Wednesday 20 October 2010

Spending Review Helps Small Businesses ... By Delving Further Into Their Pockets

Via The Quiet Man, we find that the spending review carried a nasty little sting for motorists and businesses in the south east.

Toll charges are set to be increased for the Dartford Crossing between Kent and Essex, it was announced in the government Spending Review.

Under the plans, the charges could rise from £1.50 to £2 next year for cars, before rising to £2.50 in 2012.
As you can imagine, this has been greeted with anger by some politicians.

“It’s astonishing that in these increasingly tough economic times the Government should be viewing the Dartford River Crossing simply as a cash cow for the Treasury. They seem oblivious to the impact on small business and motorists of hiking up charges just as the downturn is starting to bite. It’s as if Ministers have got their heads stuck down one of the bores of the Dartford Tunnel."
Oh, I'm sorry. That's an old quote from Tory MP James Brokenshire - now part of the coalition government, of course - on learning that Labour had increased the toll charges in 2008 after having reneged on a promise to scrap them when the QE2 bridge was paid for in 2003.

I'm sure he'll be speaking up very soon in protest. As will Iain Dale, who called for the tolls to be abolished two years ago.

Conservatives Must Abolish Dartford Crossing Toll

On Saturday the toll for the Dartford Tunnel and Bridge rises from £1 to £1.50. For the mathematically illiterate among you (that would be the ones that support Gordon Brown's economic policy), that's a rise of 50%. Fifty. Per. Cent. (another 33% and further 25% in 2012 now, Iain - DP)

This Dartford stealth tax toll is iniquitous and should be ended. Perhaps the Conservatives might like to think about committing themselves to abolishing it completely, as they originally promised in 1991.
Unless, of course, something has now changed like ... which party(ies) it is who are currently fleecing motorists. Ah well, that's politics, I suppose.

Yeah, I hear what you're saying. This deficit must be brought down by any means possible and now isn't a time for government to take their hand out of our pockets. BUT, these charges hamper a huge number of small businesses greatly (not mine, BTW), and I thought the point of this whole exercise was to lessen public expenditure and encourage private industry to take up the slack by employing more, and contributing more taxes through improved growth and profits. Increasing tolls really isn't going to help much in that regard, is it?

This goes for the Severn and Humber crossings too (fret not, I heard the screaming that your tolls are more severe), both of which have also already been paid for. Yet, crossing the Humber costs £2.70 for a car, up to £18.30 for HGV and PSV business vehicles, with Severn charges being £5.50 to £16.40. The Severn tolls, particularly, are impossible to defend because they unfairly punish businesses in south Wales as opposed to those operating from the Bristol side of the crossing.

Speaking of Dartford's tolls, Iain Dale's article reckons income generated to be around £100m, while others estimate approximately £40m-£50m, so we're not raising huge amounts here, especially when put into context. The Federation of Small Businesses have consistently argued against toll charges as a drain on the private sector, and that their abolition would boost industry and make up for government's loss of revenue. A study in the north east, for example, suggested a massive positive impact for the local economy (yes, to be taken with caution due to source, but you get the point).

And this is without mentioning that all such tolls are levied without any real option of avoiding them. There is simply no other haulage or coach route over the Severn or Humber, whilst the nearest alternative crossings to Dartford are the Blackwall Tunnel or Woolwich Ferry, which involve forcing more traffic into already over-congested areas of East London.

Taking it all into account, this just appears to be a good old-fashioned cash grab. With no imaginative thinking behind it apart from a further squeezing of businesses at a time when the government claim they are trying to help, safe in the knowledge that there is nothing any of us can do except to lump it and cough up.

And as if that wasn't bad in itself, the official reasoning is either ignorant or sinister. You decide.

The Department of Transport (DfT) said the money would be used to explore ways of improving traffic flow.
Err, the toll plaza itself is the very cause of hindered traffic flow. Get rid of it and the traffic would flow like a mofo.

Unless that's exactly what is being planned. Scrap the toll booths, replace them with ANPR, and bingo! Welcome to the new age of automated road pricing.

It'd cost a bit to implement, but I'm sure such a future scheme could be financed somehow ... maybe with a rise in current toll charges, for example?


Woodsy42 said...

We travel a number of times each year from the midlands via the M40 and M25 to kent and back. The 'alternative' - such as it is - is take the opposite direction of the M25 and add to the conjestion past Heathrow.
The problem with the Dartford crossing is not actually the money, which is just annoying, the real problem is the ridiculous delays caused by collecting it that have turned a superb 4 lane bridge into a car park.

Anonymous said...

Well said Mr. P.

Yes, you are right, the traffic around the Dartford crossing is very bad, and it doesn't take a genius to point an accusing figure at the toll booths.

Is it me, or has it got noticably worse since the toll went from £1 to £1.50? Personally, it takes me at least an extra 10 to 20 seconds to get the right change ready for the £1.50 toll when compared to the much simpler £1 toll.

Imagine that 10 to 20 second delay multiplied by hundreds of cars per hour for each toll booth and you get delays of many minutes building up in one hour alone.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Woodsy: Agree enirely, on the northern side of the crossing especially, the traffic is appalling. A government-inflicted bottleneck where no congestion would occur without it.

Labour reasoned that the tolls had to stay to prevent congestion. They had a study commissioned and everything. Course, we know how those work now, don't we?

daedparrot: I don't travel through there myself much, but I don't doubt the increase worsened delays. I remember once (around the time of the increase) sitting for 30 odd minutes next to a coach with trailer full of cycling equipment looking at the poor saps inside seeing their holiday being whittled away minute by minute as the state exercised its modern day Dick Turpin operation.

Anonymous said...

The obvious way of cutting congestion on the Dartford crossing
is to put the cost up to circa £15
per crossing.

Anonymous said...

Do we know how much it costs to maintain vs how much it raises in cash.

I would argue that the tolls should be set against that.

KenS said...

Do we know how much it costs to maintain vs how much it raises in cash.I would argue that the tolls should be set against that.

Why? It isn't done for the other 99.99% of the road system.

Anonymous said...

Now if we were more like the French, we would simply drive a load of lorries down to the tolls, switch off engines and block the fuckers until the "authorities" give in.
Either that or use the alternatives and create massive traffic jams in SE London. Yes it would make things awkward for ourselves for a little while as well and therein lies the problem. The English just have no backbone for a fight against the government.

Bald headed John