Long queues of lorries built up on approach roads to Dover this week because of a spike in freight traffic and not because of Brexit, the Port has said.
However, drivers on the road expressed fury over the delays, describing the situation as “absolute carnage” and blaming a mixture of delays in Brexit checks and Covid paperwork.
Highways England confirmed that high volumes of traffic had led to queues but with Brexit checks in place for more than a year, drivers were baffled as to why this week had been so bad.
The increase in freight traffic meant that the Operation Travel Access Protocol (TAP), a temporary traffic management system, which was devised for heavy traffic times in 2015, was put in place on Wednesday and Thursday leading to tailbacks on the A20.
Drivers were also reporting long delays at the inland border facility in Ashford where truckers must pre-notify French authorities of their cargo in order to get the goods vehicle movement certification necessary for boarding a ferry.
Some have blamed a new software system, now in operation, which could have led to additional teething problems in Ashford.
“A20 Dover TAP has indeed been in place for short periods of time this week. TAP is a well established and regularly used normal operational tool to help manage traffic flows into the Port of Dover at busy times and it has been for a number of years. This was the case yesterday as it has been similarly over the past few days,” said a spokesperson for the Port of Dover.
Freight traffic usually surges in the third week of January after the Christmas break but drivers said the delays this week caught many by surprise.
One driver, Ciaran Donovan, who has been posting about Brexit checks for the past three years, said it was taking “10-20m per vehicle to process paperwork”, adding sarcastically it had “absolutely nothing to do with Brexit apart from the fact Covid has nothing to do with it”.
Donovan said the delays had nothing to do with extra freight volumes. “I was on a ferry last week and it was half empty. There were just 90 trucks on a ferry that can take 180.
“The problem is they are taking 10 to 20 minutes to check the paperwork in both directions. A trip to Paris is now taking 20 hours more than usual,” he said. The queueing on the approach road to Dover had been a problem for months because of Brexit checks, he added.
Queues appeared to have eased on Saturday, with one website that tracks driver experiences on the road claiming the queue stretched back just more than one mile.
Earlier this week the Port of Dover said it was concerned queues could get much worse in September, when airport-style biometric checks are due to be implemented.
Doug Bannister, the chief executive of the port, is looking for urgent meetings with the government amid fears the checks will add delays and cause danger.
“As currently designed, the biometric checks work well at an airport or a rail terminal, but they’re not designed for a busy roll-on, roll-off ferry terminal.
“If it is forcing people to get out of their vehicles inside of a busy port, that is just unsafe. We couldn’t allow that to happen. That will lead to increased queues, no doubt,” he told the BBC.
Earlier this week the House of Commons transport select committee visited Dover as part of a fact-finding mission ahead of the introduction of the checks in September.
The committee chair, Huw Merriman, said it was important that the British and French worked together to find a solution, adding: “We have to rely on the French to assist us here as well. It causes as much damage over in Calais as it will here in the Port Dover.”