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Dart charge introduced at Dartford Crossing

The Dartford Crossing faced its first big test toll-free this morning - and traffic appeared to be moving well.

It was the first rush-hour since the new system came into force yesterday.

This was the scene at around 8.30am.

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Traffic at around 8.30am at the Dartford Crossing
Traffic at around 8.30am at the Dartford Crossing

Drivers no longer have to stop to pay at the barriers for the first time in decades after a new free-flow system was introduced.

It follows a day of chaos on Saturday, when the tolls were twice suspended and reinstated amid traffic tailbacks caused by the booths' removal.

Yesterday morning motorists were passing the booths without having to stop and pay cash, instead paying online, by phone or at retail outlets.

The Dartford Crossing. File picture
The Dartford Crossing. File picture

Dart Charge Highways Agency Project Director Nigel Gray said: "Dart Charge marks the start of a new chapter for the Dartford Crossing. It is the first step in speeding up journeys for the tens of thousands of drivers who use the Crossing each day."

But motorist Paul Beardmore from Derbyshire said he has experienced problems paying for a future journey yesterday morning and called for all tolls to be abolished.

He said: "All I got was http error 404. What's going on?

"I just heard the tail end of a news item. Although I live in Derbyshire, there is a lot of travellers use the crossing to get to Eurotunnel, ferry ports,etc. I intend using the crossing next week. Despite this there has, as far as I'm aware, been no advertising or promotion of this change up here in Derbyshire."

"We all want to see less congestion and quicker journeys at the Crossing and we are on course to deliver that..." - Nigel Gray

However, our Kentonline reporter purchased a journey online without any problems.

Mr Beardmore questioned how the charge will be enforced for foreign drivers and claimed motorists driving to the continent will have difficulty accessing the internet in time.

"Are they really going to enforce payments of £2.50 to someone in Australia or Germany? Of course not. Yet again UK drivers will foot the bill.

"It would appear the most cost effective way of running this bridge is to abolish all tolls. After all the bridge paid for itself in 2003."

Mr Gray added: "Over the coming months we will be transforming the road layout and when this work is complete in spring next year, drivers will feel the full benefits of these improvements.

“We all want to see less congestion and quicker journeys at the Crossing and we are on course to deliver that which is great news for drivers and great news for the economy.

“Over 200,000 people have registered for pre-pay accounts and will save up to a third on every crossing. It is the easiest and cheapest way to pay Dart Charge and I encourage anyone who uses the crossing to register for savings at www.gov.uk/dart-charge.

Traffic building up at the Dartford Crossing
Traffic building up at the Dartford Crossing

The Highways Agency suspended tolls for the second time at 3pm Saturday after heavy queues built up in the area. It announced they had been reinstated at 7pm.

It followed an earlier suspension running from 9.55am until 12.45pm.

The reintroduction of the tolls came despite the Highways Agency warning drivers at 6.15pm that traffic problems were building, with the A282 northbound particularly badly hit.

Queues stretched as far as Junction 30 of the M25.

The QEII bridge was closed overnight and into this morning (Monday) from 11.30pm to 5.30am with diversions via the Blackwall Tunnel.

In the meantime it is thought queues and closures will remain at the crossing for some time.

The changes are part of the implementation of the new Dart Charge, which sees an end to cash payments to use the crossing. The last cash payment was made at 10pm Saturday before the switch.

Work started to remove the toll booths last night
Work started to remove the toll booths last night

Motorists must now pay online, by phone, by post or at a payzone outlet.

Recent work involved demounting the barriers from the four booths on the left-hand-side of Southbound carriageway.

They were completely removed over the weekend, creating four lanes so traffic coming over the QEII bridge flows continuously off the bridge without stopping.

The technology on the remaining barriers on the southbound carriagewaywill be reversed as traffic heading for the tunnel will be diverted on to the opposite carriageway, through the barriers and down into the tunnel.

How to pay the Dart Charge

This will accommodate the removal of the toll barriers on the northbound carriageway while maintaining a system which will allow traffic to be halted if the tunnel needs to be closed.

Measures will be implemented to deal with oversized vehicles and goods vehicles that need to be escorted through the tunnels. Barriers will remain in place on this side but always open unless the tunnels need to be closed.

This will include multiple lane closures, both northbound and southbound, on the A282, with drivers diverted through the Blackwall tunnel to reach the M25 in some instances.

The work is expected to last three weeks.

Work to install the technology behind the new system was completed earlier this year with two gantries erected over the road in May.

Not everyone is in favour of the new payment system.

The National Alliance Against Tolls said drivers were asked to pay enough to use the roads already, and the payment should be scrapped altogether.

John McGoldrick of the Alliance said: "The government are boasting that by removing the toll booths they have solved the problem of the congestion that was caused by the tolls.

"Drivers pay over £50 billion pounds a year in tax fuel and vehicle taxes and there should be no tolls on any road. In the case of the Dartford Crossing the tolls were intended to pay for the construction.

How the Dartford crossing will look once the toll booths are removed
How the Dartford crossing will look once the toll booths are removed

"The cost of that was paid off by March 2003 but the Government decided to keep the tolls anyway.

"Drivers knew that the tolls caused the massive delays at the crossing and we and others suggested that the tolls should be removed or at least made one way only - thus eliminating the queues on one side of the river.

"But successive governments denied that the tolls were the cause of the delays. At least they denied it till they found a more efficient way of fleecing drivers, in effect replacing the noose with a more 'humane' guillotine."

Video: Dartford Crossing's first free-flow days - by Graham Stothard and Kiran Kaur

He said the large numbers who had signed up to pre-pay at the crossing was not a sign of drivers' eagerness to pay, but fear of the punitive fines.

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