To the east of London the M25 crosses the river Thames at the Dartford-Thurrock river crossing.
Southbound (clockwise) traffic uses the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. Northbound (anti-clockwise) traffic uses the two, two-lane road tunnels known as the Dartford Tunnel, which were the only means of crossing before the bridge opened in 1991.
A charge (toll) is payable in both directions.
The crossing is a crucial gateway carrying around 160,000 vehicles daily, and it's a frequent cause of congestion and delay in the area because of capacity limitations and delays at the toll booths.
Dart Charge started operation at 6am on Sunday 30 November 2014 with the last cash payment being taken at the crossing at around 10pm the evening before.
Dart Charge replaced cash payment at toll booths
To cut delays, drivers now have to pay remotely, away from the crossing, instead of stopping at a barrier to pay the charge at a booth. There are several ways to pay: online, at one of many retail outlets including those with a Payzone terminal, or by phone.
You can pay the charge before travelling if you know that your route takes you via the crossing, or by midnight the following day if your use of the crossing was unplanned or you forgot to pay in advance.
Current charges (since 30 November 2014):
- Cars £2.50 (£2.00)
- Two-axle goods £3.00 (£2.50)
- Multi-axle goods £6.00 (£5.00)
Ways to pay
The cheapest way to pay is using a pre-pay account
Alternatively, you can make one-off payments in advance or by midnight the day after crossing:
New ways to pay from November 2015
Non-payment and penalties
Payments to use the Dartford crossing have to be remote - there's no facility at all for any users to pay as they approach or leave the crossing.
The free flow impact assessment estimated overall payment rates of 93% for UK drivers and 86% for foreign registered vehicles which are expected to make up around 3% of all vehicles using the crossing.
Non compliance is dealt with by penalty charge notice (£35 if paid within 14 days plus the original road user charge) with those for non-UK vehicles being issued via a European debt recovery agency.
The M25 at Dartford is a strategic national road serving all parts of the UK and is also part of the trans-European road network – as such it has to be expected that many drivers will be unaware of the arrangements, penalties for non-payment, operational hours or have the luxury of timing their journeys to coincide with the non-charging hours. The AA has expressed concerns about this to the Highways Agency.
There was a 33% hike in charges in 2012 and drivers will face a further 25% increase when free flow charging is introduced.
In October 2012, responding to the increase in charges, the AA said that long distance travellers from UK and Europe, freight, business and regional users have all been sold down the river through the unnecessary perpetuation of charges and a lack of investment in future capacity at Dartford.
By 2003, toll charges had effectively paid for the Dartford bridge and should have come to an end but a regime of road user charging to 'manage high demand' was introduced and has become a nice little earner, raising around £70m a year.
Elsewhere in Europe there is a facility at some 'free flow' toll plazas for foreign drivers to pay by credit card and this might have been very helpful at Dartford had there been the space and capacity.
It would also have been useful for Dartford’s charging system to be ‘interoperable’ so that EU drivers with an account would find it easier to pay.
Free-flow charging may eliminate toll-booth queues and reduce congestion in the short term but most users have no choice about the time and place they cross the Thames. This is one of the most important motorways in Europe and it needs more capacity, not easier ways to pay.