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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Ross Lydall

Blackwall and Silvertown tunnel tolls revealed: Motorists to be hit with £4 charge at peak times

Car drivers will be charged up to £4 per journey to use the Blackwall tunnel or the new Silvertown tunnel from next Spring, Transport for London has announced.

A peak hours levy of £4 will be imposed on northbound trips from 6am to 10am and southbound trips from 4pm to 7pm on weekdays – meaning £8 a day for a typical “round trip” in and out of central London.

There will be an off-peak rate of £1.50 at all other times between 6am and 10pm, including at weekends.

There will be no charge between 10pm and 6am on any day of the week.

At present the Blackwall tunnel – which carries traffic under the Thames in two two-lane tunnels, one northbound and one southbound – is free to use, and has been since it first opened in 1897.

The new levies, which will start as soon as the Silvertown tunnel opens slightly earlier than expected next year, will be identical for both tunnels to prevent motorists shunning one for the other. An exact opening date has not been announced.

The tolls could rise in future years to keep track with inflation and maintain their deterrent effect, said TfL’s director of strategy Christina Calderato.

She told the Standard: “The primary objective of the charges is to make sure we meet the objectives of managing traffic and congestion. We need to keep them under review to ensure those [objectives] are still being met.

“That might mean that, in future years, they need to increase. We need to keep that under observation.

“As inflation increases, if we don’t increase charges from time to time, that deterrent effect is decreased.”

In an attempt to lure Londoners out of their cars, cross-river trips on the 108 or 129 bus – plus the new Superloop SL4 route through the Silvertown tunnel - will be free for at least a year for journeys that start in Newham, Tower Hamlets or Greenwich.

DLR trips in the immediate vicinity of the tunnels – such as between Cutty Sark and Island Gardens or Woolwich Arsenal and King George V – will also be free for at least a year.

Drivers will have to register their vehicle with TfL’s free “Auto Pay” system – already in use for the congestion charge and ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) – to obtain the off-peak discount. Drivers who fail to use Auto Pay will be charged £4 throughout the day.

Drivers who fail to pay the correct levy face a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within a fortnight. However only one penalty charge notice a day will be issued, regardless of the number of unpaid crossings.

Low-income Londoners living in 12 east or south-east London boroughs, including Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich, or in the City of London, can apply for a 50 per cent discount. NHS staff and patients will be able to get the charge reimbursed.

Small businesses in Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich can apply for a £1 discount on the off-peak charge for at least a year.


However, minibuses and coaches will be exempt, as will black taxis, drivers with “blue badges” and minicabs that can take wheelchairs or are “zero emission capable” – about 40 per cent of minicabs.

Motorcyclists will pay £2.50 at peak times and £1.50 off-peak. Transit-size vans will pay the same as cars.

Large vans will pay £6.50 peak and £2.50 off-peak. HGVs will pay £10 at peak times, and £5 off peak.

By comparison, car drivers pay £2.50 to use the Dartford Crossing on the M25 while lorries pay £6.

Cyclists will not be permitted to ride through either tunnel but can load their bike onto a cyclists-only shuttle bus that will travel through the Silvertown tunnel. The “bike bus” will be free for at least a year.

The proposed tolls were revealed on Wednesday in documents published by TfL as it launched an eight-week consultation.

Mayor Sadiq Khan decided to press ahead with building the Silvertown tunnel, in the face of vehement criticism from eco activists, to ease the delays suffered on approach roads to the Blackwall tunnel, particularly by motorists heading north.

He said: “Local residents and business owners currently face chronic congestion and pollution in the area around the Blackwall tunnel. When it opens in 2025, the long-planned new Silvertown tunnel will help deliver quicker, more reliable journeys in east London by easing congestion and making journeys up to 20 minutes faster.

Map of Silvertown Tunnel (TfL)

“The Silvertown tunnel scheme has been years in the making, first developed back 2012. Since I become Mayor in 2016, we have worked to improve it, adding discounts for low-income residents and local businesses, new bus services, a bespoke cycle shuttle service and free cross-river bus and DLR transport for at least the first year.”

But Tory shadow Transport Secretary Helen Whately said: "“Driving isn't a luxury. But Labour look set to turn it into one - with tunnel tolls on the way for London, on top of Ulez and the congestion charge. Hammering working people won't modernise our transport system."

Depending on the outcome of the consultation, the proposed tolls and discounts could be amended. The TfL board, chaired by Mr Khan, will have the final say.

The Silvertown tunnel, which will cost about £2.2bn in construction and loan repayment fees, connects with the Royal Docks on the north side of the Thames. The project began life under Mr Khan’s predecessor as mayor, Boris Johnson.

The Blackwall tunnel, which was first opened in 1897, with a southbound bore added in 1967, links the A2 with the A12 in Poplar, near Canary Wharf, on its north side.

At present, the Blackwall tunnel is used by about 100,000 vehicles a day. It is expected that about half its traffic will divert onto the Silvertown tunnel.

Mr Khan has been accused of hypocrisy for building the Silvertown tunnel while campaigning globally on air pollution and climate change.

The Silvertown tunnel is a twin bore tunnel, with two lanes in each direction – one of which will be reserved for buses. It is larger than the Blackwall tunnel and will be able to be used by the biggest HGVs.

This has sparked fears of an increase in lorries and other vehicles being driven through Greenwich and Newham.

The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition believes the new tunnel should only be used for public transport and “active travel”.

It believes emissions carbon dioxide, PM particulates and nitrogen dioxide - plus levels of traffic and congestion - will increase when the tunnel opens, but says TfL has refused to reveal by how much.

Tunnel vision: Silvertown tunnel reimagined as a car-free Thames crossing (Possible)

Hirra Khan Adeogun, co-director of climate charity Possible, said: “The last thing London needs is another artery of traffic causing more congestion while pumping out more pollution.

"We still think there's a better way of transforming Silvertown tunnel to prioritise those who are walking, wheeling, cycling and using public transport, and we know there's a much fairer way of charging all drivers in London, not just the poor folk of east London.

"Whatever happens, this consultation must listen to the overwhelming majority of residents in the boroughs affected who do not own a car and ensure the tolling system funds greener ways of getting around.”

Construction of the Silvertown tunnel has cost about £1bn – with a further £1.2bn due in annual repayments over the next 25 years under the PFI contract that TfL signed in preference to paying for the work outright, in order to prevent cash being diverted from Tube upgrades and extensions.

The tolls are required to repay the PFI debt and to control the number of vehicles using both tunnels.

Ms Calderato said: “Without introducing tunnel user charges for the Silvertown and Blackwall tunnels, there would likely be high levels of traffic and congestion, which would lead to detrimental air quality impacts, as well as longer journey times.

“This proposed package of supporting measures aims to ensure the scheme is green and fair for Londoners and businesses.”

Londoners on low incomes can apply for the 50 per cent discount if they live in Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Bromley, City of London, Greenwich, Hackney, Havering, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets or Waltham Forest.

They need to be in receipt of a Government benefit such as income support, jobseekers allowance, universal credit, pension credit, child tax credit, working tax credit, carer’s allowance or housing benefit.

The Blackwall tunnel will be closed southbound over the weekends of July 20-22 and August 17-19 to allow further work to be carried out to link the entry and exit routes from the Silvertown tunnel to the existing road network.

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