Responding to the Department for Transport consultation on proposed increases in tolls at the M25 Dartford Crossing, the Freight Transport Association says that given that the infrastructure has long since been paid for, then the levying of charges is completely inappropriate and should be scrapped.
FTA says that the Highways Agency and the operators, Le Crossing, regard the toll as a form of congestion charge designed to discourage use of the road. However, in the absence of any viable alternative route, commercial vehicles have little choice but to use the Dartford-Thurrock crossing and the charge therefore constitutes an additional and unwelcome operating cost rather than a disincentive.
Despite its total opposition to the continuity of charges, FTA has responded to the increase proposals as follows:
– The extended use of DartTag and a discount are welcomed, but the future DartTag prices should be the same as at present, whilst cash prices rise.
– The proposed scrapping of night-time charges is welcomed, but 'night-time' should start at 20.00, not 22.00 as proposed.
– Overall charges should not be increased for commercial vehicles – indeed they should be reduced to reflect the essential nature of commercial operations.
– Tighter controls should be applied and performance data made public regarding the throughput of the northbound plaza in comparison to the capacity of the tunnels, to clarify that the toll plaza itself is not, as FTA suspects, the cause of congestion and delay.
– FTA proposes that the southbound plaza be removed and that northbound charges be adjusted, taking account of the savings arising from reduced operating costs.
– FTA proposes that there should be further discounts available for low emission vehicles.
– If the current surplus of around £50 million per annum is to continue, or indeed increase according to the consultation, there must be firm assurances from an accountable body that these will accrue and be ringfenced against the costs of a Lower Thames Crossing or other significant local infrastructure improvements – the current £1.75 million allocation is not adequate in the context of the level of surplus.
– Any proposal to offer local discounts would only be acceptable if it included freight operators in the same catchment – indeed, local operators often have to cross the Thames several times each day and are disproportionately affected by current arrangements.
Gordon Telling, FTA's Head of Policy for London, South East and East of England said, 'FTA and its commercial vehicle operating members remain angry that any charges remain at Dartford and continue to be convinced that the act of stopping traffic and collecting a fee contributes to congestion and environmental pollution itself. The tolls should be scrapped, the plaza removed and the crossing regarded as a fundamental element of the M25.'