We made a rare trip to Essex from Devon last Christmas, crossing the Thames at Dartford. We spent the last few miles before the crossing looking for the notices that used to tell us how much it was to cross so we could get the coins ready. We noticed some promotional-looking signs for “Dart-Charge” and wondered what that was. When we crossed without seeing a toll booth or any plain explanation of how much it cost to cross the Thames, we decided it was free. What a nice surprise at Christmas!
Six weeks later I received (they’re probably using ANPR and looking up the registered owner) a letter saying I owed £37.50 (£2.50 for the crossing, £35 penalty for late payment). Appeal against the penalty is multiple choice – you are in effect selecting which automated rejection letter you wish to receive. I ticked the “impropriety” option because I expect to be aware that I am incurring a cost when I incur a cost. Worse, if I am to be assumed party to a contract, I would expect to be invoiced for the surprise debt before I am penalised for not paying it.
My appeal of ‘surprise charging / penalty’ is rejected on the basis
The Dartford Crossing Scheme has been well publicised in the media
, echoing the start of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy with no trace of irony:
There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now. … What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.
So I paid the penalty and the charge today and filled in the “Your opinion is important to us. Tell us what you though of our service” form. I felt a bit better.
I feel robbed. You rejected my appeal (no obvious contract of sale) out of hand writing “well publicised in the media”. What if I don’t consume your preferred media? I imagine not many people living in Devon who travel infrequently to the South East are avid consumers of Dartford news!
Congratulations. You have earned £2.50 and my lasting antipathy. I will never regard that £35 as anything other than a debt you owe to me.
You could improve this service – for at least the first year of operation – by notifying infrequent, distant travellers of the change in charging for the crossing and sending them (a fraction of your crossings) in the first instance an invoice for the crossing fee alone.
I submitted the form, resigning myself to the unlikelihood that anyone would read my comment, let alone respond to it. I got this:
I’m going outside now to teach the kids how to make a trebuchet.