‘C’ for caution and confusion at Dartford Crossing warns AA
The AA says millions of UK drivers remain unaware of and confused by the new electronic charging scheme at the Dartford crossing. Almost three out of every five drivers who encounter the 'C' sign on the M25 take it to refer to the London congestion charge zone when it is supposed to indicate the Dart Charge, for crossing the Thames on the eastern side of the M25.
Drivers in London (87%), the South East (70%), and Eastern England (63%) are most likely to be misled into not fully appreciating the 'C' sign’s meaning, according to an AA-Populus poll in June 2015*.
In another AA-Populus poll (May 2015**), 52% of respondents across the UK said they were not aware of the charging scheme at the Dartford crossing. This included a lack of awareness at relatively high levels in regions very close to the crossing; London (28%), South-East (27%) and East Midlands (53%). It was only in East Anglia and Essex where awareness levels reached a peak of 82%.
This may help to explain why the initial failure-to-pay rate solely among UK drivers at the Dartford crossing was 50% worse than that predicted over the longer term. Drivers unaware of the scheme are suddenly confronted with the 'C' sign at this very busy location.
They can become confused and hesitant but may quickly forget once they have passed the vital charging point. Whilst Highways England’s recent awareness campaign has had some impact, it is clearly not enough to spread the message to everyone who may use the crossing, especially infrequent or ‘spur of the moment’ users.
The AA also says more ‘PayZone’ points are needed at key motorway service areas and at the ports and Eurotunnel.
To add to potential driver bewilderment, the 'C' sign is not officially recognised as a sign for ‘tolled’ roads.
According to the Department for Transport’s ‘Know your Traffic Signs – Official Edition (page 142)’:
“Road charging was first introduced in central London and within a small area in Durham. The white on red 'C' symbol is used on signs in both schemes and will, in future, be used to indicate road-charging schemes that might be introduced elsewhere. The symbol is not currently used for toll roads and tolled crossings, such as the M6 Toll motorway and the Dartford Crossing.”
Such is the lack of understanding among drivers that only 6% of 25,810 AA members surveyed by Populus (17-24 June 2015) recognised the 'C' sign as indicating a road user charging scheme in general.
In future, the sign is likely to appear for a charging scheme at the Severn road bridges, if the argument is lost for the crossing to be made free once it is paid for.
Presenting drivers who are unfamiliar with the Dartford stretch of the M25 with a puzzle, while they are supposed to be concentrating on a busy road, is very poor
Paul Watters, AA head of roads policy
“The ‘C’ sign has come to stand for ‘confusion’, primarily associated with congestion charge zone schemes in London and Durham. Drivers associate it with entering an area with congestion rather than a charge to use part of the trans-European road network at Dartford – one that was paid for as far back as 2003, through specific tolling,” says Paul Watters, the AA’s head of roads policy.
“It is bad enough trying to use an existing sign with a specific purpose to mask what is in effect a revenue-raising scheme. However, presenting drivers who are unfamiliar with the Dartford stretch of the M25 with a puzzle, while they are supposed to be concentrating on a busy road, is very poor.”
“The AA says that, whilst electronic charging at Dartford has alleviated some congestion, it is not the clearest way to impose road charging on drivers - particularly when the way it is done doesn’t make sense.”
(19 August 2015)
* Populus received 25,810 responses from AA members to its online poll between 17 and 24 June 2015.
** Populus received 28,265 responses from AA members to its online poll between 18 and 28 May 2015.
Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.