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Fines helping keep Dartford crossing tolls

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 January 2019

The Dartford Crossing. Photo: Andy Barnes

The Dartford Crossing. Photo: Andy Barnes

Archant

The controversial charges to cross the Thames at Dartford are staying, even though income has fallen because fewer fines are being issued.

The government had promised that once the cost of the crossings was paid for, the tolls would stop, but that date passed in 2002.

Now it has been revealed income has dropped to £187.4 million during 2017/18 from £204.7 million the previous year.

In its newest accounts, published by the government on Tuesday, January 22, this is put down to a slump in penalty notices being issued to drivers who for whatever reason didn’t pay the standard £2.50 each way charge.

The AA said: “They are making 40 per cent of their income from fines. The truth is that people are getting fleeced.”

The report from the Secretary of State for Transport says: “The £17.3m decrease on the previous year is due to an increase in compliance which results in lower PCN issuance.”

It also points out costs have also fallen by £32.5 million to £108.1 million.

The report concludes: “The net proceeds for the year ended 30 March 2018 were £79.3m (£64.1m in 2016-17).”

The AA said it is angry £71 million of the £187 million income is from fines.

Those who signed a petition to ditch charges had a reply from the government saying tolls will be staying to help keep traffic congestion down.

Some drivers have voiced fury that since the toll booths were removed, traffic jams in the supposed free-flow system have not significantly improved.

The AA told us: “They are still heavily, heavily reliant on fines income to finance the project.

“Nearly 40 per cent of the income comes in from people not getting it right. To be honest, this is the way it works these days.

“You go into London and the boroughs are totally reliant on motorists wander into bus lanes or yellow boxes. There is so much money generated by fines.

“The simply matter is that with so much coming in front fines it begs the question is why is the Dart charge catching so many out.

“There is also a lot of money lost from cock-ups in their systems – they have lost millions because they keep making mistakes.”

He said the bottom line is the charge is supposed to keep traffic levels down, but the AA said: “It has become such a money spinner that the tolls will stay.”

Losses because penalty notices could not be issued have not changed much in the last two years.

The report says it is estimated these run at between £0.4 million and £3 million a year because “road user vehicles keeper details (UK and Non-UK) not being available, illegal activity/evasion (e.g. cloned vehicles), poor vehicle images, misread number plates, issues with the system, errors made by the service provider, and discretionary action undertaken by Highways England.

System issues and errors are being addressed by Highways England on an ongoing basis.”

The Kent based Freight Transport Association said: “The crossing is still a very congested part of the strategic road network; while the removal of the toll plazas a few years ago has undoubtedly improved traffic flows southbound over the bridge, congestion still remains on a daily basis heading northbound through the tunnels.”

It added: “There is limited scope for improvement within the existing crossing, which regularly carries volumes of traffic far exceeding its original design capacity.

“What we need to see is the construction of the new Lower Thames Crossing as soon as possible.

“Not only will it add new capacity to help alleviate the congestion problems we experience at the Dartford Crossing, it will also add much needed resilience into the road network, by providing an alternative route when long traffic jams inevitability form at Dartford.

“But in any likelihood, it is going to be at least eight years until it will be open, so in the meantime, the congestion and frustration will remain.”

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