Dartford Crossing fee suspension trial under fire

The QE2 Thames bridge Dartford River Crossing
Image caption Charges are meant to be suspended at times of "severe congestion"

Motorists say a trial of waiving charges at the Dartford Crossing when there is severe congestion has made no difference to traffic delays there.

Hauliers say the fees have not once been lifted in the first month, despite massive congestion.

They say the 10-mile-queue criterion has frequently been triggered in that time but the charges never dropped.

The Highways Agency says other criteria, such as vehicle speed in the queues, have not yet been reached.

The trial, which began at the beginning of July, is part of a traffic-management package for the crossing, which comprises a dual tunnel northbound and bridge southbound, linking Essex and Kent.

The Highways Agency proposes to raise road charges there from £1.50 to £2.50 in 2012, and in an effort to reduce the most severe congestion in the area, it says it will suspend charges "in emergency situations" during the experiment.

'Not slow enough'

The agency says this would not apply to "routine congestion", but to specific incidents, such as accidents.

It cites queues stretching back to junction 28 of the M25 on the Essex side or junction 4 on the Kent side as the trigger.

But Malcolm Bingham, of the Freight Transport Association, said the criterion had been reached several times since the trial began, but charges had not yet been waived.

"We've seen quite a lot of anger, particularly recently when promises are made and don't seem to be coming to fruition," he said.

Highways Agency regional director John Griffiths said although the queues had sometimes been long enough, the speed of traffic had not been below the 10mph required to waive the charges.

"We are trialling it, and then we need to refine it as we work our way through the trial. We will examine the analysis afterwards and work out what we need to do."

Consultation on the proposals run until 23 September.

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