Drivers lose cash option at Dartford Crossing

Dartford crossing

Ever had to wait in line to pay the toll at the Dartford Crossing? Well, queues could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the new Dart Charge payment scheme.

From November 30 2014, you will no longer stop and pay at the ticket barriers (after scrambling round to find a couple of quid in change). Instead drivers will pay in advance, or before midnight the day after they cross.

For whom the bill tolls

There’s a variety of different payment methods, including by text, phone, post or online. You can also set up a pre-pay account and save up to a third on every crossing. Don’t worry if you already have a Dart-Tag account. The Highways Agency will contact you with details of how to move to the new account. It also confirms that you won’t lose any credit and remaining funds will be transferred or refunded.

Attention span

The Dartford Crossing, or to give it it’s full title, the Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing, spans the River Thames between Dartford and Thurrock, approximately 16 miles downstream of central London. It’s actually a bridge and two tunnels. Southbound traffic crosses the Thames over the Queen Elizabeth II bridge while northbound traffic uses the two road tunnels known as the Dartford Tunnel.

Numbers game

A toll was first introduced to pay for the construction of the QE II bridge. And many drivers were not happy when the so-called Road User Charge was implemented in 2003 to try to limit the number of motorists using the Crossing. About 50 million vehicles make the crossing each year and the latest development is another attempt to reduce congestion.

Dart bored

The barrier-less charging scheme should also allow traffic to move more freely as motorists won’t have to stop to pay the charge – that’s the theory, anyway. The road layout will have to be changed and the ticket barriers removed when the new payment scheme is up and running. Construction work is already underway and is expected to continue until Spring 2015, so some disruption is likely.

Cross purpose

The Dartford Crossing charge for cars went up to £2.50 in October. Large lorries now pay £6 under the new scheme. The increases come after a 33% rise in toll charges in 2012, though it will still be free to use the crossing between 10pm and 6am and local residents will still be entitled to a discount. A number of vehicles are also exempt from the charge, including mopeds, motorcycles and vehicles that are used by or for someone with a disability.

Penalty awards

The removal of ticket barriers will almost certainly result in non-payment of the crossing charge by some vehicles. But vehicle recognition cameras will be installed to detect non-payers – and they could face hefty fines. The penalty charge for non-payment will be £70, reduced to £35 if paid within 14 days. If the penalty is not paid within 28 days it goes up to £105.

Taking toll

Toll roads are fairly common on the Continent, but they remain relatively rare in the UK. There are about 20 tolled river crossings and two ancient toll roads.

Then there’s the M6 Toll, which has been dogged by criticism since it opened in 2003. It covers a 27-mile route between Cannock and Coleshill and was built as a relief road to allow traffic to bypass the busiest parts of the M6. The toll road was expected to carry about 75,000 vehicles a day, but in 2012, only about half that number used the road. The charge is relatively high, which could explain the unpopularity of the M6 Toll. Cars pay £5.50 and lorries £11 on weekdays between 6am and 11pm.

Congestion relief

Supporters of toll roads – and congestion charges – argue that payment can help traffic management and ease congestion. Revenue raised can also be used to support the transport infrastructure. In fact, Transport for London put forward just those arguments when it increased the London Congestion Charge from £10 to £11.50 in June. Others do not agree. The National Alliance Against Toll Roads describes them as regressive and unfair. It also points out that tolls can actually increase congestion when drivers have to stop to pay the charge. Plus, there is some evidence that tolls encourage motorists to use other, less suitable roads, potentially damaging the environment.

Watts the problem?

There is, however, one toll road that seems to have won widespread support. Mike Watts, 62, from Kelston near Bath, has built his own toll road. It’s 400 yards long, seven yards wide, and drivers are happy to pay the charge, shouting thank you as they tootle through. Mike built the road from scratch in response to the indefinite closure of a key local road for repairs. The closure forced him to take a 14-mile diversion to work, bumping up his weekly petrol bill from £25 to £60 and boosting his journey time by 80 minutes each way.

Field of dreams

Unwilling to put up with the inconvenience, Mike borrowed an adjoining field from a farmer friend and built his own road. It took three men from a local building firm just 10 days and cost £150,000. It costs another £50,000 to run and an estimated £10,400 to dismantle when the A431 eventually re-opens. But Mike is undaunted. He charges each car £2 to use the road and needs 1,000 cars a day for 150 days to break even. During the first five days, the new toll road carried more than 4,000 cars, so things are looking good. If you’re a fan of bridges, you can indulge further here

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