South Tyneside motorists caught without the correct change have handed Tyne Tunnel bosses a multi-million-pound windfall, it has been revealed
A Freedom of Information request has shown drivers without the exact £1.70 cash fare have handed over an extra £2.4m at toll booths since 2011.
Almost £140,000 was paid out in 2011-12, with a peak of £415,000 reached in 2016-17, which fell to £246,000 last year.
Bosses at TT2 Limited, which operates the two tunnels, have defended making money on those who pay over the odds for their journey.
They insist options are available for all commuters to avoid forking out anything but the correct amount - and that the extra revenue raised helps pay down the £128.66m still owing for the construction of the second tunnel, which opened in 2011.
A spokesman for TT2 Limited said: “There are change machines available for customers who do not have the correct money, and permit holders receive a discounted rate.”
Martin Gannon, chairman of the North East Joint Transport Committee, which oversees transport across Tyne and Wear, Durham and Northumberland, also defended the payments system.
Mr Gannon, a Gateshead councillor, said: “Tolls are required so the public and private borrowing costs of constructing, maintaining and operating the Tyne Tunnels are paid.
“Tolls only rise in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation, which prevents the debt from growing, and the collected surplus also helps pay down this debt.
“Change machines are available for all tunnel users, if they wish to use them, and permits with a ten per cent discount are available.
“The overpayments received to date have helped reduce the debt by an additional £1.02m since 2011, when the new tunnel opened, on top of the planned debt repayments.”
“The current balance on the debt is £128.662m.
Toll booths on the North Tyneside tunnel entrance and exits do not give out change, but drivers can use change machines before they reach the payment area.
TT2 is currently examining ways to remove cash from the payments process and is examining extending existing pre-pay technology.
Until November, drivers could pay in advance for a permit which allowed their vehicles to enter or exit the tunnel more smoothly.
Since then, the system has been supplanted by new automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology.
Drivers can continue to pay with cash, but no new permits – previously the fastest way to travel through – are being issued.