A COUNCIL leader has challenged the government to let motorists travel toll-free if their journey over the Dartford Crossing exceeds 15 minutes.

Dartford Council leader Councillor Jeremy Kite slammed the Department for Transport’s estimate that it takes on average 10 minutes and 11 seconds to drive over the crossing, saying the figures were “dodgy” and “out of touch”.

The Conservative councillor says drivers should get back double the toll they paid, if they are waiting on the crossing for more than 15 minutes.

Cllr Kite said: “If what the government is saying is true, I would set them a challenge that if you are trapped (on the crossing) for more than 15 minutes, which is way above average, then why don’t they give twice the toll as compensation?

“I challenge the government to refund the tolls and double it for anyone waiting longer than 15 minutes.

“You could have a system at the end of the tolls saying if you are waiting longer than 15 minutes we can open the gates for nothing.”

During a question and answer session in the House of Commons, the parliamentary under-secretary for the Department for Transport, Chris Mole, said: “Between M25 junction 2 and M25 junction 30, which includes the Dartford Crossing the average journey northbound is 10 minutes 11 seconds and 11 minutes 40 seconds southbound.”

The figures, which were compiled by the Highways Agency, looked at journey times between August 1 and 24 this year.

Cllr Kite said: “I think these people are completely out of touch, you have to ask anybody who actually uses the tolls what their experiences are.

“These people have to stop lying and using dodgy figures.

“They should ask drivers on the ground.

“Anybody who uses that crossing knows it’s ridiculous.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "More people want to use the crossing than it can accommodate and without a charge in place it is estimated that traffic levels would be 17 per cent higher.

“Under the new charging structure introduced in November 2008 there are no charges at night when traffic is lighter, discounts for local residents and incentives to encourage people to pay without cash.

“We are now looking in more detail at potential options for tackling congestion and improving capacity across the Thames.

"One set of measures could see changes to the configuration of the toll plaza.

"The second set of measures could entail one-way tolling with the removal of the southbound plaza to allow a larger improved northbound plaza.”

A study commissioned by the Department for Transport found in 2007 the cost of delays at the Dartford Crossing to the economy was around £40 million a year.

Last month Prime Minister Gordon Brown came under fire after he announced the crossing would be sold along with other government assets to try and raise £3 billion.

How long does it take you to drive over the Dartford Crossing? Leave your comment below.