Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rising Tolls Hold Freight And Logistics Sector To Ransom As Haulage Operators Hit

Government Claim to Hold Consultation Appears Laughable
Shipping News Feature

UK – In October last year when we got the first whiff of a massive increase in toll charges at the Dartford River Crossing, the only practical arterial route for M25 motorway and East of London Thames crossing traffic, we posed the question ‘Truck tolls to rise 66% as are private cars?’ . Now we know the answer is no – they will rise 63%, hitting haulage operators during a period in which the Government has claimed they intend to help the freight and logistics sector through difficult times.

Under the guise of ‘cutting congestion’ the Government is to increase charges from £1.50 to £2.50 for private cars whilst for HGV multi axles the rate goes up from £3.70 to £6.00. According to the political rhetoric these charges are subject to the public responses to a consultation document released at the end of last month but industry analysts believe this is a sop to public opinion and the wording of the document would seem to confirm this. You can read the document in full HERE and consultations will continue until the 28th September.

Transport minister Mike Penning, who should know all there is to know of the problems at the crossing having spent much of his life living in Essex, has stated that, despite the importance of the crossing as a piece of transport infrastructure ‘the simple fact is many more motorists want to use the crossing than it was designed for and this leads to frequent lengthy delays, frustration and damage to the economy.’ We have news for you Mr Penning, many more drivers want to use the entire M25 than it was designed for and delays are not confined to Dartford and Thurrock.

Haulage operators will ask why Mr Penning, quoted in our January article telling local MP’s that crossing barriers will be lifted when there is severe congestion, is so keen to use the mechanism of increased tolls when other countries are using modern technology to speed traffic flow through what hitherto were bottlenecks, using charging via number plate recognition and similar methods.

As we pointed out in that January piece drivers from Kent and Essex have been repeatedly lied to as to the future of the crossing since 1963 when the first tunnel opened. Now with four lanes and over twenty toll booths it is hard to see what prevents a faster toll recognition system being introduced in conjunction with something along the lines of a Eurovignette system applicable to foreign drivers (as we have previously pointed out).

Sadly it seems we are destined to go through what most East of England truck drivers we spoke to consider a sham of a consultation from which they envisage only one possible outcome. Drivers of all vehicles except cycles and motorcycles can expect to be paying considerably more than before to ‘cut congestion’ even if they make use of the Dart Tag system which offers some sort of discount but still involves a slowing of traffic at the toll booths, and is considered by many road traffic experts to be yesterday’s technology.

The consultation document allows for the suspension of charges during emergency periods and ‘especially where the process of the collection of the charge is adding to the delays’. It may come as news to the Government but collection of the charges IS the main cause of delays. Charges will seemingly rise in two stages ‘To assist users in adjusting to the overall increase’ (I’m not making this up) and the document asserts the Governments intention to investigate either expansion of the existing crossing point or development of alternative rivers transits which the ‘2009 Dartford River Crossing Study into Capacity Requirement’ estimated would cost between £1 billion and £7 billion.

Anyone holding a view on the future of River Thames crossing points should make their views known by following the links HERE where you can complete an online consultation.