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Dartford Crossing charge to become permanent as government looks for new operator

There's more misery for drivers on the way as the Dartford Crossing charge is set to become permanent.

Charges have been maintained on the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, Dartford, despite a previous government promise to drop them once the bridge had been paid for.

The Dartford Crossing is subject to an automated payment system known as the Dart Charge. (15934070)
The Dartford Crossing is subject to an automated payment system known as the Dart Charge. (15934070)

Now the government has published a charging scheme order for the tolls to "remain in force indefinitely".

Pledges were originally made to end the charge when the debt was repaid 17 years ago in March 2002, but charging has continued.

Fees were increased when tolls were scrapped and free-flow charging, known as the 'Dart Charge' was introduced in 2014.

The charging order for this change was due to expire in 2020.

Roger Lawson, campaign director for the Alliance of British Drivers said the group was not in favour of "yet another private organisation" making money from motorists.

He called for the tolls at the Dartford Crossing to be dropped, not extended.

"It is completely unreasonable for the Government to break a promise on this matter, particularly as tolls on other river crossings such as that at the Severn Bridge have been removed," he added.

"There is simply no justification for the charges, or their level, at the Dartford Crossing and it’s purely a way for the Government to extract money from road users."

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson has called for the government to take action.

He said: “l am in regular contact with officials at the Department for Transport over this issue and they are in no doubt the people of Dartford feel strongly that we should not be paying anything for using the crossing let alone suffer any increase.

“We deal with the congestion and pollution on a daily basis and this should be recognised by the Government.”

A Highways England spokesperson said all the money raised by the Dart Charge is passed onto Government and ringfenced for investment in transport.

He added: “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."

The decision to make the crossing charge permanent comes as the government announced it was looking for a new operator of the 'Dart Charge'.

A contract worth up to £150m will hand over responsibility for the collection of nearly £200m worth of payments annually.

Highways England, the road authority responsible for managing the Crossing since 2015, is acting as a procurement agent on behalf of the Department for Transport.

In a contract notice published online the government-owned company said it was seeking a "second generation free-flow charging service solution".

The Dartford Crossing contract notice has been issued as the existing seven-year £367m contract, run by French firm Sanef since 2013, comes to a close next year.

In addition to processing payments the contract also outlines the need to implement "new road user charging models" such as dynamic charging, time of day charging or a surcharge period.

"It’s purely a way for the Government to extract money from road users..." Roger Lawson

There will also be a need to integrate existing charging services with "connected and autonomous vehicles".

Optional services which are capable of being enacted at a future date are also mentioned.

This includes the introduction of a similar road user charging service at the proposed, Lower Thames Crossing, east of Gravesend, which is designed to ease pressure on the existing crossing.

A separate contract for enforcement of services on the Dartford Crossing was also put out for tender this month.

This will include a further £70-120m for penalty charge payment processing and customer services.

The booths were scrapped in 2014 for a free-flowing system
The booths were scrapped in 2014 for a free-flowing system

The winning bidder will need to transition existing data within 18 months of the contract's start.

Highways England confirmed it was looking for suppliers to help administer the Dart Charge after the current contract expires in 2021.

"The new contracts will not change the crossing charge, or how people pay it," it added.

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

The deadline for objections to the Dart Charge being made permanent is next Thursday, October 17.

It can be made either by email to dartford2019order@dft.gov.uk or in writing to Dartford Charging Team, 2/19 Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 4DR.

Read more: All the latest news from Dartford

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