Contrary to popular belief, your annual car tax is actually a ‘Vehicle Excise Duty’ rather than a tax that directly pays for your right to use a public road. So, when the Government or a private company or trust wants to charge you to use a specific stretch of tarmac, it has to do so via a discrete levy.
These charges, or tolls as they’re more commonly known, can be split into two main categories: those that are levied to cover the cost of building and/or maintaining the road, and those that are put in place to try and discourage you from using them in the first place.
While Scotland and Northern Ireland don’t have any toll roads at all, Wales and England have a surprising number – here’s a run-down of them all.
London Congestion Charge
The London Congestion Charge zone operates between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday, and you have to pay a fee of £11.50 per day. You can pay this online on a one-off basis or, if you enter the zone regularly, you might be better off registering for the Congestion Charge Auto Pay scheme. This gives you a discount of £1 a day, although there is a one-off administration fee of £10 when you first register.
Residents get a 90% discount, which brings the cost down to just £1.05 a day, and some categories of drivers are eligible for a full exemption. These include Blue Badge holders, drivers of Ultra-Low Emission vehicles (generally, although not exclusively, electric cars) and vehicles with more than nine seats.
The Congestion Charge Zone covers central London and if you enter the zone without paying the charge, you will be issued with a fine of £130 automatically. This is reduced to £65 if you pay within 14 days. You can pay the fine online here.
The Durham Congestion Charge
Durham operates a similar scheme within the Durham peninsula. The scheme, which is aimed at cutting congestion and pollution, operates from Monday to Saturday between 10am and 4pm. The daily rate is £2 and full details can be found here.
Toll roads and bridges on motorways
The M6 toll road
The M6 toll road runs from junction 3a of the M6 through to junction 11a in the north-east of the West Midlands. It provides a 27-mile less-congested alternative to the M6, although the charge to drive a car along it at peak times is a hefty £5.90.
This charge is lower during off-peak hours, but caravanners will face a £10 charge during the peak daytime hours. Nonetheless, it’s a great way to save time and stress when the M6 is congested, which it usually is…
You can pay at one of the kiosks using a credit or a debit card or cash. You can also register for an electronic tag, which allows you whizz through without stopping.
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The Dartford Crossing
The Dartford Crossing is possibly the UK’s most infamous toll road. Crossing the Thames on the eastern section of the M25 by way of the southbound Queen Elizabeth II bridge or northbound tunnels, you have to pay the toll in advance or by midnight the day after crossing, which can be a pain if you forget.
However, this does mean that there are no queues to pay at the kiosks because automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) takes care of the job of identifying who has and who hasn’t paid.
The toll is payable every day between 6am and 10pm. The cost for a car, even one towing a caravan, is £2.50 each way (or £1.67 if you set up a Dart account, which saves you up to a third on every crossing) and you can pay this online, by post, by phone or in person at a Payzone store.
You are excused the toll if you ride a motorcycle or your vehicle is exempt from the annual VED charge on the grounds of disability, although it must be noted that Blue Badge holders do not automatically qualify.
Everyone else has to stump up or face a £70 fine, which is reduced to £35 if you pay within 14 days. However, you need to be aware that it also rises to £108 – plus the original crossing fee – if you don’t pay it within 28 days.
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The Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing
The M48 Severn Bridge and the M4 Second Severn Crossing toll charges only apply if you’re crossing the river westbound. Car drivers, including caravans and other trailers, must pay a toll of £6.70, although regular users can get an electronic Severn TAG for their car that can reduce the cost of each journey for an annual fee of £117.92. If you haven’t got a Severn TAG you can pay with cash, or a credit or debit card.
Like the Dartford Crossing, anyone that drives a car that is exempt from the annual VED charge by way of a disability is exempt, although you do need to register the car’s details by sending in the V5 document.
Bridges and tunnels on A roads
There are nine bridges and tunnels on A roads in England and Wales that charge a toll. They are
• The Queensway and Kingsway Mersey tunnels in Liverpool. These cost £1.70 for cars, and £3.40 for vehicles of less than 3.5 tonnes towing a trailer or caravan and the charge is payable each way. Regular users can purchase a fast tag, which cuts that to £1.20 and £2.40 respectively.
Interestingly – and worrying if you drive an old banger – there is a minimum penalty fee of £75 per hour plus a £60 penalty surcharge if your car breaks down in either tunnel…
On a more positive note, you can take a two-hour guided tour of the Queensway Tunnel on foot. It is utterly fascinating and you should really take the time to do it if you ever find yourself in Liverpool – and, best of all, it only costs £6 per person!
• The Humber Bridge, which crosses the Humber estuary outside Hull, charges £1.50 each way, or £1.35 if you have a Humber TAG.
• The A19 Tyne Tunnels, or TT2 as they are known, link North and South Tyneside. The cost for a vehicle is £1.70 each way with motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclist going free. Only coins are permitted as payment at the kiosks but regular users can register for a cashless Tyne Tunnels permit, which gives a 10% discount.
• The Tamar Bridge links Saltash in Cornwall with Plymouth in Devon. A £1.50 toll is levied but this is only payable when you are driving from Cornwall into Devon. This toll is reduced to 75p if drivers take advantage of the TamarTag, although anyone towing a caravan or a trailer has to pay double.
• The Dunham Bridge links Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire by way of the River Trent. The toll is 40p for cars, and a pre-paid swipe card is available offering a 10% discount.
• The Cleddau Bridge spans the River Cleddau, linking Neyland and Pembroke Dock in Wales. Formerly known as the Milford Haven Bridge, it costs 75p to cross it in a car, a fee that doubles if you’re towing a caravan. A discounted book of 20 tickets costs £12, while a larger book of 50 tickets costs £30.
• The Itchen Bridge crosses – yes, you’ve guessed it – the River Itchen in Southampton. The toll is 60p during peak times and 50p off-peak. Residents get a 20p discount and a SmartCities payment card is available.
• The Grade II listed Batheaston to Bathampton toll bridge crosses the River Avon outside Bath. The toll of 80p is payable each way, with trailers and caravans being charged 50p more. A monthly car pass costs £24.
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Toll bridges on minor roads
There are a small number of toll bridges on minor roads, all of which take cash and none of which charge a fortune.
One that is worth seeking out is the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, which is worth driving or walking for the spectacular views alone. The toll is just £1 per vehicle per crossing, all of which goes to help the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust maintain the bridge. There is no charge for pedestrians, cyclists – or those crossing on horseback!
A full list of toll roads can be found here.