Sunday, 28 December 2014
changing the London meaning of red circle with white C?
I drive regularly in and around London and so have my car set up for the Congestion Charge payment scheme via Automatic Number Plate Recognition. It means I don't have to worry about manual payment or penalties when I trip the London Congestion Charge zone.
The symbol for congestion charge is a red circle with a white C inside it. Easy enough? Yes, until the recent Dart Charge system opened for the Dartford crossing. It's at the east side of London where the River Thames is crossed by either a tunnel (northbound) or a bridge (southbound). For years it had a series of toll booths, but they have been recently replaced with ANPR style cameras which match the car registration with a payment.
The symbol for the system? A red circle with a white C.
Exactly the same as the Congestion Charge.
So someone using the Congestion charge ANPR system for payment could be forgiven for thinking that the same system works for the bridge and tunnel?
It doesn't. Although its another automatic number plate recognition system, it's entirely different. The hours of use are different and the messages on the approaches say you'll need to pay by midday the following day, although it's not really that clear about how, except they say 'find us online'.
Actually, especially from the south side the toll messages can blend in with the various road works, diversion, no unaccompanied flammables, new road layout under construction and similar sets of signage. There's also still a barrier which automatically rises and which, particularly during the Christmas/New Year period, gives the impression that the system may be switched off. Just like London Congestion Charge which is suspended from 25th December to 1st January.
Fortunately I've done all of the search online stuff and am suitably Dart Charge enabled.
When I enrolled, it asked for the car registration and payment detail, and, at the time, I had two crossings to pay for. This is where there's another interesting aspect. There is no Pay button on the website. After enrolling, I still had to phone a separate 0300 number to pay for the prior crossings. And I had to pay the full price instead of the "I'm enrolled" discount price. The call centre system helpfully asks for the vehicle registration number when you call it, before placing into a queuing system.
Unfortunately, the chap that answered the call didn't have the car reg. information from the queuing system. Nor did he have the information from the payment system that I'd entered, so I had to go through it all again. I asked him why there was no pay button on the web-site. He said he didn't know, but I was far from the first person to make that comment.
I've used the system again since that time and it does seem to be working now, so I won't be one of what The Highways Agency calls 'first time offenders' with 14 days of grace to pay the first bill.
Apparently on the first full day of the scheme roughly 10,000 Penalty Charge Notices were sent out to motorists. The full fine is £70 unless paid by the midnight after the crossing and it rises to £105 if not paid within 28 days.
I should be paying £1.67 per crossing now on the significantly faster toll gate.