UK Toll Roads Need To Learn From Overseas, According To Road Haulage Groups

22/08/2011

Anger over the price increases at the Dartford Crossing has escalated after successive government promises to ensure free passage at the crossing have not been fulfilled.

The increased anger over the situation has resulted in the formation of an e-petition to abolish charges for all users of the Dartford Crossing, which is the only practical route for crossing the River Thames for many freight haulage drivers as well as private motorists, comes after Government plans to increase the standard fare to use the crossing from £1 to £1.50.

So far, the petition has over 500 signatures and states that ‘We call on the government to keep the promises of previous administrations and remove the toll charges imposed on road traffic using the Dartford Crossing. Not only will this finally fulfil the previous commitments but also clear a choke point on a critical
transport route.’ The petition adds further that they don’t believe that increased charges will reduce congestion as there have been continued problems with traffic at the Crossing for a number of years.

The petition still has a long way to go to achieve the 100,000 signatures which would make it eligible for discussion in parliament.

The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), the international organisation for the owners and operators of toll facilities and the businesses that serve tolling, is holding its 79th annual meeting and exhibition in Berlin next month. It would be a good idea for those who control ‘pay as you go’ road travel in the UK to attend so as to get a better understanding of the options and technologies available to them to create a sustainable solution. However, despite its long history and hundreds of members from Europe, North and South America, Australia and South Africa, only one British fee collection authority, the Severn River Crossing plc appears to be linked to the organisation.

Toll organisations in other countries, in most cases members of the IBTTA, have a much more advanced and coordinated approach to toll collection management. For example on the New Jersey Turnpike in the USA, there is a wide range of options available to commuters as well as road haulage drivers. Regular freight customers are offered discounts as well as older drivers and greener private vehicles. As well as these discounts the E-Z Pass System, the electronic toll collection system, is now valid at toll collection points nationwide including the Fast Lane in Massachusetts, the I-Pass in Illinois and the I-Zoom in Indiana.

The government is proposing to only allow free passage through the Dartford Tunnel and Queen Elizabeth II bridge tolls when traffic congestion stretches for at least 12 miles in either direction. Also fees will increase at a rate far in excess of levels of inflation. It is believed that the Government should consult with major stakeholders of the Dartford Tunnel such as the Road Haulage Association so a workable solution can be created. The Roads Minister, Mike Penning, was quoted as saying he was still committed to ‘reducing the bottleneck effect at Dartford as quickly as possible’.

Various haulage and freight interests believe that the authorities should review the various payment technologies in existence around the world, such as the E-Z Pass System, with the ambition to improving toll services in the UK. The government still strongly believes that the best way to ease congestion is to increase toll prices. This view has been slammed by road haulage organisations in Essex and Kent, which are likely to be the most badly affected areas by the toll increases and build up of queues. The decision to increase prices has been described as ‘ludicrous’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘an outrageous lie aimed at monetising misery’ by road haulage organisations in Essex and Kent.