Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Dartford Crossing issues

I was invited by BBC Essex radio to be interviewed on the James Whale breakfast show this morning, specifically about the Dartford Crossing - the UK's busiest tolled crossing - because of a range of issues arising from its conversion to fully electronic free flow tolling.

A recording of the programme is here (and will remain for 30 days) and the segment I was in starts at 2:11 into the programme.

Regardless, I thought it might be useful to write a number of key facts about the Dartford Crossing given the debate in the county.  It is clear the toll remains highly unpopular, not least because it was original sold to road users on the basis that when the capital costs of the crossing were repaid, the toll would be removed.  The first single lane each way tunnel was opened in 1963, followed by a second tunnel in 1980, which was connected to the M25 on the northern side in 1982 and southern in 1986. Subsequently, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge was completed in 1991.  

As effectively the only tolled section of London's only ring motorway - the M25 (although technically the crossing is not part of the motorway, in practice it works as part of it), it is controversial, because there are no alternative local crossings of the Thames by road for another 12-15 miles west, at the heavily congested (untolled) Blackwall Tunnels.  Local cross Thames traffic must use the tolled crossing, although a discount scheme means residents of the Dartford and Thurrock Boroughs can pay £20 a year to get unlimited use of the crossings.

Dartford Crossing charges with and without an account.

Dartford Crossing facts
  • The Dartford Crossing raised just over £80m in gross revenue in 2013.  This revenue is accounted for in Department for Transport accounts, but it not dedicated to any specific purpose.  Given around £40m is spent per annum on the Crossing and its associated approach roads, it is reasonable to assume it offsets this.
  • The Dartford Crossing design capacity is 135,000 vehicles per day, it currently just exceeds that;
  • It cost £384 million to design, build and operate the free flow tolling system for the next seven years, but it did cost around £26 million per annum to operate the previous system;
  • £42.5m was spent on the Dartford Crossing in 2013, of which £26.7m went to Connect Plus, the British/Swedish/French consortium that holds the PFI contract for the upgrade and maintenance of the entire M25 and the Crossing.  Another £15.8m was spent on capital improvements to the crossing  for fire safety and for the introduction of free flow tolling;
  • Connect Plus subcontracts management of toll collection of the Dartford Crossing to SANEF, a French company that owns and operates many motorways in the northeast of France;
  • There is currently a 10% non-compliance rate, but after one year this should be expected to come down. In the first year of the London Congestion Charge, just over 5% of chargeable events were violations.  Good practice at free flow tolling roads elsewhere is around 2-3% non-compliance rates;
  • Around 3% of vehicles using the Dartford Crossing are foreign registered vehicles;
  • 22% of foreign lorry trips, and 40% of foreign car trips currently do not pay, but around 18,716 vehicles are being pursued for unpaid tolls through a European debt collection company;
  • 10% of penalty charge notices were reported unpaid in December 2015;
  • The system of detection is purely using Automatic Number Plate Detection (ANPR) cameras, which now can achieve accuracy readings of over 90% (some of the latest systems achieve 98% accuracy), although the actual accuracy of the Dartford cameras is unreported;
  • According to DfT calculations, the benefit/cost ratio of converting to free flow tolls at the crossing is over 4:1. 84% of the benefits come from travel time savings;
  • Congestion costs at the Dartford Crossing are estimated to be around £15 million per annum
  • Proposals for a new crossing range in cost from £1.2 billion to £3.4 billion, and all options include full or partial funding from tolls.  At the current schedule for development, a new crossing will not be completed until 2025. A preferred option is expected to be announced later this year.
The options A and C in this map are now the ones under consideration for the new Lower Thames Crossing

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