MAY 2006 NEWS
Wednesday 31 May
We reported on the 3rd that the merger of Spanish Troll - Abertis, with Autostrade from Italy had been agreed. Later there were doubts as the Italian government was concerned that the Spanish would be running their roads. But it now seems that there will be some juggling so that the Italians appear to be equal partners:- MSNBC / FT - "Abertis offers concession on Autostrade merger deal".
Climate Change - It's real!
There can now be no doubt that "Climate Change" exists. The BBC told us last week, and today the main news on ITV was the result of their own long in depth research. There will apparently soon be little of Britain left as the sea rises:- ITV - "3 degrees Centigrade from Disaster".
Half a Bridge is Better than None
The latest development in the dispute between Illinois and Missouri over whether to toll a new Mississippi River bridge is that Illinois is now suggesting a bridge half the size:- St Louis Dispatch - "A new bridge idea".
PS Tolls for trucks on the privatised Indiana Toll go up this weekend by 24%. It is expected that more trucks will avoid the road.
LRUC was "stalking horse for congestion charging"
Brian Weatherley from Commercial Motor wonders why Britain can't have a tax disc system for trucks similar to that which Belgium has agreed to catch foreign trucks. He also has some views on the Lorry Road User Charging scheme and road pricing:- TNN - "Hats off to Those Plucky Little Belgians!".
Radio Sweden reports that more people are using the tolled Öresund bridge which links southern Sweden to the Danish island of Zealand. Despite the increase, the bridge is still making a loss and critics say that "high tolls have defeated the purpose of the bridge". A round trip across the bridge costs 64 euros (80 dollars or 45 pounds).
A German aid group has nearly completed building a new 500 kilometre road in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is hoped that the road will be a big boon to the surrounding area that has been devastated by war. The aid group has presumably built it for free, but the authorities are levying tolls on the villagers, and according to IOL "Armed groups have been stopping people along the way and demanding their own "tolls" at gunpoint."
David Williamson, business correspondent for the Western Mail gives his view on the London "Congestion" charge. The Welsh establishment want to introduce a similar charge to Cardiff:- "The danger of congestion charging is it could strangle the business community".
The Auditor has suggested that tolls on the Cross City Tunnel could have been cheaper if the operators hadn't paid $Aus 97 million ($US 74m or £40m) for the right to build the road. The Tunnel is in difficulties as drivers are not using it despite the Government closing other roads to try and force them into it:- Sydney Morning Herald - "City tunnel toll could be cheaper: auditor".
Tuesday 30 May
Politicians v The people
There is a report in the Amherst record about the New York Trolls facing an "angry mob" complaining about tolls. It seems that they are fed up listening to tales from politicians, but all that they got was more tales:- "Williamsville toll barrier sparks outrage".
Cherie Blair has been hired in a Malaysian case between the old and new owners of a toll road:- Malaysiakini - "Cherie Blair hired for controversial court case". Due to public protests the tolls were suspended for a time and the ownership changed, following which there were allegations of corruption and claims for compensation:- Malaysia Today - "Metramac scandal: no light at the end of the tunnel".
We last reported in January on Oregon's trial of Road Pricing. Today there is a further report in the Denver Post:- "Oregon may get some mileage out of fee experiment". Like a lot of Road Pricing this is like Lewis Carrol. The 280 cars in the trial are driven by volunteers who in return for being billed 1.2 cents for each mile they drive, don't have to pay the state gas tax of 24 cents a gallon (US). This means that if the car does more than 20 miles per US gallon (equivalent of 24 mpg in Britain), they will be paying more then they get back. Either they are philanthropists or they drive gas guzzlers or they mainly drive round with the equpiment switched off. As we said in January:-
Will anyone spot that this will make little difference to what they pay at the pump?
Will anyone realise that this will cost a lot of money to run, and that as it relies on in car devices and satellite technology it will be prone to error and abuse?
And will the greenies notice that it will encourage people to switch to gas guzzlers?
Monday 29 May
Labour MP backs M6 Toll
The BBC reports that the scheme announced last week to funnel more traffic onto the M6 Toll has got the backing of one of the Labour MPs - David Kidney. He says that this will take traffic off other roads. BBC - "Link road could cut rural traffic". We wonder why he thinks removing tolls wouldn't attract even more traffic off less suitable roads? But then Mr Kidney has voted for tolls in the Commons, so that's all right then.
