On 30 June 2011, the Department for Transport launched a consultation on proposals to revise the road user charging regime at the Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing. The consultation closed on 23 September.
The Government had to make hard choices at the time of the 2010 spending review, and accepted the need to increase revenues from the crossing to enable the continuing prioritisation of planned improvements.
The Department’s proposal was that cash charge for cars would increase from £1.50 to £2 from late 2011, and then to £2.50 in spring 2012, and that prices for other vehicles would also increase at broadly proportionate rates. These increases were part of a strategy to both manage demand at the crossing and to continue to prioritise short, medium and long-term improvements at the crossing.
On 24 November 2011, I informed the House that in recognition of the number of representations made, and to allow the Department time to carefully consider the responses further, there would be no increase in either 2011 or spring 2012 as set out in the consultation.
The Government remain committed to tackling the current and forecast traffic congestion at the crossing in recognition of its strategic importance, its role in facilitating the movements of goods and people and its contribution to national and local economies.
The Department received over 1,300 responses to its proposals for revising the charging regime at the crossing. Following careful consideration of all the points made during that consultation, I am today announcing the Department’s conclusions and the actions it intends taking.
The Department has decided to keep the road user charging regime at the crossing as part of its strategy to manage demand for its use, and also to allow the Department to delivery its strategy for future improvements. This includes the medium-term measure of implementing free-flow charging technology at the crossing in autumn 2014. To achieve this, consultation on the necessary secondary legislation will begin in autumn this year, followed by awarding the contract for customer charging and enforcement management services in autumn 2013.
In terms of the charges, the Department intends to increase these in two successive steps, as originally proposed, but to introduce the first increase in October 2012 (after the Olympic period), and the second at the same time as implementation of new, free-flow charging technology at the crossing, currently scheduled for October 2014.
In terms of the levels of increase, the Department intends to increase the level of the cash charge for cars by 50p in October 2012, and again by a further 50p in October 2014. The cash charges for other vehicle classes will rise by broadly proportional amounts.
Discounts offered to regular users of the crossing who pay in advance through the electronic DART-Tag system will remain, with the costs of the discounted crossing charge increasing at the same rate and at the same time as the increases for cash payments.
Delaying the increases until after September responds to views expressed in the consultation about the proposed timing of increases, particularly in relation to the Olympic and Paralympic games, and about adverse impacts on the national and local economies.
As promised, the Department will maintain the levels of discounts to those eligible through the local residents’ discount scheme, and there will be no increases in the levels of the crossing charge for them. The Department is committed to ensuring that the discount scheme for residents remains effective and easy to use, and I have asked my Department to undertake a full review of the scheme to ensure it provides suitable discounted benefits to local communities who are impacted by the crossing.
One of our short-term measures to improve the crossing included the deployment of a charge suspension protocol which was trialled during 2011 by the Highways Agency. The agency has reviewed the effectiveness of the suspension protocol, taking into consideration the views expressed during the consultation on charges and we will shortly announce the conclusions of that review.
Subject to the completion of the necessary parliamentary processes, the Department intends to revise the road user charging regime as set out above.
The full response to the consultation can be found on the Department’s website.