Operator confusion over Dart Charge
New system faces teething troubles
The recent changes to the Dartford Crossing, which came in to force at the end of last month, have not been without their teething problems. Dart Charge, as the system is now called means that you no longer have to pay at the crossing, indeed there is no means by which you can pay at the crossing. The toll booths are now unmanned and are due to be removed in the next few weeks, with work already well advanced on the southbound side.
Although communications that the system was changing this year was abundant, what was actually going to happen and when left operators in some uncertainty. Now that the system is in place, it is still causing confusion.
I spoke to Andy Warrender, Coaching Consultant at the CPT, who has been dealing with a number of queries from operators. Initial problems with accessing the website were quickly rectified and this was probably due to sheer volume of traffic. The DVLA had similar problems when they scrapped the vehicle tax disc. The next problem came when trying to register their credit card details when setting up an account. There was a flaw in the programming that meant that the computer would not accept a three digit CVC code, again, this was soon rectified.
There is no capability for companies that are non-limited to register online. This is surely an oversight on the part of the organisation committee. They can however call a free phone number and register that way. The problem with this system, which I found out, is that there appear to be insufficient operatives dealing with these enquiries and when I rang on a Tuesday afternoon, I eventually gave up after just under 17 minutes – this is unfortunately not uncommon, as anyone who has ever tried to deal with British Telecom will know, it doesn’t however make it acceptable. Andy assures me that his contact at the Highways Agency has been incredibly helpful in highlighting these problems to the relevant departments and that this problem is being addressed.
I contacted a Highways Agency spokesperson who said: ‘The launch of Dart Charge has been fantastic news for drivers, who have experienced significant improvements to their journeys – especially southbound. We have been working hard with stakeholders, including the CPT, to help people understand and prepare for the changes – and we will continue this important work now that Dart Charge is live.’
When you do get through to a customer services assistant, the information that is received can be contradictory. The call centre operators are difficult to understand and appear ‘ill informed’ as Deborah Skinner, one of the partners of Skinners Travel of Oxted discovered. She has had a Dart Tag account for a number of years and was notified by email that she needed to set up a new account. When she rang to do so, she was asked for the registration number of the vehicles. Not all of them were on the system and she was asked whether they were registered with DVLA – What a question to ask a coach operator! With the system due to go live in three weeks time, she was told that she would be sent a spreadsheet within the next two weeks. After a series of communications, the spread sheet arrived and she was able to register all her vehicles.
Deborah is not alone in thinking that the Dart Tag is being superseded by the Dart Charge scheme; however, she has been told by the call centre operatives that if she uses the crossing more than ten times a month, it is worth keeping the tags. Some months she might and others less so, her usage is inconsistent and in the past she has been asked to return tags due to lack of use.
The Agency responded, ‘We are monitoring call centre performance closely and will continue to take any action necessary to improve the service. We’re aware that due to the high volume of calls some customers have not been able to get through to the Dart Charge call centre. We apologise for any inconvenience this has caused and are addressing this with our supplier as a top priority by bringing in additional resources. The website has been performing very well, and for most people is the quickest and easiest way to pay their Dart Charge. We’re encouraging people to use the website wherever possible.
Deborah currently has 18 registered vehicles and ten tags and has been advised that the tags are vehicle specific. As we understand that the charging works through ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) is there a risk that you may be charged twice if the vehicle is also displaying a tag? We have already seen similar problems with contactless payments on the London Underground when you have two of these types of card in your wallet.
Deborah was also asked if she would like more tags and it was implied that each tag would have a serial number that would tie in with a specific vehicle although as of yet she has not received any paper work to tie in the serial number against a vehicle. Like most businesses, time is of the essence and Deborah has spent a lot of valuable time trying to be compliant with the new system to avoid hefty fines and still isn’t sure whether what she is doing is right. Despite receiving an email from Fleet Management at Dart, she is still no clearer.
On continued DartTag use the Highways Agency said: ‘Anyone who had a DartTag account can carry on using their Dart Tag at the Crossing. We’ve worked hard to help DartTag customers migrate their accounts to Dart Charge, and have been very encouraged with the response. The DartTag contact centre has now closed; any queries about DartTag accounts can be dealt with by the Dart Charge team.’ He added, ‘DartTags have always been linked to a specific vehicle; this is even more important under Dart Charge to avoid the risk of being charged twice for a single crossing. We’ve been sending additional Dart tags to customers wherever needed.’
On the subject of costs, something else that Deborah believes wasn’t communicated was the price increase once the new system came in to place. Savings of up to a third can be made however if you don’t ‘pay as you go’ and register for a pre-pay account. To avoid incurring fines you need to pay in advance or by midnight of the day following the crossing.
Asked about communicating the increase in the crossing charge, the Agency spokesperson said: ‘The increase in the Crossing Charge was announced by the Department for Transport in 2012 and followed a full public consultation. We’ve included reminders about the new charge in our Dart Charge public information campaign.’
To register for a pre-pay account or to pay the Dart Charge after crossing, visit www.gov.uk/dart-charge or to speak with an advisor, call 0300 3000 120
Overall, though the improved journey times are very welcome, the change hasn’t been problem free for a number of operators. We’ll be coming back to the subject so let us know about your experiences.