I’ve been commuting on the M25 for over 6 years and just like in life I’ve grown accustom to being told what I can and can’t do and recently a new instruction has appeared at the Dartford Crossing toll booth… is this sign for real. Exactly what is the speed limit through the toll booth?
My Health & Safety advisor might be doing cartwheels wondering how I managed to take the picture – I say cartwheels but I’d expect that would require a full risk assessment – so probably a forward roll. But worry not my health and safety guardians my car was stationary as it usually is at this part of my journey. I think the fastest speed I’ve managed through the toll is about 5 miles per hour and that can only be achieved by timing my approach correctly and a perfect presentation of my DartTag to the little camera attached to the booth – such a precise hand movement requires years of practice, over 2000 trips in my case… living the dream!!!
Crawling up to the toll reminded me of one of the worst experiences of my life… so what happens when you arrive at the toll with no credit or no exact change. That’s happened to me just the once, but I’ve been behind a few of the unlucky to be in this position. A warning to those to whom it has never happened – never ever and i mean ever put yourself in this position. In my case the situation began with the realisation that for some inexplicable reason I had taken my Dart-Tag out of the car the night before. I had no change or any cash and i was about 6th from the front of the Autotoll with no possibility of choreographing a move across to a manned toll booth. Realising my plight i began to feel panic beginning to spread through my entire body.
As I made my final approach panic turned into fear then to shame. The same shameful feeling you experienced when your dad walked into your bedroom and caught you pleasuring yourself whilst wearing a pair of your big sisters frillys. “Your tea’s ready son… I’ll get your mum to keep yours warm in the oven”. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. Anyway, you all know that feeling and for some of you it was probably much worse – one of those things that is never spoken about but never forgotten… feel free to tell us about your own experience.
Having no way to pay the toll is much worse however, because you have a bigger less forgiving audience, You can feel the hate and disgust coming from the queue that is beginning to form behind you… and you can feel the word tosser being burned on to the back of your head. So what next… nothing you just sit there waiting to be rescued by a Crossing Officer as your fellow road warriors’ rage turns into pure hate as they begin wishing for your premature death. Maybe it would be better if i got out of the car – never get out of the car – yes i felt like the tosser I had been branded whilst sitting in the car but once outside as i looked back at the queue i was now new feeling like some kind of kiddy fiddler with the crowd baying for blood and some taking potshots at me with their car horns.
At last i could see my knight in high vis armour walking towards my stranded vehicle … walking very slowly. God he looked smug… this is his reward, his moment, his bankers bonus that made up for what i guess is a pittance of a salary… though I’m guessing he got other perks, free crossings between Kent and Essex… nice. As he approached he looked into my vehicle… my BMW felt more like one of those police vans carrying the guilty to court for sentencing… i looked over at my McDonalds takeaway bag and wondered whether i could get it over my head in order to complete the pathetic picture. The Crossing Officer – is that really his job title – then looked at the baying crowd and gave them the ‘yes he’s wearing his big sisters frillies’ look.
After that it was got easier. The officer didn’t prolong my agony, he knew I had suffered and knew that if there was a next time I’d probably stop at the top of the bridge and throw myself off, his job was done. He gave me my ticket which required me to hand in the next time I crossed and pay the fee plus an extra quid.
The barrier went up and i was free. I accelerated hard; the last thing i wanted was to see any of the drivers who I’d held up. I was racing away… was that a flash as i passed another temporary sign reminding me that the traffic cameras are now working.