Today’s news that the Dartford Crossing toll rises planned for this month and next spring have been scrapped has been welcomed by the Freight Transport Association (FTA). However, the leading trade body warns that the government’s final decision on the timing and scale of future rises, expected early in the New Year, must be proportionate and a serious commitment given to invest in reducing congestion for this key piece of infrastructure.
Heavy goods vehicles are currently charged £3.70 to use the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing; the proposed tolls would have seen this charge rise to £5.00 in late 2011 and £6.00 in Spring 2012. Today, transport minister Mike Penning MP announced that due to the sheer volume of responses to its consultation, a final decision on toll-pricing policy would be deferred, meaning that the proposed rises have been scrapped … for now.
Malcolm Bingham, FTA’s Head of Road Network Management, said:
"Today’s news will alleviate some pressure for those thousands of hard-pressed commercial vehicle operators that use this key piece of infrastructure every day. The proposed 60 per cent hike is astronomical and comes at a time of massive fuel price pressure too. Such a hike is an especially bitter pill to swallow given that the bridge was paid off in 2003. It was after this point that the toll, which was needed to pay off the bridge’s construction, should have been abandoned. Instead it was reinvented as a ‘road charge’ aimed at controlling congestion; although, clearly this hasn’t worked.
"In our consultation we expressed the deep concerns of our members – who have no alternative but to use the crossing – about the abruptness of the proposed rises, which would equate to little more than a tax on business. It is highly unlikely that this ready source of income for the Treasury is going to be scrapped entirely, but we would suggest that any rise is focussed on cash charges rather than Dart-Tag users, who are more likely to be regular business motorists and commercial vehicle drivers. In the mean time, we will continue to impress on the Department for Transport why this ‘stay of execution’ should become a ‘reprieve’."
In a recent survey, 87 per cent of FTA members named the Dartford Crossing Kent’s most costly congestion pinch point.
"The average cost of an HGV stuck in traffic for an hour is around £50, so it is little wonder that our members see congestion as a massive burden. We would like to see the money taken from road users invested in free flow technology and ideally the construction of another crossing. This would be the fairest way of alleviating congestion on this critical road link and securing a long-term solution to the problem."