The ‘free-flow’ technology will allow motorists to use the Crossing without having to stop at barriers to hand over payment, and instead they will be able to pay through a variety of methods including telephone, text message, online and at retail outlets – giving drivers greater flexibility in how and when they pay the charge.
FTA has previously expressed its view in support of the free-flow system, saying ‘that it would be good news for the freight industry’ within its response to the Department for Transport consultation on the proposals to revise the road charging regime. On behalf of its members the Association stated that freight operators have always maintained that the charging plazas themselves cause the majority of the congestion at the crossing. According to FTA figures, at present it already costs an estimated £1 per minute per HGV in running costs to queue at the Dartford tolls.
However, FTA has also voiced its concern over the possible lack of a completely effective charging system that will guarantee that all Crossing users would be equally liable for charges, stressing that it is important that a system should be in place to ensure that penalties are enforced across the board for all users who deliberately try to avoid the charge.
Highways Agency figures suggest free-flow tolls could cost as much as £21m a year in unpaid charges, mainly from foreign drivers.
Malcolm Bingham, FTA Head of Road Network Management Policy said: "FTA has been asking for a long-time for plans for a ‘free-flow’ system at Dartford to be introduced, and considers that this is the appropriate way forward in order to reduce a good deal of administration costs for the freight industry in dealing with tolls, charges and queues at the Crossing."
Bingham added: "We need to be sure though that the system will work. Undoubtedly, there will be occasions of genuine administrative error which should be dealt with in a sensible and pragmatic way, but there has be a robust system in place to enforce against all those who deliberately avoiding payment.”
Severn Bridge tolls should not be used to finance road schemes
The Severn Bridges have already been paid for and to ask road users to finance additional infrastructure projects is fundamentally unfair, added the Freight Transport Association in response to the news that construction of a £1 billion M4 relief road in South Wales could be paid for by the Severn Bridge tolls.
Welsh Finance Minister Jane Hutt confirmed the possible plan to MPs on the Welsh Affairs Committee, who were taking evidence as part of their inquiry into the future of the Severn Bridges.
The Minister said that the Welsh Government would want administration of the two bridges to be passed to it in 2018, when it is anticipated that they will revert back into public ownership, but that the tolls would remain in place to cover maintenance and provide it with a revenue stream.
Ian Gallagher, FTA’s Head of Policy for Wales, said: "FTA welcomes the suggestion by the Minister that there could be a reduction in tolls for essential users such as lorries, however as the bridges would have been paid for by users they shouldn’t be asked to finance additional infrastructure which really should be funded by Government. FTA members pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in tolls and normally this comes directly off the bottom line.”
In responding to the Minister’s comments regarding the bridges providing a revenue stream, Gallagher added: "It is an interesting argument - the government must answer the question, at what level can a toll be set so that it benefits users and provides a meaningful revenue stream?”