More and Less Toll Queues
Inside Bay Area reports on various schemes that California will introduce to hurt drivers. One measure is to close most manned tolled booths from April next year. The authorities reckon that this will "cause 30- to 35-minute delays" Let's hope that they get their just reward for this. The fine work of the Trolls is not fully appreciated. "Proposed tax hike will add pain to gas prices".
Mid Hudson News reports a State Senator suggests removing tolls during public holidays on the Tappan Zee Bridge and on bridges and tunnels leading into and connecting the boroughs of the City of New York. He says that it would "ease traffic flow". Dangerous ideas! "Senator proposes dropping TZ Bridge tolls on holidays".
Elephant on the table
In April we reported on the campaign led by artist Jane Tomlinson to remove the tolls from the Swinford Bridge near Oxford. Her campaign is backed by Tory leader David Cameron. Jane says ""There is an elephant on the table here which everyone can see, but no-one will deal with.":- Oxford Mail - "Hundreds sign toll petition". (There is a link to Jane's petition on our home page.)
"The naked truth of double taxation"
Sal Costello has been campaigning against the plans for more Texas tolls, partly on the basis that it is double taxation, particularly as some of the new toll roads (e.g. Texas 45 Southeast) are actually to be built using the income from gas tax. Sal has now been attacked by the chairman of the State's Transportation committee. He says that no one complains when you have to pay to swim in a public pool or park or play golf on a public course.
What the Trolls turn a blind eye to is that roads users are heavily taxed, while the users of other public facilities, even when they pay a fee, are subsidised out of taxes.
Sunday 28 May
"Truth be Tolled"
Chuck Plunkett writes about the "optimistic" projections for tolled roads:- Denver Post - "Roads to riches". This is billed as the first in a three part series....
PS Discussion in Blue Oregon. Points out that the first Oregeon tolled road includes tolling an existing free road, so that drivers can't avoid a toll. Includes link to Unbossed blog.
Tolls in a Green land
The Sunday Post reports that one Irish contractor has called for more tolls and that "Ireland should follow Britain's example" and have road pricing. The contractor is also reported to have been "recruiting heavily in Poland".
Saturday 27 May
No Peak Tolls
The Editor of the "Capital" in Annapolis today had a grouse about the way the authorities were treating roads users and ended "If this is all the authority can come up with to assist traffic flow, we're in for a load of trouble this summer. Since we can't have another bridge across the bay - at least not for many years - how about ending tolls during peak travel hours?"
Different sort of Tolls
South Australia has a "No Tolls" policy which it intends to keep. But they are considering "shadow tolls" or even more amazingly building roads by borrowing at low public sector interest rates. What will happen to all those intermediaries with their fat fees? Sunday Mail - "Toll, of sorts, for new roads".
No Tolls P.l.e.a.s.e.
There are seven supposed pilot areas for Road pricing. Out view is that this is all a game, and that few if any of the pilots have any intention of introducing tolls. But the Government has people in cities outside the pilots that they will be starved of cash till they say they will inflict tolls:- Leeds Evening Post - "Leeds vows to fight plans for road tolls".
Indiana and Big Bond
An Indiana court is hearing a case against the sale of the Indiana Toll road and the intention to use the proceeds as income rather than paying off debt as required by the state constitution. As expected, yesterday, the court virtually killed the case by ruling that the plaintiffs would have to pay a bond of $1.9 billion (£1 billion):- Indy Star - "Judge derails attempt to halt Toll Road deal" Belleville News Democrat / AP - "Judge: Plaintiffs in toll road suit must post $1.9 billion bond". The trolls nearly always win due to their control and vast resources (ultimately coming from tolls).
Road Pricing and Big Brother
There have been recent reports that the European Galileo satellite system is in financial difficulties, though it is assumed that they will just put more money in. As a report today from the "Anti Imperialist Laegue" says "Galileo's planned uses include the monitoring of all road travel by satellite - the basis for the 'road pricing scheme' proposed in the UK". The league is more worried that the systems will be used to support a militarised EU:- "Arming Big Brother".
Friday 26 May 2006
Climate changing - it's a fact!
