How the Dartford Crossing changes will affect fleets
11 September 2014
Author: Tristan Young
From late October drivers will no longer have to stop to pay when crossing the river Thames at Dartford in Kent. Tristan Young explains the technology behind the development and what it means for fleets and their drivers
Despite the London Congestion Charge having been in existence for more than a decade, many drivers and fleets just don't go into central London so have never experienced using the payment technology that underpins the system.
So while there are similarities between the London Congestion Charge and the forthcoming barrier-less payment system for the Dartford Crossing (which incorporates two tunnels and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge) called Dart Charge, there will still be thousands of drivers who are new to the system.
Approximately 140,000 vehicles use the crossing per day and they currently stop to pay cash at a combination of manned or unmanned barriers, or pay via an electronic tag, called Dart-Tag, that's scanned and is linked to an account.
However, this system will be replaced by the use of cameras on overhead gantries and number-plate recognition software connected to the DVLA database to record people using the crossing, as well as remote payment technology, which means that drivers (and businesses) will either have to pay before crossing or afterwards. But the limit for paying after your journey is set at midnight on the day after travel. After that point you will be sent a fine of £35, providing you pay within 14 days.
Remote payment methods are deliberately many and varied so that everyone has a choice that suits them. If you want you can pay manually, in other words by cash or card, at anywhere displaying the Payzone logo. There are thousands of high-street retailers that are part of the Payzone network across the UK. Drivers and fleets can also pay for individual trips by phone, online or even by post. However, the Highways Agency says it does not expect many to use the postal payment system. For those travelling more frequently, the Highways Agency recommends that drivers and businesses set up an account. This will work in a similar way to the Dart-Tag - drivers put money into an account that is deducted automatically each time a crossing is made.
A Highways Agency spokesman says that fleets could run multiple cars on one of these accounts: "You can add more than one car registration to an account and we will consult with fleets to help advise them of how much money they would need in an account for the system to work smoothly."
The spokesman advises that fleets keep an eye on media outlets for when the Highways Agency publishes a hotline for this service.
While drivers can't pay by text, if they are an account holder they will be able to add registrations using a text service.
The idea behind Dart Charge is to cut congestion, which builds up at the payment barriers. The spokesman for the Highways Agency says: "The Dartford-Thurrock river crossing is a vital economic link, and the Government is committed to delivering improvements that will help traffic flow better at this crucial gateway, both now and in the future. The introduction of Dart Charge is part of that package and it is vital road users fully understand the opportunities of when and how to comply with the new system to avoid being non-compliant when the new arrangements to pay come into effect from October 2014."
While an exact date for the changeover has yet been set, BusinessCar has been advised that it will indeed be late October, which gives fleets less than eight weeks to prepare.
To make sure that drivers and fleets will be aware of the changes to the crossing, the Highways Agency is spending more than £1.1m on a public information campaign that kicks off in September.
"In the meantime," the spokesman says, "we are continuing to use our existing communication channels, including the Highways Agency website and social media, and engaging through the media, to inform people about the changes, and have engaged with a wide range of partners who have provided access to their own channels, including websites, magazine articles, and members forums.
As October approaches, we will be increasing the intensity of our activity to ensure the impact of our campaign is as strong as possible."
||New October charge (current charge)*
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