The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge opened in 1991 and carries southbound traffic over the Thames between Thurrock and Dartford
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 and 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, currently at toll booths located on the southside of the river or through a pre-payment account known as a DART-Tag.
The crossing is a crucial gateway carrying around 160,000 vehicles daily and is a frequent cause of congestion and delay in the area because of capacity limitations and delays at the toll booths.
Dart Charge began operation at 6am on Sunday 30 November with the last cash payment being taken at the crossing at around 10pm the evening before.
From 30 November 2014 the way you pay the Crossing charge will change when a new scheme called Dart Charge is introduced. Dart Charge replaces cash payments at toll booths and the DART-Tag.
Instead of stopping at a barrier to pay the charge at a booth, drivers will need to pay remotely, away from the Crossing. There will be several ways to pay, including online, at one of many retail outlets including those with a Payzone terminal, or by phone.
You will be able to 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.
Existing DART-Tag holders will be contacted before the changes take place about moving their accounts.
Charges from 30 November 2014 (current charge)
It will continue to be free to use the crossing between 22:00 and 06:00.
The cheapest way to pay is using a pre-pay account
Alternatively, once Dart Charge is operating you can make one-off payments in advance or by midnight the day after crossing:
For safety reasons, traffic management measures that include a system of traffic signals and barriers will be used on the approach to the northbound tunnels.
There will also be substantial physical change at the Crossing as existing toll booths are removed and a new road layout is introduced. The main construction work will start after the introduction of Dart Charge and is due to be completed by spring 2015.
All payments to use the Dartford crossing will have to be remote - there will be 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 will be 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.
(updated 18 May 2015)