"About time too" was the response of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) recently following the announcement by Transport Minister Stephen Hammond confirming that a new ‘free-flow’ charging arrangement will be introduced to users of the Dartford River Crossing by October 2014.
The ‘free-flow’ technology will allow motorists to use the Crossing without having to stop at barriers to hand over payment, and instead they will be able to pay through a variety of methods including telephone, text message, online and at retail outlets – giving drivers greater flexibility in how and when they pay the charge.
FTA has previously expressed its view in support of the free-flow system, saying ‘that it would be good news for the freight industry’ within its response to the Department for Transport consultation on the proposals to revise the road charging regime. On behalf of its members the Association stated that freight operators have always maintained that the charging plazas themselves cause the majority of the congestion at the crossing. According to FTA figures, at present it already costs an estimated £1 per minute per HGV in running costs to queue at the Dartford tolls.
However, FTA has also voiced its concern over the possible lack of a completely effective charging system that will guarantee that all Crossing users would be equally liable for charges, stressing that it is important that a system should be in place to ensure that penalties are enforced across the board for all users who deliberately try to avoid the charge.
Highways Agency figures suggest free-flow tolls could cost as much as £21m a year in unpaid charges, mainly from foreign drivers.
Malcolm Bingham, FTA Head of Road Network Management Policy said:
"FTA has been asking for a long-time for plans for a ‘free-flow’ system at Dartford to be introduced, and considers that this is the appropriate way forward in order to reduce a good deal of administration costs for the freight industry in dealing with tolls, charges and queues at the Crossing.
Bingham added: "We need to be sure thought that the system will work. Undoubtedly, there will be occasions of genuine administrative error which should be dealt with in a sensible and pragmatic way, but there has be a robust system in place to enforce against all those who deliberately avoiding payment."