At the Eastern side of the M25 circular lies the Dartford Crossing, one of the busiest and most notorious regions of our motorway network, any motorist using this area have been subject to charges for more than 50 years! The Crossing comprises of two sections of tunnel which are used by traffic heading northwards, and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge which carries all southbound traffic, the latter was opened back in 1991 in a bid to ease congestion.
The first tunnel; costing £13 million dates to 1963 and was the only way for traffic to cross in either direction for almost 20 years, the outlay was designed to be recouped by motorists paying a toll to use the tunnel. However, due to the volume of traffic of around 65,000 vehicles per day, by 1980 a second tunnel was created to help cope with the demand. By 2014 the volume of traffic using the toll crossing had doubled again. With an estimated 135,000 vehicles using one of the three crossing routes each day, all having to stop and pay at a designated booth, given the slow process traffic jams became a daily occurrence with long delays in rush hour. So, late in 2014 this was alleviated somewhat by using an automatic number plate recognition system, together with the requirement for motorists to pay the crossing toll by phone or online – this is known as the “Dart Charge”.
Motorists can pay online at https://www.gov.uk/pay-dartford-crossing-charge, or by phone using the Dart Charge hotline (0300 300 0120), it’s also possible to pay by post in advance of your crossing.
Current costs range from £2.50 per crossing for cars, small passenger vehicles and motorhomes, up to £6 for larger wagons and trucks. When you consider the increase in overall motoring costs, including insurance policy premiums, this all starts adding up to a significant cost. However, locals or frequent travellers can mitigate this at little by using prepaid accounts – cars and smaller vehicles can pay just £20 per year (in advance) for unlimited crossings or can buy a 50-crossing pack at £10, which is especially beneficial to daily commuters and the motor trade.
Note that overnight crossings are free, charges only apply between 6am and 10pm each day which is in force all year round, with no dispensation for public holidays or Christmas.
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There are ways to avoid payment, you can use alternative routes (though then you’re risking longer journeys both in distance and potentially time) or travel overnight. Ferry crossings and other tunnels can be used as an alternative for those heading into South London, like the Woolwich Ferry or Blackwall Tunnel for example.
Be warned, penalty charges are also in effect and failure to pay the Dart Charge can result in an immediate £70 fine, though this can be reduced by 50% by paying within 28 days. Fail to pay within the allotted time and the penalty is increased to £105. One of the only ways to avoid this penalty is by proving your number plate was incorrectly read.
Finally, disabled motorists who are exempt from road tax are also exempt from the Dart Charge, but disabled motorists who do pay road tax must also pay the Dart Charge! There’s also no charge in place for motorcyclists, quad bikes and mopeds. If you are using a pedal bike free shuttles are provided to cross the bridge.