Tyne Tunnel toll payment instructions signs 'useless'

By Francesca Williams
BBC News

  • Published
Mark BirkettImage source, Mark Birkett
Image caption,
Mark Birkett is crowdfunding for a judicial review

A motorist threatened with a fine for paying a toll fee two days late says payment instructions are on "useless" temporary signs which are easy to miss.

Mark Birkett, 57, from Rochdale, has since filmed a journey through the Tyne Tunnel which he says shows only two signs which mention a payment deadline.

He also said there was nowhere to stop to write down the required details.

TT2, which operates the tunnel, said the current yellow signs were "mandated by law in roadworks".

They were "designed in collaboration with local authority highway officers", a spokesperson for the firm said.

Image caption,
Drivers say it is not clear they only have until midnight the following day to pay

Thousands of unpaid toll charge notices (UTCNs) have been issued since the barrier-free system was introduced but 11,152 have been rescinded in the last two months, the BBC has learned.

TT2 said its current rolling average of successful appeals was 43%.

This was largely down to mitigating circumstances or TT2 "upholding a higher than usual level of appeals" to help educate customers, it said.

Mr Birkett, a musician and co-director of a market research recruitment firm, travelled through the northbound tunnel on the "wintry" night of 10 December and returned in January to film footage "to prove that the signage just simply isn't good enough", he said.

"There's no way on earth that anybody could absorb all the information that's on those signs when they're all unlit."

Norris Atthey from Northumberland, who has had one UTCN cancelled and is going through the appeal process for another, said the signage was "pathetic".

Image caption,
Norris Atthey says he will "not be bullied"

TT2 said every driver would see "two pay-by-midnight and two payment options messages, as a minimum".

Large advertising screens had been installed at the tunnel entrances and permanent signage would be put in place once roadworks were complete, it said.

Customer feedback would be taken into consideration "within Department for Transport parameters", it added.

Image caption,
Mr Birkett says there is nowhere to stop to write down the phone payment number

Drivers who do not pay the toll by midnight the following day face a £60 UTCN, reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days or increased to £100 if not settled within 28 days.

Mr Birkett said he expected to pay but only realised there was a deadline on his southbound return journey on 13 December. He paid both tolls that Monday.

But TT2 told him he would still be receiving an UTCN and, if he did not pay that, the matter would be handed over to a debt collection agency, he said.

"It's so aggressive and threatening I just thought I'm not standing for it and I don't think anyone else should," he said.

Image caption,
Motorists have complained signage and road layout are confusing

Mr Birkett is crowdfunding online to support a judicial review of the toll processes.

He said "first-time offenders" should be given a time extension as offered by the Dartford Tunnel and the appeals process should be independent as it is with other toll roads,

"There's no way on earth, as far as I'm concerned, that a firm that is profiting from these UTCNs can be marking its own homework with regards to appeals," he said.

TT2 said a sample of its appeals were audited every two months and 100% had been passed as correctly conducted.

"In addition to this, we have voluntarily signed-up to be scrutinised by the statutory, independent transport watchdog Transport Focus," a spokesperson said.

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