The Freight Transport Association has voiced disappointment on behalf of its members at the news of the rise in charges to users of the Dartford River Crossing.
Following the announcement from Under Secretary of State for Transport, Mike Penning, who revealed the increases as part of the ‘plans to tackle congestion and to deliver future improvement at the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing’, the association was quick to back its members in saying that it considers additional costs at the tolls to be unacceptable to the freight industry.
The first rise in costs to be implemented will be in October 2012 when the toll charge for a heavy goods vehicle will jump to £5.00 per crossing, a significant increase from the present £3.70, with the second hike planned for 2014, resulting in a cost of £6.00 each way.
Operators who use the popular ‘Dart-Tag’ will not escape the price jump either, seeing that cost rising from £3.20 to £4.33 come October this year.
Malcolm Bingham, FTA Head of Road Network Management Policy said: "We are disappointed, as we feel that the government has not taken any notice of us at all. We had asked them to peg the Dart-Tag fee.
"Any toll increase is damaging to our members, but we welcome the process of bringing in free flow tolling."
In response to the Department for Transport consultation on the proposals to revise the road user charging regime, FTA had voiced its concern at the planned rises, pointing out that ‘the Dartford crossing is an essential piece of infrastructure, vital to the effectiveness of the logistics industry for whom no efficient alternative route exists. Current levels of congestion – which we believe to a large extent result from the existing charging systems – impose significant costs on the industry and lead to increased emissions.’
FTA members have expressed deep concerns regarding the proposed increase in the charges for good vehicles. Quite predictably the new charges will increase costs for those that use the crossing by an appreciable amount and the current alternative crossing options available to fleet operators are expensive both in time and mileage.
In its consultation response, FTA added: ‘Goods vehicles do not have the flexibility that many motorists have to alter journey times and/or routes and more often than not freight journeys cannot be made in another way.’
FTA members maintain 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 to queue and pay at the Dartford tolls.
It had been hoped that plans to introduce a ‘free flowing system’ would be introduced as opposed to toll increases, and these were welcomed by the association. The technological system (similar to some already being used across Europe and within the UK), was seen as the appropriate way forward to reduce a good deal of administration cost for industry in dealing with tolls, charges and queues at the crossing.