By Local Democracy Reporter
THE Government’s profits from the Dartford Crossing increased by £15m last year, sparking additional calls to scrap the tolls.
Although the number of people being fined actually fell in the year 2017/18, from the previous 12 months, that proportion of the income still amounted to about 38 per cent of the total brought in.
The fall in fines– from £92.3m to £71.4m – helped lead to a total revenue fall to £187.4m from £204.7m in 2016/17.
However, with a drop in expenditure of more than £30m, the net profits for the year ending March 30, 2018 totalled £79.3m, a significant rise from the previous year’s £64.1m.
The original tunnel opened to traffic on November 18, 1963 and has since been used to make 1.5 billion journeys, with around 155,000 vehicles currently using it each day.
Although it has been added to over the years, with a second tunnel opening in May 1980 and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge opening in October 1991, the Dartford Crossing is still the only road crossing of the River Thames east of London.
The original intention was to remove tolls when the costs of the bridge had been recovered.
However, the Government has said traffic levels have risen far faster than projected and that the charges are now in place to manage traffic.
The Dartford Tunnel Act 1967 gave Kent and Essex County Councils authority to change the tolls, and in December 1977, the toll was raised from 25p to 35p for cars, 40p to 55p for two-axle goods vehicles, and 60p to 85p for HGVs.
By 1984, the toll for cars had risen to 60p.
Today’s charge is more than quadruple that, at £2.50.
Campaigner Neil D’Silva, who has created a petition for the issue to be raised in Parliament, says there is no proof there would be a significant rise in traffic if the tolls were scrapped.
He said: “I want to raise awareness there have been broken promises and that it is a bit of a cash cow for the Government. Unless we hit 100,000 signatures it will be another petition that get brushed under the carpet.
“When they say it is there to manage demand, then every road should be a toll road.”
In 2014, the toll booths were removed in a bid to try and alleviate the heavy queues at peak times.
This was replaced with an online Dart Charge service, where people who use the crossing are forced to pay up before midnight the next day, or create an account.
In a response to Mr D’Silva’s petition, which currently has 27,000 signatures, the Government said: “The government has no plans to remove the road user charge at the Dartford Crossing which exists to manage demand. Without charges, traffic volumes would increase and additional congestion would occur.
“The Dartford charge is not a toll for to pay for the infrastructure but a charge the Government has set at levels which manage demand. The Crossing was designed to handle up to 135,000 vehicle movements each day, but currently it is not uncommon for 160,000 to occur. Research undertaken in 2001 into the impacts of lifting the tolls indicated that traffic volumes could rise by 17 per cent.
“However, the charge levels and concessions available also take account of local peoples’ need to use the Crossing in their daily lives. There are discounts of up to 20 per cent for those who chose to maintain a pre-paid account. In addition, residents of the boroughs of Dartford and Thurrock can make up to 50 or unlimited crossings for different minimum fees. There is no charge for the hours of 6am to 10pm
“The standard charges have not increased since they were last revised with the introduction of the Dartford Free Flow Charging Scheme in 2014, an investment which has improved the road user experience by removing the need for users to stop at barriers to pay the charges.
“The Government is investing in the new Lower Thames Crossing will connect Kent and Essex through a tunnel beneath the River Thames and high quality road connections between important existing routes A2, M25 and A13. This addresses the demands for road capacity of an expanding economy by doubling cross river road capacity in the Thames east of London.
“To improve the situation over the next few years at the Dartford Thurrock Crossing and surrounding roads, the Department for Transport (DfT) is investing £10 million to contribute to a wider package of interventions to reduce congestion through traffic flow and safety measures. This investment is aimed at improving traffic flow at individual junctions; enhancing weather resilience; and better management of dangerous goods and over-height vehicles. Highways England continues to look for ways to improve performance and reduce congestion at the Crossing.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson added: “The charge at Dartford is crucial for managing traffic and journey times for road users across South East England.
“The increase in vehicles using the crossing that would take place if the charge were removed would increase congestion and journey times for road users.”