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Tyne Tunnel bosses have promised faster journeys and a massive cut in pollution ahead of a huge switch being made to cashless crossings in just a few weeks.
Drivers will experience a massive change next month, when a new “open road tolling” system comes into force – meaning motorists will drive straight through the tunnels without needing to stop and pay at toll booths.
Instead, tolls will have to be paid either via pre-payment accounts or by midnight the following day using an online pay later service, an automated telephone line, and at PayPoint tills found in shops.
There will be no way of paying in cash or using a contactless bank card at the tunnel, with the toll plazas on the northern side due to be demolished over the coming months.
While the exact date of the switchover to the ‘Tyne Pass’ system is yet to be announced, it will be some time in November.
The plan has come in for criticism from some tunnel users, who have questioned how people without access to the internet will cope with the new payment system.
But Phil Smith, CEO of tunnels operator TT2, insists it will be a major improvement – cutting congestion and reducing carbon emissions by 90%.
He said: “Imagine driving along the A19, beneath the £75m Silverlink underpass, through the Tyne Tunnel with no stopping, no hunting for change or getting stuck behind a driver, before driving over the new bridge at Testos.
“This is the vision that will come true in the next few weeks as we complete our ‘Tyne Pass’ project to implement open road tolling and in the process remove the toll plazas that have been a feature of the tunnels for over 50 years.”
Mr Smith added: “It will reduce the CO2 emissions from the tolls by over 90% at a time when we all need to be finding ways to contribute to tackling the climate emergency. Having gone carbon neutral last year in respect of our own emissions, this is our next step on the environmental journey.”
Since the tunnels introduced a pay later option last year, many motorists have complained after being hit with hefty fines for not paying their toll on time and some have claimed the system is no more than a money-making exercise.
At one stage last year, almost one in five of the drivers taking a pay later ticket failed to pay by midnight the next day and were issued with a penalty notice – which can rise to up to £100, plus the original £1.90 fee.
Once the new system comes into force, motorists going through the tunnel will carry straight on down the two-lane A19 instead of having to spread out on the north side of the tunnel to go through the toll barriers.
TT2 customer experience manager Chris Ward added: “The A19, like all roads, just gets busier each year, and with the limitation on the number of toll lanes due to the width of the land available, all we could see was queues getting worse.
“Solutions like contactless would just make traffic even slower causing more delays.
“This will mean people just see dual carriageway all the way through making their journey easier and safer.”