THOUSANDS of drivers have called on Tyne Tunnel bosses to end the ‘tough practice’ of imposing Â£ 60 fines after major changes were introduced several weeks ago.
Tunnels officials again faced backlash in the time allowed to pay the Â£ 1.90 toll online after the barriers were removed and the route went cashless.
Read more: Anger over lack of independent appeal process after drivers fined Â£ 60 at Tyne Tunnel
Two online petitions accusing tunnel bosses of causing stress and “damage to the reputation” of the Northeast have so far drawn more than 3,000 signatures.
UPDATE: Tyne Tunnel Fines Man Petition Gets 4,000 Signatures Within 24 Hours
TT2, which operates the tunnels on behalf of the North East Combined Authority, continued to defend its new cashless system, saying it faces costs to recover unpaid tolls.
But speaking to The Northern Echo, activist Mark Birkett called the payment delay – currently at midnight the day after your trip – “ridiculously unfair” and praised the fines imposed on drivers through a “absurd” system as a “brutal practice”.
In a petition set up by Mr Birkett, he claimed the payment window was prompting drivers who fully intended to pay for “unnecessary distress” and urged the government to intervene.
Read more: Toys ‘R’ Us appears to be updating its UK website – and fans are thrilled
Drivers who do not pay their toll by midnight the next day receive an ‘Unpaid Toll Notice’ of Â£ 60, reduced to Â£ 30 if paid within 14 days.
Those who do not pay may then be faced with a debt collection action from TT2 with costs reaching hundreds.
Reports released last week revealed fines totaling Â£ 507,000 were imposed on drivers in November – the equivalent of hundreds of people arrested every day.
They also revealed that about 43 percent of appeals in November against TT2 were allowed in the driver’s favor.
Another petition, set up by Gary Spedding, called on tunnel bosses to implement a five working day deadline – and a more âethicalâ approach instead.
In his petition, which saw nearly 2,000 signatures in a matter of days, he said: âThe number of errors with the new system, coupled with the massive increase in the number of people being fined, is simply unacceptable.
“Countless people have come forward to relay the serious distress and financial hardship caused by the fines imposed by TT2 Limited.”
Presenting a solution, he also called on tunnel bosses to consider waiving all unpaid toll charges issued in the past six months and lowering the original fine.
He said: “For those who miss their payment deadline, they should receive an initial fine of up to Â£ 20, which should be reduced to Â£ 5 if paid within 14 days of the due date. which the fine was generated.
“These amounts are more ethical and affordable for the average user of the Tyne Tunnel – many of whom come from working-class backgrounds or may suffer hardship due to the current economic climate.”
Last month, drivers in County Durham and Darlington fought back after being fined for trips made after the new cashless system was introduced.
Read more: Drivers’ nightmare as Â£ 1.90 tolls turn into Â£ 60 fines in new Tyne Tunnel system
A driver ended up with Â£ 60 in fines for a return toll worth Â£ 3.80, claiming the system made it ‘incredibly easy’ to forget to pay as no paper vouchers are issued.
At the time, he said, “Why can’t they just send a reminder then you have some time to pay, that makes more sense to me.”
A poll by The Northern Echo found that 77% of those polled believed bosses should remind first-time offenders to be “fairer.”
What the bosses of Tyne Tunnel have to say
Responding to new concerns last night, TT2 defended the current system and said the vast majority of rides are smooth.
A spokesperson said: âChanging a toll system that has worked for decades will naturally take customers some time to get used to, especially if they are learning a new way to pay.
âWhile we recognize that there was some inevitable confusion at the start, we are working with clients to help them through this transition.
âThe majority of motorists have adapted well to the new system, which is already proving to be a faster and smoother way of getting through Tyne’s tunnels.
âOver 94% of customers took compliant trips in the first month, and we expect that number to continue to increase as more people get used to the new system.
âThe revenue generated from fines, or UTCN, was only 20% of toll revenue during the month. The level of charges is defined in the statutes and has not been set by TT2.
âFor every customer who does not pay their toll, there are costs to recover that toll. The charge covers all additional costs associated with toll collection and ensures that customers who pay their toll are not disadvantaged.
âWe had planned an initial increase in UTCN and, in agreement with Transport North East, we put in place transition rules as people got used to new payment methods. This has the advantage of allowing us to support more calls and reflects TT2’s commitment to working with our customers.
âTT2 is forced to reduce the number of UTCNs because we will be penalized and incur a fine from tunnel owners, TNE in the future if we do not.
âIn terms of payment terms, drivers have until midnight the day after their trip to pay for their trip, which is the same as all open road toll systems in the UK.
âThis delay is meant to encourage people to pay soon after their trip before they forget. Research has shown that a longer payment delay increases the risk that people forget because payment is a lower priority.
âRegarding signage, we have installed many temporary signs during road works at the north and south entrances.
âThey spell out that a toll is payable, how much it will be, when it needs to be paid, how to make payment (in cash, over the phone or online) and the consequences if payment is not made.
“We direct all customers to our website where we have an entire section on ‘Using the Tunnels’ and encourage them to take the free prepaid account which entitles them to ten percent off every trip, no matter the route. frequency of use.”
Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
You can also follow our County Durham Facebook page for all the latest news in the region by clicking here.
For all the most important updates from across the region delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter here.
Do you have a story for us? Contact our press office on [email protected] or contact 01325 505054