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Highways England searches for new Dart Charge operator

Drivers could soon be hit with new prices at the Dartford Crossing, after the government begins its hunt for a new operator of the Dart Charge.

A surcharge period and different fees for certain times of the day could be possible, as the new contractor must come up with plans for potential alternative charging systems, a report published on the European Union website has revealed.

Highways England is searching for a new Dart Charge contractor
Highways England is searching for a new Dart Charge contractor

Worth up to an estimated £150 million, the deal will be made with Highways England.

The “second generation free-flow charging service solution" will be in place within 18 months of the contract start date.

The winner may be involved in introducing charging services at the Lower Thames Crossing - a new road linking Kent and Essex planned for 2027.

Vehicle identification, account management, payment processing, and customer services at the crossing will also be the contractor's responsibilities.

French company, Sanef, has operated the crossing since 2013, but its £367 million, seven-year contract expires next year.

The new contract will last a total of eight and a half years, with the option to extend by two more years.

QEII Bridge over the River Thames - part of the Dartford Crossing
QEII Bridge over the River Thames - part of the Dartford Crossing

A maximum of five selected candidates will be invited to submit initial tenders.

Potential partners can attend a briefing on the deal in central London on Friday, September 6.

A Highways England spokesman said: "Dart Charge has removed a significant source of congestion at the Dartford Crossing and has given drivers more flexibility about how and when they pay the crossing charge.

"Highways England is looking for suppliers to help administer Dart Charge after the current contract expires in 2021. The new contracts will not change the crossing charge, or how people pay it.

"It is a behind the scenes change that will help us provide better customer service for crossing users and best value for taxpayers."

The company added if the charge were to increase, this would have to be done by the Department of Transport and undergo a public consultation before changing.

The Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing is a critical part of the strategic road network in the south east of England.

It spans the River Thames between Dartford and Thurrock, and connects the M25 either side of the river to create a complete strategic road network around London.

Around 155,000 vehicles use it every day.

A road user charge has been collected since 2003 to manage the high demand for its use.

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