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Dartford Crossing Toll Booths Closed

By raccars Published

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Up to three million drivers every year could be subject to £105 fines, after the busiest toll road in Britain closed its booths at the weekend. Some 170,000 vehicles use the Dartford Crossing on the M25 every day, or about 50 million per year, which from now on, will not be blocked by barriers and toll booths.

A study carried out in preparation for the operation suggested that one in 14 cars using the crossing will neglect to pay the new charge, which will be collected online, by telephone, by post or at a 'payzone' outlet found in shops. Pre-pay accounts can be set up online and include a 33% discount. The charges will be enforced by 18 ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras installed at the crossing. These will issue automatic £105 fines to drivers who fail to pay the toll in time. Furthermore, the existing £2 is to be increased to £2.50. Drivers will have until midnight of the following day to pay their toll, with failure leading to a £35 fine for the first 14 days, £70 if paid within 28 days and £105 for later payments.

It is hoped that Dart Charge, as the new system is called, will ease traffic congestion and cut journey times, as drivers will no longer be stopped by barriers or need to find change to pay the toll. However, motoring organisations fear that many drivers will be caught unawares by the system, and errors by ANPR cameras could see innocent drivers unfairly charged.

Further controversy has been caused by the fact that tolls were originally set up on the crossing upon its opening in 1991, to cover the cost of its construction. However, this was achieved in 2003 but the road has not been de-tolled, with the government claiming this was to 'restrict demand.' The crossing is made up of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, built at a cost of £120 million, and two other tunnels from 1963 and 1980. The government now defines the toll as a 'road user charge,' which earns it £70 million per year. The price of the toll increased by a third in 2012.

Currently, the tolls are managed for the government by Sanef, a French company, which won the £367 million contract 10 years ago. The charging period is from 6am to 10pm, within which time the Highways Agency predicts 43 million vehicles will use the crossing annually. Seven per cent or three million of these are expected to receive a ticket for failing to pay their toll.

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