* Prices may differ from that shown
As anyone who lives near or travels through, the Dartford tunnel will tell you it soon adds up and works out very expensive!
Between the hours of 10PM and 6AM it's free and it's always free for a motorbike but otherwise it's £1.50 for a car, £2.00 for 2 axle goods and £3.70 for multi axle goods. This is the charge just to go one way so if you're doing a return journey the charges are doubled. You can see how this can add up if you do the journey regularly.
The dart tag is a device for those of you who live locally, are exempt from the charge (more on this later) or those who simply do the journey regularly. With one of these devices the prices go down to £1.00, £1.75 and £3.20 respectively so assuming most of you drive cars that's a saving of £1 per return journey - this soon adds up. (prices correct as of May 2011)
Applying For And Receiving Your Dart-Tag
For this part of the review please assume you are applying for a normal dart-tag, not any of the schemes listed above, these will be covered later in the review.
You can either apply for a dart-tag online or by post, although the forms to apply by post need to be downloaded from the internet and printed out so you may as well just apply online!
Their website www.dart-tag.co.uk has links on the right hand side to open a dart-tag account. They claim that you could save up to £20 a month, I guess that's based on travelling through the tunnel once each way per week day. Anyway, there is a link to open an account online, download an application form and download a direct debit form (if needed). They give the address to return printed out forms and the direct debit mandate to and there is an e-mail address in case you need extra help.
I chose to apply online and this was problem free, it simply involves giving a few details such as name, address, telephone number and email address. They also take payment details as when you request a tag they take £10 off you - this isn't a charge as the tag itself is free but instead this is added onto the tag as credit for you to use at the tolls. The whole process including processing my payment took no more then around 5 minutes.
If applying online then you can only make your initial payment by credit or debit card, if you apply by post you can pay by cheque or direct debit. If you choose to pay by direct debit your tag will only be sent out once they have received the payment. However you choose to apply they ask you to tell them what your "low balance" warning should be. The minimum this can be set to is £2.
I first requested my tag online after business hours on Wednesday, I received the email to tell me that my request to open an account had been accepted and £10 had been taken off my card immediately after submitting the form and I received the tag itself in letterbox friendly packaging in the post on Friday.
Attaching And Using The Tag
Attaching the tag itself is easy, a holder with a sticky area is provided. The sticky part has been stuck to my windscreen for around 5 months now and has not shown any signs of coming loose. Those of you worried about theft of the tag may want to just leave the holder off and hold the tag up to your windscreen as you approach the tolls as I'm not sure the holder will re-stick if taken off. (Please note however that due to my wariness of this I haven't tested it and therefore can't say for certain that it won't stick.)
Once in the holder the tag will remain there quite firmly and won't slip out or come loose. As you drive up to the tolls a signal is transmitted between the tag and the toll, the tag will beep letting you know that it's been accepted and the barrier will open. If you have reached your low credit balance then a visual sign will be shown on the display just by the toll booth, no audible or other warning will be given. The credit is taken off your tag automatically.
You can use any toll booth although the self-service ones are usually quicker. Your tag will not expire provided you use it at least once a year. If you don't use your tag for 12 months then your account will expire.
Statements, Checking Your Account And Topping Up
On the home page - link given above, there is a log in option on the top left hand side of the page. For this you need your account number and password. You will get your account number when you receive your dart-tag and you set your password when you first sign up.
Once logged in you can manage and edit your account, this allows you to view your statements (you can also get paper statements if you select this option at sign up), check how much credit is left on the tag and top up with credit or debit card. You can continue to top up by cheque but these need to be posted in to the head office - the address of which is given on the website. If you know how much you will use the tag each month or want to top up regularly to ensure you always have credit on your tag you can also fill in the direct debit form and send this off to them - they will then take a certain amount from your account each month and credit this to your tag for you to use.
When you top up by credit/debit card or direct debit the amount goes straight onto your tag, when you top up by cheque the amount goes onto your tag after the cheque has cleared.
Local Resident Scheme
If you live within the Dartford or Thurrock council borders you qualify for the local resident scheme. This scheme has an annual fee of £10 a year and this entitles you to 50 free journeys a year and every trip after this will cost just 20p each way.
50 journeys without this scheme will cost £50 on a normal tag account so you can see how this scheme pays for itself with just that.
To sign up to this scheme you need to provide proof of car ownership and two proof of addresses (list of accepted documents on the website).
When a year is almost up they send you a renewal letter, if you wish to reapply for the scheme you need to send your proof of address and £10 fee again (but no proof of car ownership if you're using the same car), if you choose not to renew with the local resident scheme you are allowed to keep using the tag but it will convert to a normal tag account after the year is up.
Each tag given out in this scheme can only be used in the nominated car - however, you can have multiple tags per house provided you can prove that the tag is for the sole use of residents in the house.
(Information about this scheme taken from dart-tag website)
Exempt Vehicle Registration Scheme
If your vehicle is: exempt from paying the Vehicle Excise Tax on the grounds of disability then you may be exempt from paying the toll.
To apply for this you need to print off the application form and return this with pages 1 and 2 of your V5 to the address given on the website. Once registered your car will remain on this scheme for two years or until you choose to cancel this. A reminder letter will be sent when two years is almost up which will allow you to reregister if you need to.
The only difference with this scheme is that you need to use the staffed booths rather then the self-service ones.
