My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
In December 2006, the department consulted on proposals to revise the charges for use of the Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing. The consultation noted that: without any charges traffic levels would be substantially higher than they are now, leading to extensive congestion; that even with the current charge levels, usage levels are leading to regular congestion and occasional very severe congestion; and that without action the likelihood of severe congestion will increase.
The consultation document proposed: an increase in tolls for those paying by cash; substantial reductions for those choosing to pay on account using a DART-Tag to register their charge; and the removal of night-time charges for all vehicles, when congestion is less of a problem. The intention was to continue to apply an effective pricing signal given growing congestion pressures while at the same time providing an incentive for more people to opt for alternatives to paying cash, thereby easing flow through the charging booths.
In the run-up to the consultation exercise suggestions were put forward that local residents should benefit from a substantial discount for use of the crossing. The Government invited views on these suggestions.
Substantial numbers of people expressed a desire to see a local discount scheme. Details are set out in the summary of responses to that consultation, which is published on the DfT web-site at www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/closed/dftconsuldartford/dartsumconsul.
On 2 April 2007 the department announced that it would develop a local discount scheme for further consultation, noting that any scheme had to be fair to both local residents and the taxpayer.
I am announcing today our proposals. These are that:
private cars should be eligible for discounts when used by residents of Dartford and Thurrock local authority areas;
there will be a £10 annual registration fee, which will entitle residents of these areas to 50 free one-way journeys per year. Thereafter journeys will be charged at 20p each. (London charges the same annual £10 fee for those who make use of their residents' discount scheme) and
to benefit from the discount residents will need to register annually and apply for an electronic “tag” that is fitted in the windscreen of the nominated vehicle. The tag will be provided free of charge but a £10 charge will be levied for replacement of lost or damaged tags.
The Government’s intention is that the discount scheme should be implemented alongside the other changes to the charging regime on which we consulted in December 2006. This includes the possibility for any car user, regardless of where they live, to use the crossing for the current £1 rate if they opt to use a tag and open an account.
Our December 2006 consultation document made clear that if a local discount scheme were introduced then all revenues would go towards national transport projects. Therefore the current arrangement, under which a proportion of revenues from the crossing (£1.75 million) is made available to help deliver integrated transport policies in the Dartford and Thurrock areas, would be discontinued.
The consultation document will be published next week and copies will be placed in the Library of the House. The consultation exercise will run for 12 weeks from the date of publication.
The Government will make every effort to ensure that the new charges, including the local discount scheme, can be implemented in the autumn of 2008, subject to being able to complete the necessary technical work to that timescale. Given that the Government have put forward a clear statement of their preferred approach, work has already started to put in place the necessary systems and processes. A further announcement about the precise start date for the new regime will be made at the end of the consultation period.