A slew of complaints has emerged from motorists who have been charged twice to use the crossing
In April, it was the ‘doppelganger’ car tax disc furore. Now, the M25’s Dartford Crossing tolling scheme has become the second electronic revenue-raising system, introduced and administered by a government agency within the past six months, to double-charge drivers, the AA reveals.
A slew of complaints has emerged from motorists who diligently tried to pay the Dart Charge online, encountered system problems and then found they had been charged twice to use the crossing.
What could have been dismissed as an irritating but not unexpected teething problem, which should have been quickly resolved, has turned into a potential Achilles heel for Dart Charge. With the London Congestion Charging scheme now well-established, after early meltdowns in customer service, the AA argues that it wasn’t ‘rocket science’ for a similar scheme to be introduced successfully for the Dartford Crossing.
However, in terms of customer service, the AA told the Highways Agency that imposing free-flow charges at Dartford was in a different league to the London scheme given that there are more than 44m charged crossings at Dartford every year. The AA said it was critical that drivers across the UK and beyond were sufficiently informed about the scheme and that the back office systems running payments and penalties were customer focussed.
The vast majority of Dartford Crossing users have a trouble-free experience with Dart Charge but, as was found with the London Congestion Charging Scheme, small technicalities can escalate and frustrated customers can quickly expose shortfalls in service standards and get the scheme a bad name.
Soon after the Dart Charge began (late November), it was clear that some drivers were running up against, perhaps inevitable, computerised glitches when trying to pay. It was equally foreseeable that there would need to be a system of customer support to resolve complaints quickly and painlessly while the Dart Charge scheme bedded in.
However, in February, it was apparent that early problems weren’t going away and complaints weren’t being resolved quickly. Twitter and Facebook chatter clearly shows that there are many frustrated customers, some credit must go to DartCharge for intervening and trying to help them, but equally there may be many others with a complaint who haven’t spoken out. A recent email copied to the AA illustrates the frustration:
I booked in advance 18/2/15 and on the first attempt your website failed and told me to try again.
Please can you investigate the fact that when I checked my bank last night you have taken two payments for this transaction.
I tried to phone your customer services number as quoted on the website and the chap I spoke to had a very poor attitude to my complaint saying “yea a lot of people have been getting this”….. “you need to email customer services and tell them….”
I appreciate that sometimes things go wrong but I am very annoyed at the attitude of your staff and their unwillingness to help me.
This complaint remains unresolved because the driver eventually gave up trying to get his money back.
Another email from an AA member illustrates the absurdity of the double-charging:
Upon checking my latest Dart Charge Account Statement I have found that on 13th April 2015 I was charged twice for the same crossing.
The entries on my statement are as follows:-
And from Dart Charge’s twitter channel examples include:
@EmilyvonR May 8 @DartCharge so despite already paying i need to write in and provide evidence AND pay for postage?!? You must be joking!!!
@Ollie_Bed88 May 8 What an absolute joke @DartCharge are! Somehow lost my money i paid to my account and then making pay again to clear balance!!!!
@tulsi92 May 8 Still waiting for a refund @DartCharge this is ridiculous it's been almost 2 months. Pathetic. Clearly this is how you're making the money..
@clive_turrell May 8 @DartCharge twice I've credited my account online without it appearing on my account. When you call staff haven't a clue...
@1975_scott May 8 @DartCharge I've had an email saying my account will b closed due to insufficient funds. I should b on the local resident tag not standard!
It is particularly galling that any toll remains at Dartford. The tolls and charges were supposed to be lifted in 2003 when the cost of the scheme had been met
Edmund King, AA president
“As has been highlighted by the resentment of families who passed on cars to relatives and had to pay Vehicle Excise Duty twice for that month, another new government scheme for drivers has produced unintended consequences - resulting in a backlash from the people it was supposed to serve,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.
“It is particularly galling that any toll remains at Dartford. The tolls and charges were supposed to be lifted in 2003 when the cost of the scheme had been met. The new scheme has undoubtedly eased the congestion at busy times but, for some, there is a new concern regarding the behind-the-scenes bureaucracy that accompanies this supposedly high-tech, non-stop tolling.
We expect appeals to ramp up in the coming months and if the authority does not act quickly to reduce errors it could be embarrassing
Edmund King, AA president
King adds: “We expect many drivers to incur penalties through not being aware of the scheme. And those who seek help with problems they have experienced with the 'back office' may get frustrated when problems are not resolved quickly or easily enough. We believe that, so far, only around 400 appeals have been considered by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and thankfully, because of the teething problems, the vast majority of drivers are winning their cases. We expect appeals to ramp up in the coming months and if the authority does not act quickly to reduce errors it could be embarrassing.
“With the scheme now into its sixth month, the AA calls for a transparent review of customer service standards and the performance of the electronic processes so any needed improvements can be made. The AA also believes a complaints system and 'users group' should be established to ensure users have a voice.”
The AA welcomes DartCharge’s decision to issue warnings not penalties to first-time non-payers and hopes that this continues until awareness of the scheme increases.
(18 May 2015)