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At last - tolls are barrier to free-flowing traffic

Dartford tolls looking clear during blackout. Picture Nick Johnson
Dartford tolls looking clear during blackout. Picture Nick Johnson

Comment by Simon Tulett

At last, clear evidence of what we’ve long suspected but prevented from being able to prove.

Traffic flows more freely when you remove the Dartford Crossing toll.


As one reader points out, you don’t need a degree in fluid dynamics to realise any barrier is going to impede the free-flow of traffic; remove the obstruction and you free the blockage.

For six priceless hours, drivers could sail through the Dartford Crossing barriers without the agony of a stop-start queue or a dip into their pockets for the privilege.

But with power fully restored and the barriers resurrected, it is business as usual in the traffic-clogged torment.

Traffic after the tolls returned to normal at the Dartford Crossing
Traffic after the tolls returned to normal at the Dartford Crossing

The blackout, which left almost 100,000 homes without electricity, provided at least one positive benefit – proof that the toll booths cause congestion rather than ease it.

The Messenger, along with north Kent residents, councillors, and MPs, has been campaigning for the tolls to be scrapped for almost three years and, for a fleeting moment at least, we all got our wish.

But it was not long before the money-making machine dragged drivers back down to earth with a resounding bump-er to bumper.

And once the tolls were back up and running, the usual pollution, noise and stationary traffic at the tunnel approach returned.

Despite the discovery that traffic flows more freely without the hindrance of barriers and cash-collection, the government still refuses to scrap the tolls, which were paid for in March 2002 and generated £67 million from motorists in 2007/08.

The crossing’s blackout success has prompted renewed calls for the system to be abolished, or at least subject to an extended toll-free trial.

Cllr Jeremy Kite, Dartford Council leader
Cllr Jeremy Kite, Dartford Council leader

Jeremy Kite, leader of Dartford council, said: "The traffic flowed more freely, safe and less polluting than at any time since the promise to scrap the tolls was broken.

"Of course, I expect nothing to change because so much cash is involved, but surely the government can no longer be in any doubt that the congestion, poor health, appalling air quality and lost efficiency caused by the Dartford tolls is nothing to do with traffic numbers as they say it is, but everything to do with the money they refuse to stop collecting."

Mike Snelling, leader of Gravesham council, agreed. He said: "We had a cabinet meeting a month or two ago about proposals for a second Thames crossing and our response then was to say that the best thing you can do is to abolish the tolls. So all this does is endorse the firm stance I and we as a council have taken.

"The tolls should be abolished both in a moral sense, because the Government promised to do so, and in a practical sense to ease congestion."

Department for Transport logo
Department for Transport logo

In an all-too familiar statement from the Department for Transport, a spokesman quashed hopes the power cut suspension might prompt a rethink.

She said: "Charges on the Dartford Crossing are necessary because, for much of the day, the crossing is operating at or above its capacity.

"Under the new charging structure there are no charges at night when traffic is lighter and there are incentives to encourage people to pay without using cash. With more people using the Dart Tag, traffic flow through the charging booths will be smoother, helping to reduce unnecessary delays at the barriers."

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