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DART across the Thames
Member Name: cmh4135
Advantages: Speeds up journies and savs pennies
Disadvantages: Poor low credit warning and awkward to top up on the move
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.
Summary: A necessity for those who need to cross the Thames at Dartford more than once a month.
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