walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Tolls

I was wasting time on lifehacker the other day, when I ran across a recommendation to bring your EZPass transponder with you on vacation and use it in a rental car as it will save you money. I went, hmmm. R. always says you can't do this, and yet lifehacker says that Consumer Reports is giving this advice. NJ and Mass EZ Pass sites both agree that you can do this, and seem to think you should add the rental plate to your account BEFORE driving in it and remove it 2 days _after_ you return the vehicle.

Let the nerd odyssey begin.

Question 1: SunPass isn't compatible with EZPass yet, is it? No, it is not. Is it about to become compatible with EZPass? If you are a total sap and believe in deadlines imposed by Congress in MAP-21 it is. I Am Not a Sap.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sap&defid=914089

Question 2: Can you get a SunPass transponder from out of state and, if you do, what kind of costs are you incurring (one time fee or annual fee) and how does that compare to what the rental car company offers? Turns out if you rent a car for at least three days in Florida, like, ever, it'll probably cover the transponder cost. Or really, really close. 4, for sure. At this point, it's a matter of whether you will remember to bring the transponder with you or not.

Question 3: Why AREN'T SunPass and EZPass compatible? See: Transcore lawsuit, patent exhaustion, etc.

Question 4: So why exactly is everyone out west other than California using 6C? And does it have a chance at becoming a national solution? Because it's way cheaper and at least as good (worse is better!!!), it's open source, and it isn't the installed base underlying either Sunpass or EZPass. Which in the bizarro world of trying to figure out what National Standard to adopt is actually a _plus_.

Question 5: What went wrong with Title 21? Dude, they wrote the law wrong. Surprise.

And now that I've gotten the worst of that out of my system, here's a brief summary of toll road growth.

We used to have lots of privately built and maintained roads, because they were ludicrously expensive to build and use. Then we had privately built and maintained rail roads, which were cheaper, but still quite expensive. Then we grew our federal government and Wilson sort of nationalized the operation of the rail roads For the Duration because the rail roads and nascent trucking industry were not able to move men and materiel fast enough. Some of the industry participants (at very high levels) were kind of hoping Wilson would carry on with that, but he unwound it. The trucking industry continued to develop, and we had a series of presidents build a bunch of highways (yeah, I know you think the freeway system was our first national highway system, but you're wrong and I don't even want to get into it), culminating in the Ike era interstate system which we now take for granted and allow to fall apart because raising the gas tax is Impossible.

Why is raising the gas tax impossible? Unclear. But more importantly, we'd have to raise it _a lot_ and keep raising it (in real terms -- just indexing it to inflation is not going to get it done, altho obvs that would help) if we wanted to rebuild the kind of highway fund that the gas tax used to effortlessly build. And _that_ is because fuel efficiency is really improving, and we have a lot of people running Volts and Priuses and other stuff, and it is only going to get more so, which means all of those vehicles will cause wear and tear on the highways without contributing to their upkeep through the proxy of buying gallons of the black stuff.

We _could_ fund the highways (already are, actually) through the general fund, at the national, state and local levels. But if we would like to maintain the idea that highways are somewhat/mostly funded through a use tax or a use tax proxy, then tolls are a fairly obvious solution. And tolls are attractive now because we can collect them without making cars stop (or even slow down much) and we can make them variable to Encourage Desired Traffic Patterns. AKA, yes, you can drive through Seattle on I-5, but we will be asking you to pony up to do so, type of thing (not that that has happened, but I think it is _a_ foreseeable future, if not _the_ foreseeable future). Toll collection can also be used to fund transit (and we had already established the precedent of using gas tax money to fund transit and bikeways and sidewalks and so forth, so it's not even a huge change), thus reducing the need for additional lane-miles and maybe even keeping the wear and tear down.

Tolls have been in the news. Christie, in NJ, got into a lot of trouble over what appears to have been politically motivated punitive bridge access lane closures. The details were uncovered in the course of an investigation into an unpopular toll hike (honestly, has there ever been a _popular_ increase in tolls?). In the PacNW, there is a proposal to toll the I-90 bridge to complete the access lanes to 520, to balance traffic, and probably ultimately to provide a funding stream for general road maintenance and development. It looks likely to happen, with the traditional sop to Rich People on Mercer Island Who Complain Loudly (already WA DOT has said they won't toll island-to-one-side, only if you go all the way across in one day, in response to big turnout at a Mercer Island public hearing; I vividly remember how Mercer Island wound up with that gold plated lid on I-90, so this is part of how the game is played out there). Meanwhile, here in Land of EZPass, there is an effort to modify (and reintroduce) tolling along the Mass Pike and possibly later other roads. Whenever I hear the amounts charged (or see them on my statement) I try, again, to understand how anyone who might ever contemplate taking surface streets to avoid these tolls can possibly afford to live in Massachusetts. I always fail. I kept trying to understand why New Hampshire wouldn't adopt EZPass, too, and after I left, they did.

As I read the work product of IBTTA, I started out absolutely incensed at them and their attitude towards Congress and MAP-21 and blah blah bleeping blah. They seemed like the all time worst trade association ever, and I can really get going on trade associations behaving badly. But when I started to read about the Transcore lawsuit, and realized that while IBTTA's approach to coming up with a national standard for toll readers and transponders SEEMED utterly craven and embarrassingly ridiculous, it had actually been very effective in terms of pressuring Mark IV/Kapsch into making public/granting a perpetual license (subject to some constraints -- it's basically copy-left altho they call it something else) their protocols. By defining a hypothetical National Standard as being open source, they produced enough incentive to make the biggest player (slightly over half of all tolls collected in the US, by dollar amount) open up.

Which I have to respect.

It's early days, yet, for tolling in the US. By the time I am too old to drive and people young enough to be my grandchildren are old enough to convince the court to make me turn over my car keys (yeah, look, I know that we won't be using keys for starting cars then -- I'm not an idiot), we will have sort of forgotten that there is an element in our vehicle that does calculations and charges us money when we drive around. It will be that automatic and that normal, and we will view scofflaws approximately the way we currently look upon shoplifters and tax evaders: an indication of bad character, and when caught, you must pay up, but we probably won't throw you in jail unless you are a little too clever and systematic about it, or running a ring of people doing it for profit.

At least, that's _a_ future, if not _the_ future. And to be clear, I am not at all predicting private highways. Not even remotely. The opposite of true.

ETA: Anyone care to take a guess at when map programs (in cars, on phones, etc., such as google maps, tom tom, etc.) will show you total toll cost so you can compare two routes that include tolls on the basis of cost as well as time/distance? Currently, they usually offer options like, "avoid toll roads"; I'm specifically looking for something along the lines of fast food menus which show calorie counts along with the dollar cost.

ETAYA: If you don't like the idea of funding highway maintenance through gas tax increases, tolls, or the general fund, I'd be interested to hear of alternative funding ideas. NOT funding it would be akin to the French deciding that defending the Franc towards the end of the 19th century was a lot more important than defending France. Not a Good Idea.
Tags: our future economy today
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