A TRIAL to suspend toll charges when traffic levels peak on the Dartford Crossing has come under fire.

The Highways Agency launched the six-month trial at the beginning of July to suspend the charges at times of severe congestion.

But drivers are angry this option has not been used despite long periods of heavy traffic during the last few weeks.

Donna Turner of Maplehurst Close, Dartford, said: “Last week I was coming back over the crossing from visiting my family in Essex.

“It took me 20 minutes to get from the toll booths to join the A2, which should usually only take five minutes.

“The agency needs to do more, it’s so frustrating.”

Peter Rule is a logistics officer at Dartford’s international freight service, Intersped Logistics.

He said: “I think the agency should be suspending the tolls in rush hour, not just when traffic is travelling at 10mph.

“It should take into account what is happening on both sides of the crossing and see where traffic is flowing better.”

The Highways Agency says the decision to suspend the charges will only be taken on a “case by case basis.”

The barriers will only be lifted in an emergency situation and if traffic is travelling at a continuous speed of 10mph.

Tolls will also be suspended in severe congestion, which means 9.3 miles of traffic in Kent or 11 miles on the Essex side of the crossing.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency confirmed the tolls have not been suspended since the trial was introduced.

He added: “We are monitoring things very closely but the criteria has not yet been met where the agency would make the decision to suspend the tolls.”

But Dartford councillor Matt Bryant has slammed the trial.

He said: “It’s all very well for them to sit in an office and talk about the criteria.

“But people using the crossing every day are getting hugely frustrated.

“The plans are poorly thought out and clearly don’t work.”

MP for Dartford Gareth Johnson is also critical of the trial.

He said: "The 10 mile traffic congestion tail back is too far to be effective when there is grid-lock from the Dartford Crossing."

The trial comes amid plans announced by the Department for Transport to increase the toll charges on the crossing.

Residents have until September 23 to respond to the proposals, which could see charges rise from £1.50 to £2 later this year and then up to £2.50 by next spring.

Mrs Turner has signed a 1,329 strong petition on Twitter against the toll rise.

Russell Brand re-tweeted the petition to raise awareness, which saw the number of signatures soar.

DARTFORD Council has submitted its objection to the toll increase to the Department of Transport.

Responding to the department’s consultation on its plans to increase the tolls, the council says it will have an unfair impact on businesses.

A spokesman said: “The council believes the impact of the changes will be to increase costs for business and other users of the crossing without any compensatory reduction in congestion, which in turn means journey times will not be reduced nor will fuel usage.”