolls for 17 years. The new bridge would eventually open in October 1995.

The problem was that the deal gave the company a free hand over the level of the tolls and their application. With the alternative ferry service closing down almost immediately, the toll operators imposed a charge of £5.40. Residents, who had previously been allowed to travel on the ferry for free, were angered.

The government tried to assuage their anger by paying subsidies to the toll operators to keep fees down. However, while these extra payments would eventually total £7m, the fees paid by bridge users continued to rise, reaching £11.40 by 2004.

Residents then decided to take matters into their own hands, launching a non-payment campaign. In all, 130 people would end up with criminal records as a result of their protests; the organiser even served time in jail. But as a result of the protests the government eventually bought the rights to the tolls for £27m from the operators (which included Bank of America). It then abolished the fee.

Also on this day

16 October 1834: Houses of Parliament burn down

An attempt to modernise Parliament’s system of accounting for debt led to both Houses being destroyed by fire on this day in 1834. Read more here.