The BBC is backing the idea that the world is facing a major catastrophe due to "Global Climate Change". This week they had David Attenborough telling us that it had been proved to him that it was getting warmer and that it was due to CO2 from burning fossil fuels - So that must be right then! Over the next few weeks more will be revealed.
On the same theme the Guardian reports that there is tomorrow a debate "Cars Are Killing The Planet". It is sponsored by The Economist and will be chaired by Jon Snow from Channel Four:- "Driving the debate". Will anyone mention that in the last 50 years, the world's population has increased from 2.8 billion to 6.5 billion, and over the next 50 years it is estimated to increase by another 3 billion?
The Computing press last week covered the latest Road pricing push. Computer professionals are cynical as to whether the system would work or be fiddle proof. This week's papers have readers reactions, inc:- "When these new technologies mean that we have to work out the cost of a trip to the shops or to see a member of the family, I will be moving out of this island". One reader cites Bristol (one of the volunteer pilots) as an example of roads where the design seems to be intended to stop traffic.
More on Tolls Push
There was more in todays' Sydney Morning Herald from James Bone on the new links to the M6 Toll road. "Doomsday" says "It appears Macquarie has mastered the fine art of creating congestion in order to ease it! Macquarie Infrastructure Group is offering to pay to ease the huge congestion on the toll-free M6 by investing in a link road to channel motorists onto its motorway, which naturally carries a hefty toll. Now the good folk of Birmingham have tried, in vain, to resist Macquarie's poison pill. They well know the trap, as do we all." "Springing to the defence of the old country"
Less Tolls = Less Queues
This is Memorial Day weekend which usually leads to traffic jams at tolls. But there are expected to be few problems on the Garden State Parkway which has extended its one way tolling. According to officials when they started this a year ago "it made a dramatic differnce":- Atlantic City Press -"Test today for one-way toll plazas". Now if removing half the tolls makes a dramatic difference, what would be the effect of removing all the tolls?
PS Elsewhere the American Automobile Association "is predicting the usual traffic problems at tolls"
Thursday 25 May 2006
This is one of the most bizarre stories that we have seen. There has been a fire in one of the road tunnels at Liverpool. Traffic had to queue at the barriers and pay the toll to escape:- Liverpool Echo - "They charged us to flee tunnel fire".
More on Government Pushing M6 Toll
Further to yesterday's report about new links to the M6 Toll road, we can now see from Australia a bit more about what is really happening:- News.com - "MIG push for best of British toll" Australian Stock Exchange - MIG Announcement.
New Tolls for Old
It appears that Western democracy has reached Afghanistan. It is reported that the government will start collecting tolls on some roads next month. According to Pakistan online news today, under the old system there were "shakedowns by avaricious local officials, who stopped trucks on the road and demanded "reconstruction" taxes".
NY Candidate wants Tolls, or maybe not
The Democrat candidate for NY Governor has been reckless enough to say that he supports tolls, upsetting his wife and others:- ABC local / AP -"Suozzi seeks to ease LIE comment damage".
Jail for EZ Toll Man
One of the people involved in a NY tolls fraud has been sent to jail for up to 12 years:- Journal News -"Mount Vernon man gets 4-12 years in E-ZPass scam".
New York, Old story
Business group "Partnership for New York City" is still keen to sell a "Congestion" charge. Today's New York Sun has an article from an Economics Professor. There are the usual myths about the success of the London Con charge. The conclusion is that southern end of Manhattan should have a Con charge of $20 (£11) and that "the congestion fee could even substitute for bridge and tunnel fees for all of the river crossings south of 59th street. Getting rid of lines at these tolls would save more time." Nice to see that economics professors realise that there is time wasted due to tolls, though we haven't noticed any suggestion that other tolls should be scrapped.
The Real Toll
Jim Hall in USA Today says that more tolls means that "the losers are, as usual, the poor, the young, the elderly, the small-business owner, and the independent trucker". He is concerned that they are forced onto less safe secondary roads, and calls for more money to be spent on making the non toll roads safer:- "The real cost of toll roads could be American lives".
Toll Road Sale
Yesterday Governor Daniels appeared before a Congress committee to tell them about his completed (subject to the courts) sale of the Indiana Toll road. There was also discussion of Mayor Daley's sale of the Chicago Skyway:- Chicago Business Indiana Daily Student.