(Information about this scheme taken from dart-tag website)
I have not had any problems with my tag and therefore never needed to call their customer services. However an email and landline number is provided on the site should you ever need to.
When I first ordered my tag I forgot to put my surname for the delivery details and they called me to query this, the lady I spoke to was very polite, friendly and helpful so if this is anything to go by it's a good start to their customer service!
It's a tricky one to recommend. It's worth it's weight in gold to me as I go through the tunnel at least monthly so in a year will save me at least £12.
A bit of maths...
Four return journeys without the tag will cost £12 in a car. With the tag you can get six journeys for that £12. Therefore if you are likely to travel across the crossing regularly at least once a year then the tag will save you a lot of money in the long run and since the tag itself is completely free of charge then I have no hesitation in recommending it but it really depends on how much you are going to use it.
If you qualify for either of the schemes described above then it's a no-brainer. For the amount of money registration could save you and given that the tag proves to be no problem at all then I highly recommend them.
The first tunnel of the Dartford Crossing was opened in 1963, followed by a second in 1980 and finally the Queen Elizabeth Bridge in 1991. Tolls were introduced from the outset with the justification of paying the construction costs. These have long been paid off yet the tolls remain. Charging £1.50 for a car. However a Dart-tag can be acquired then topped up with cash. When used it will only charge you £1 to cross the river.
The tag itself is a small grey device which can be attached to either your windscreen (mount supplied) or to a sun visor. The device uses RF technology to connect to a receiver on the booth which will deduct your charge, beep then open the barrier.
There is a special "Dart-Tag" lane marked on the far right of the booths but is just a normal auto-toll, taking cash so is not really any quicker. So I'm not sure if you save any real time using the tag but with a third off the standard price and no messing around trying to find change its a most for any regular users.
For those poor people who have the misfortune to need to cross the river Thames at Dartford two things in life are fairly certain: (1) there will be queues and (2) you'll be considerably lighter in pocket after each journey (unless you chose to make each crossing between the hours of 10pm and 6am).
There is, however, a rather natty gadget that helps alleviate, in a small way, those two certainties. The DART TAG.
A DART TAG is a small grey device, about the size of a small Swan Vesta matchbox which looks rather like a miniature pager. It's fitted with a chip that emits some kind of signal which will be picked up at the toll booths at the Dartford Crossing. This in turn opens the barrier for you and debits your account with the cost of the journey. The TAG can be stuck to your windscreen (sticky pads supplied), clipped to something (such as your tax disk holder) or simply held up to the windscreen as you approach the barriers (note you must hold it the right way round).
ADVANTAGES of the DART TAG
1 - Waits at the toll booths can be reduced considerably as you can go through any of the booth lanes including the auto-tolls (there used to be a dedicated DART lane but this has long since gone).
2 - You don't need change for the tolls.
3 - You pay less - for a car £1 as opposed to £1.50 per trip (correct as of August 2009).
DISADVANTAGES OF THE DART TAG
I wouldn't say that there are any disadvantages of the DART TAG as such although there are some problems.
1 - You must ensure that the TAG is displayed the right way round (with the logo facing towards the driver). This is clearly not an issue if you have stuck the TAG to your screen but, if like us, you use the TAG between two cars that's not appropriate. Cue much embarrassment when you can't work out why there's a queue building behind you and your TAG just won't let you through!
2 - You must have credit on the TAG for it to work. You can check credit levels online but, unless you are a frequent user with a similar spend pattern each month you're unlikely to do this. Messages at the toll booths will tell you when your credit is running low but these are visual only and as the crossing tends to be busy I'm more alert to the traffic than to any message on a screen outside of the car. As a result I've run out of credit twice without having noticed the low credit warnings.
3 - If you have a highly reflective windscreen (such as those with glare reduction) you might experience issues with the TAG being read at the barriers (in much the same way as such screens prevent traffic info signals being received by stand-alone sat navs).
EASE OF USE
In practice the DART TAG is extremely easy to use and saves time and money.
With the TAG in place (either fixed or held to the screen by hand) you simply drive up to the barrier, wait for the green light and a beep from the TAG, and continue your journey. You'll quickly get used to where you need to stop, slightly closer to the barrier than I imagined and just in front of the coin collection buckets on the auto-tolls.
Topping up the TAG can be done online, by post or by phone (although when you do it by phone you'll just be reading your debit card number to an operator and trusting them!). The TAG website appears secure and is reasonably straightforward although it's not that easy to top up online when out and about as you will need to know your TAG registration number which, unhelpfully, is nowhere to be found on your TAG!
The minimum top up on the TAG is £10 (which also acts as your deposit. All of the £10 is, however, available as credit to use on the crossing). There is no minimum or maximum credit time and so if you use the crossing even once a month this will be worth getting. In fact, you only need to use the TAG once a year for it to remain valid. If you no longer wish to use the TAG then any remaining credit will be refunded.
I've not had any issues when topping up the TAG and, on the occasions that I have had to speak to an operator by phone they have been very helpful and efficient.
The DART TAG scheme is currently administered by Le Crossing Company Limited however, from September 13 2009 the administration will pass to Connect Plus (M25) Limited. There have been a few changes to the terms and conditions but nothing that significant. Time will tell whether the administration remains as good.
I would thoroughly recommend the DART TAG system to anyone who has the misfortune of having to use the crossings at Dartford. It's cheaper and quicker (in general) and works without major fault. I'd always recommend having some spare change in the car just in case, like me, you miss the low credit warning message.