Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Toll Charge Future For Britain's Freight Trucks

DfT Statement Shows Something Was in the Pipeline for Dartford
Shipping News Feature

UK – Last week Transport Minister Mike Penning casually mentioned a number plate recognition system for vehicles passing through the Dartford Tunnel and, presumably, the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, the well known congestion point on the M25, due to be put into place in 18 months time. No one would dispute that toll collection, even using the Dart Tag scheme, slows both private and commercial vehicles, including overseas registered freight trucks, sometimes to unacceptable levels.

Now the Department for Transport, following the Chancellor of the Exchequers statement today on the Public Spending Review, have issued some details which go some way to clarify the situation. The full statement reads as follows:

“It is clear that additional capacity is needed at Dartford and that public funding to provide it is unlikely to be available. Therefore, DfT will embark upon a review of the options for future capacity increases at Dartford, funded by charges. In the mean time, we will increase charges for the Crossing. Subject to consultation, prices will increase from £1.50 to £2.00 in 2011 for cars, rising to £2.50 in 2012. Prices for other vehicles will also increase. Given its strategic importance the Department for Transport has decided not to sell the Crossing at the present time. At the same time, we will introduce free flow charging from 2012. And more immediately, we will lift the charges at times of severe congestion to aid flow through the charging plaza.”

So it seems that the Government means to maintain the Dartford Crossing as a cash cow and simply pull the barriers up when traffic becomes too heavy to justify the delay. Future capacity looks to be a pipe dream, in the middle of the biggest round of spending cuts in living memory it seems highly unlikely another bridge will appear anytime soon despite yet another immediate increase in tolls.

As for ‘Free Flow Charging’ one wonders how that can work. Most hauliers plus their representatives like the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) were looking for less pressure on shipping by road and more charges for overseas operators. A number plate recognition scheme (incidentally all numbers are apparently taken currently anyway) simply isn’t likely to work when alien registration plates are involved. The FTA has however welcomed the intention to continue with various road development projects.

Only yesterday the FTA were referring to ‘gratuitous and cynical price hikes’ on the Severn Crossing. When addressing the Welsh Affairs Committee (WAC) at the House of Commons Ian Gallagher, FTA’s Policy Manager for Wales said:

“Severn tolls are the highest in the UK and simply unsustainable for many companies that use this vital trade corridor. Allowing this policy of unchecked and unfair price hikes to continue unabated could have dire consequences for business and the Welsh economy as a whole.

“We are delighted that our concerns are being voiced at the highest level and we are encouraged by Mr Davies’ apparent enthusiasm for looking more closely at the real impact of the Severn tolls on the businesses that have no choice but to use the crossing.”

One wonders how today’s announcement will be received by freight carriers across the country, particularly in the South East of England, are truck tolls to rise 66% as are private cars? The DfT statement also said today that the Government were “committed to encouraging more freight from the nation’s road network onto the railways and will continue to fund the ongoing projects to improve rail freight links.”

It seems they aren’t averse to doing so by increasing the costs for the UK freight truck operator.