To help ease congestion on the M25 motorway the people who run the Dartford River crossing decided that paying the toll at a traditional booth was not working and introduced an automatic number plate recognition and online payment system. As is often the case with new systems, there are some issues and some things you should be aware of as they might cost you a lot of money.
The idea behind the system is actually a great way to avoid the need for cars to stop and pay. This stopping, especially on a busy day, can cause tail backs and congestion much further down the M25 so the plan for Dart Charge is certainly a good one. The system itself is based our cameras that can recognise your number plate and register when you pass through the tunnel or over the bridge. It then stores it on a computer system until you log in a pay online. You may have noticed a number of the gantry signs around the area reminding you to “search for Dart Charge” to find out how to pay for a crossing. Once you have made your crossing you have until midnight the following day to log in a make payment.
So far there have been a number of reported issues with the system including a failure to recognise any foreign number plates and confusion between the letters C and G on British number plates. The latter problem has lead to some people having fines landing on their doorstep when they haven’t even been through the tunnel and other people not having to pay at all. For regular travelers there is an account system when they can prepay for a number of crossings, there have been some reported issues with this system not taking the correct amount of money for each crossing and other general problems with charging. These are all normal teething problems but with such a short time to pay after a crossing, the margin for error is not very big at all.
If you are planning to use the crossing soon, make sure you pay within the stated period. Failure to pay before midnight the next day will result in a £70 fine, this can be halved if you pay within 14 days but it is still a heavy penalty to pay for a river crossing. However, if you fail to pay within the set fine period the amount actually goes up to £105. Another thing many people are not aware of is that you now have to pay both ways, so a return journey could cost you £140 if you forget to pay.
The system works well for most people but for those who are less technologically minded or very busy the self managed payment system can cause issues. For a few people the mistakes the system is making can cost dearly but when Dart Charge is at fault the DVLA are not likely to enforce payment.