Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Dartford Crossing goes electronic free flow, but tolling politics still poorly handled

On 30 November 2014, manual tolling finally ended at the Dartford Crossing - the 4 lanes each way tunnel/bridge crossing of the Thames that connects the eastern ends of the M25 ring motorway around London.  Already the southbound toll booths that lead down from the QE2 bridge have been removed as is seen here in FleetNews, with the northbound ones to be removed in coming months

Dartford Crossing toll plazas at the southern side of the tunnels/bridge
The system that has been introduced is an electronic free flow system that relies on automatic number plate recognition, and requires all motorists using the crossing to either:

- Set up a pre-pay account that deducts the toll every time the vehicle crosses a tolling point;
- Make one-off payment via phone, online, retail outlet or by post no later than midnight the day after the crossing is made.

Of course, while the tolling has been automated, the booths have yet to be removed, which caused some chaos on the first day as many motorists stopped to try to pay for a toll at empty booths with barriers raised.  The problem being that, on weekends, most users are not regular enough to be aware in advance of the change.  I suspect also that there will be a deluge of penalty notices that might be sent out, although I suspect the operator would be wise to not send out any such notices for the first day, and subsequently focus enforcement on any repeat violators.

With full removal of the toll booths, there should be a significant improvement in the quality of service of the road, with congestion of 7-11 minutes on average being largely relieved. 

Tailbacks northbound at Dartford Crossing toll plaza should be no more


Why?

Because with congestion relieved, the toll prices are being increased by 20% (although there is a 13% discount for those with accounts) and there is no indication about what the money raised is for.  It is, in essence, being treated as a tax, or more accurately, as one of the government's most profitable ventures.

Dartford Crossing toll prices with discount for account holders

Although it is legally a congestion charge, the toll does not vary at peak times, or by direction (even though there is a reasonable case for doing this), although it does not operate for 8 hours a day (overnight) to encourage heavy commercial traffic in particular to use the M25 at night.