It was one of those journeys – I knew roughly where I was going but the actual route had not crossed my mind. A couple of hours before setting off I used an online route planner to check out distance and timings. My heart sank.
I had not realised I was going to have to use the Dartford Crossing. Not that I have anything against the Dartford Crossing – I love the views from the bridge and don’t mind the thought of all that Thames water above me when in the tunnels – but I have not had to use it since the new payment methods came in.
Toll payment booths were scrapped at the bridge on the M25 on November 30, with online, phone and postal payment methods introduced to a new set-up called Dart Charge. You can no longer just roll up and throw a handful of coins in a basket or handover your cash or credit card.
If you don’t pre-pay, to make life easier, you have until midnight the following day to pay after making a crossing. If you don’t pay at all it’s a £70 penalty, reduced to £35 if paid within 14 days but rising to £105 if not received within 28 days.
I went online at Dart Charge, filled in my return journey and put £5 on my card – it’s now £2.50 each way instead of £2 but there are discounts for regular users. It took a couple of minutes and as soon as I logged off my email receipt arrived – I was impressed.
Imagine my glee when, in the morning rush-hour (assuming it is any worse then than at any other time of the day), I sailed over the bridge and, with the old toll booths gone in that direction, carried on along the M25 without stopping. It all went so smoothly I began to fear I had missed something. I used to work on 20 minutes to cross the bridge and pay sometimes.
Coming back the other way, where the toll booths are still currently there, the traffic flowed up to them at a reasonable pace and even though each vehicle has to stop for the barrier to lift –- even though no payment changes hands – the traffic kept moving for over final couple of hundred metres and off we went again.
Not quite as quick towards the tunnel but a huge improvement and, given my patience, well worth the extra 50p each way – probably saved that in fuel!
The full benefits of the new system will be felt in spring when the roadworks are finished, the rest of the toll booths gone and a new safety system built to stop over-sized or non-compliant vehicles from using the tunnel – then it’ll be so slick and quick they’ll also have to put in speed cameras!
Charging hours are between 6am and 10pm daily – it’s still free to use the crossing outside these hours.
From the phone calls I had received from motorists about the changes, I wasn’t the only one concerned but I don’t mind change when it is for the better.