THE TOLLS at the Dartford River Crossing should be scrapped to help boost the local and national economy says the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP).
The call comes in its response to the Department for Transport’s (DfT) consultation on proposals to raise the charges at the crossing. The government is planning to phase an increase in tolls to £2.50 for cars and £6.00 for articulated lorries next year.
SELEP, the strategic business-led body focusing on cross-border economic growth in the region, believes that the proposed increases are ‘excessive and unfair on all drivers and businesses who are already being hit hard by the recession’.
However, should the government press ahead with its plans, SELEP has called for the discounts currently offered to Dartford and Thurrock residents to be extended to neighbouring boroughs and businesses.
In its submission SELEP warns that if this does not happen the increases are ‘likely to hamper the delivery of regeneration within the area’.
The Dartford River Crossing, connecting Essex and Kent, is one of Europe’s most heavily used crossings with more than 200,000 vehicles a day using the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and the two tunnels.
The crossing is also a key part of the road network in the SELEP area – which is a vital gateway to Europe and the rest of the country for many businesses.
If the government retains the tolls, SELEP has called for:
No increase in charges to be introduced until free-flowing charging, similar to London’s congestion charge, is installed. SELEP believes this could be paid for using the current income generated by the crossing
any increases in charges to be introduced in one stage rather than the planned two to avoid confusion and extra costs to businesses.
Greater discounts to be offered for using the Dart-Tag pre-paid toll charge system to encourage greater take up of the scheme
The continuation of the free period for using the crossing between 10pm and 6am.
Interim Chair of SELEP, George Kieffer, said: “The SELEP area pumps £55 billion into the national economy. Our efforts to maintain this by growing and developing our own local areas are being hampered by the severe congestion caused by the Dartford Crossing.
“It is not rocket science to see that the toll booths act as a major traffic bottleneck which can have a huge knock on effect for the surrounding road network including the M25, A2, A13, and A127. This is not good for any motorist but can have devastating effects on businesses especially in this economic climate.
“Removing the booths and tolls will ease the huge delays people often endure when using the crossing and surrounding roads, as well as the financial burden to hard-pressed families and businesses.
“However, the government is unlikely to want to lose the income the tolls generate. If they press ahead with the plans to increase the tolls this should coincide with the implementation of free-flowing tolling to at least help ease the congestion.”
Investment in the road networks surrounding the Dartford Crossing including free-flowing tolling, junction 30/31 of the M25 and investigating the need for a Lower Thames Crossing are among the issues being explored by SELEP.