The Freight Transport Association is dismayed at the decision to give discounts to residents using the Dartford Crossing while increasing charges for everyone else, including local businesses. FTA says that scrapping the tolls altogether would have a far more beneficial impact on the local economy, which uses the crossing as a key link to markets on either side of the Thames.
When the tolls were introduced it was with the promise that they would end once the bridge was paid for. That day came and went on Tuesday 1 April 2003. Now not only have motorists had to pay them for five years longer than agreed, but the Government wants to increase the charges.
The decision to increase the charges is based on a misguided premise that it will decrease congestion by encouraging traffic to use the bridge at night. At best, this will only affect motorists' behaviour at the margins. Industry's use of the bridge will be unchanged as it is heavily influenced by delivery schedules which often demand daytime drops, the timing of which cannot be flexed.
The process of stopping traffic and collecting a fee in itself is a major cause of congestion and pollution. However, there are few alternatives to using the crossing and drivers would spend more than the charge in fuel trying to avoid it. The £2.90 fee for lorries is dwarfed by the cost of being held up in congestion caused by collecting the charge. Based on average running costs of an hgv of £30 per hour, a wait of just ten minutes would cost twice that amount.
FTA's Regional Policy Manager, Natalie Chapman said, 'The decision smacks of political expediency. The scheme for local residents is being funded out of the small pot of money that is earmarked for improving local transport in the area. All the discount will do is to provide some free local crossings whilst leaving traffic patterns and volumes unchanged.
'FTA continues to believe that the Dartford tolls should be scrapped completely. In the past, the continuation of tolls has been defended on road safety grounds. However, any safety issues can be managed through Active Traffic Management, such as variable speed limits, average speed cameras and overhead gantries advising of lane closures. The experience in Scotland where tolls were abolished in February 2008 was that traffic anarchy did not ensue, rather traffic flow was freed up and pollution levels reduced.'