Controversy surrounding The Tyne Tunnel's new cashless model continues to unfold as operators have now issued a statement defending the recent change.
TT2 took a firm stance that 94% of users understood the new model in the face of a viral petition demanding change and criticism from South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.
Living in Newcastle, I have been following the fall-out since the tunnel's cashless move last November and have seen the reports of long queues, confusion and wrong fines that users have shared on social media.
Having never driven through the Tyne Tunnel myself, on Friday afternoon I decided to take a trip through the tunnel and back to see what the experience was really like.
Despite living in the region for years, I had always avoided the tunnel for the simple reason that I didn't want to pay to cross it.
The fee to cross the tunnel is currently £1.90, although customers can make a small saving by registering an account and paying in advance.
The new Tyne Tunnel system aims to make a more streamlined crossing process and reap the environmental benefits that come with less queuing.
Ultimately, for speed, the new system will be better and more efficient, but sticking points remain over the logistics around it.
The issue as far as I could see on Friday afternoon is that the system change seems to have been implemented a little messily.
On both my trips, South to North and North to South, I did manage to avoid any queuing at all - in fact, I had only just clocked I'd reached the tunnel as I entered it.
Obviously, 2 pm on a Friday is not peak time for the tunnel.
The issue of heavy queuing during rush hours since the change hinges on the fact that toll booths remain in position when travelling from North to South of the tunnel.
Before, where cars could enter through many lanes to get to the tunnel, now there are just a small number open as old booths await demolition.
On a Friday afternoon, it wasn't a problem, but trying to fit the whole of rush hour traffic through the few open channels was always going to create a bottleneck.
I do think that once they are gone, which is due to happen by Spring, the overall experience will be a slick one.
Another issue found by some at the moment is a lack of information regarding the tolls and how to pay.
When I crossed I did notice a suitable amount of signage before and after the tunnel warning users about tolls.
I was, however, looking for those signs. If I was a tourist in the area who didn't know what the Tyne Tunnel was, I do think it would be incredibly easy to drive through oblivious.
The other issue is that busy people with busy lives have too much going on to remember to get home and log on to pay for their trip, and I think it’s unrealistic to think people will remember. I went out specifically to experience the tunnel and nearly forgot when I got in.
Since the toll booths are still in place anyway, I can't help but think the best system would be to leave half in place for those wanting to pay straight away and leave the other half of lanes open for those choosing to Pre-Pay or pay afterwards.
What has The Tyne Tunnel said?
The Tyne Tunnel operator recently told The Northern Echo: "Well over two million vehicles have travelled through the Tyne Tunnels using the new Tyne Pass system since it was introduced in November 2021 by the operator, TT2 Limited, driving down carbon emissions from vehicles and making journey times quicker as a result.
“In the first month of the new system, more than 94 percent of tunnel users paid for their toll using the correct process in the required timeframe, and we are confident this figure will grow as users continue to get used to the new system.
“The new system, including the timelines and payments, were agreed back in 2020 with the Department for Transport via the legal process for Byelaws, and were agreed by the North East Joint Transport Committee as the correct way to carry out toll enforcement, based on learning from other areas."