Dartford Crossing rakes in £202m in 12 months
Drivers pay hundreds of millions of pounds to use a huge crossing, linking two counties, more than two decades after it was due to become free.
The latest available documents issued by the Department for Transport in 2023 show the Highways England-managed Dartford Crossing, linking Kent to Essex received £202.3 million revenue in 2022 alone.
The amount was a significant increase of £40.9 million on the previous year, facilitated by a rise in the number of people using it and paying the mandatory Dart Charge.
Toll amounts, ranging from £2.50 each way for a car, or £5 for a HGV or van, began being collected online via Dart Charge in 2014 when the old booths were scrapped.
But the crossing itself has always been payable, with tolls previously in place where change was dropped into a netted bucket.
While it has been free between 10pm and 6am since 2008, many people crossing the system may not know it was initially meant to be toll-free some years ago.
The original agreement stipulated that Dartford Crossing would become completely free once it had paid for itself. The system of tunnels was completed in two stages - an east and west bore tunnel finished in 1963 and 1980 - and a bridge, namely the QEII Bridge, completed the crossing in 1991.
In total, it cost £120 million (£224 million as of 2019), with an additional £30 million (£52 million as of 2019) used to construct approach roads.
By 1999, the Government announced the crossing would become free of all toll charges after paying off the sum in 2003, but ministers back-tracked on the pledge by 2001.
A charge presented as a congestion pricing scheme was introduced on April 1, 2003, and the Dart Charge followed 11 years later.
The RAC states the charge is used to "manage demand rather than pay for infrastructure", and was "designed to handle 135,000 vehicle crossings a day".
At present, the organisation said it is "not uncommon" for up to 160,000 vehicles to use the crossing, and that revoking the toll would cause a traffic spike, which would make the road almost unbearable for drivers.
Even without the booths, and staggered speed limits on the approach to the tunnels, motorists are often besieged by delays, with most people checking its status before setting off on their journey.
The RAC cited research from 2001 that indicted lifting the toll would "lead to a 17 percent rise in traffic". Those who fail to pay receive penalty charge notices (PCNs), and in 2022, these made up nearly 20 percent of the crossing's total revenue.
The Department for Transport revealed that it received £18.5 million more in 2022 compared to the previous years from collecting the notices.
The rest of the additional £40.9 million came from an increase in the number of passengers using the crossing compared to Covid-era traffic flows.
The additional crossings worked out at £22.4 million in increased revenue, and all the money received from the increased traffic flow is passed to the Government which, by law, can only spend the funds on transport improvements.