Sunday’s 33% hike in the cost of using the Dartford crossing, used by 140 million motorists each year, to £2 should not go ahead says the AA. It believes that to take an extra £20 million from drivers each year, while they sit in queues with no firm plans for a new crossing, is unacceptable.
‘Free-flow charging’, designed to eliminate toll both queuing in 2014, will cost the Highways Agency up to £500m to implement, it has been revealed. The AA says Dartford Crossing users feel they had paid for the crossing in 2003 and will now find it hard to believe that the cheapest option - simply lifting the tolls - was not progressed or that the £500m was not put towards building a new crossing.
The Department of Transport consultation on the crossing charge increases resulted in 82% of respondents being opposed.
The radical new ‘free-flow charging’ scheme would become the first on a strategic English road and would give the Highways agency two new key abilities: to implement and operate electronic road pricing on its network, with a full back office function that administers the system; and to issue penalty charge notices to drivers who try to dodge the system.
Although designed to remove toll-booth queues and congestion at Dartford, the electronic free-flow charging scheme may be regarded by some as an expandable system that could eventually be rolled out on other strategic roads in England.
“Long distance travellers from UK and Europe, freight, business and regional users have all been sold down the river by successive governments through the unnecessary perpetuation of tolls and lack of future capacity at Dartford," says Edmund King, the AA’s president. "Tolling was supposed to pay for the Dartford Bridge and then end, which would have been in 2003.
“However, it became a nice little earner which raises around £70m a year. To keep charges here with the aim of deterring traffic is crazy as the crossing is on one of the most important motorways in Europe – keeping traffic away from London and communities in the south-east. Ramping up the tolls when the majority of users have no alternative about the time and place they cross the Thames on M25 is simply impractical and a bridge too far in road charging”.