Toll Sleight of Hand
We reported on Tuesday that Governor Pataki in New York seemed to be giving some relief to toll roads users by phasing out the subsidy to the canals. It appears that this was to divert attention from the universal calls for the removal of the Buffalo tolls. There is to be a review of the tolls which will be completed in "December". When the calls for removal of tolls get too loud it is a common Troll trick to call for a "review" which will report on the 12th of Never:- WGRZ - "WNY Leaders Unhappy With Pataki Toll Plan".
PS It was also reported today that there are arguments about relocating some of the tolls plazas. Because of the noise and fumes such as the "diesel exhaust from idling vehicles, particularly out-of-state truckers who don't use E-ZPass" no one wants tolls plazas in their area. One revolutionary even said the issue shouldn't be relocating the tolls "It should be ending the tolls on the entire system."
Wednesday 24 May 2006
Government Pushes M6 Toll
The Government have announced new roads linking into the M6 Toll. The roads will cost over 100 million pounds and will be paid for by MEL, the company that runs the M6 Toll. The Government say that the cost is being "Funded through resources released from refinancing of the M6 Toll". BBC - "New £102m road to link motorways" Highways Agency - "Toll operator finances road benefits".
This is the usual spin. The reality is that though drivers are already directed towards the toll road, they have been avoiding it. This is an attempt to direct or trick more drivers into using it. If there have been refinancing gains then they are normally split between the PFI firm, and the public authorities. It would be interesting to know what has happened to the public share of this gain. Has it all gone into trying to attract drivers to the toll road?
The RAC Foundation Road issued a press release today "Block for fleets?". They urge the Government to sell road pricing to motorists by ensuring that:-
"The charges are fair, balanced by reductions in other motoring taxes, and be overseen by an independent body.
At least part of the proceeds must be re-invested in road transport, and be additional to current spending commitments.
There must be a clear timetable for implementation, and time to allow people time to adjust their travel routines.
There must be protection of privacy.
There must be protection for the least well off - road pricing must not be used to drive those on low incomes off the roads."
We are not sure which is stranger - a group that is supposed to represent drivers wanting tolls, or - the idea that the Government could meet any of these demands. Some of them are completely impossible e.g. How can part of the tolls be "reinvested in road transport" if tolls are to be "balanced by reductions in other taxes", and all this when toll collection will cost £10 billion a year?
Bush's Transportation Secretary has been going round the country selling tolls. His latest stop was at the NASDAQ Exchange:- Fleet Owner - "Mineta pushes for anti-congestion campaign at NASDAQ" Department of Transportation - Congestion strategy paper.
A report on the air in British pubs was discussed in today's Jerusalem Post. They picked up on their being "10 to 40 times more than pollution levels on crowded roadways" and based on American research said that it "is much more dangerous to one's health to be a bartender or a casino card dealer than to collect tolls on a highway". The report the story comes from is at BioMed Central:- "Levels of second hand smoke in pubs".
Tuesday 23 May 2006
Where the money comes from
We don't know if these figues are correct, but this was published in one paper today:- "In 2004, the U.S., all entities combined, spent $148 billion on roads, but only collected $71 billion in gasoline taxes, and another $6.5 billion in tolls. On a fuel consumption of 175 billion gallons, that works out to a revenue shortfall of 37 cents per gallon." These figures are surprising because in many states the gas tax and tolls are used to subsidise railways and other services. But if the figures are correct then tolls could be scrapped if the gas tax was raised by just 8 cents a gallon.
FT sells Tolls
The editorial in yesterday's Financial Times was a sales pitch for road pricing:- "Time to give road pricing the green light"
Here is part of it:-
"Since the rich drive more than the poor, road pricing is also progressive.
Naturally, many motorists hate the idea, and the obvious compromise is to pay them off by repealing taxes on fuel. While politically tempting, this is the wrong approach. We face two big problems: climate change and congestion. Fuel taxes encourage efficient cars. Road pricing fights congestion. With two aims, we need two incentives.
Road pricing revenue could instead be used to reduce other taxes. It could replace three or four pence of the basic rate of income tax....
The case for road pricing is overwhelming but obstacles loom large. All the more need for something that has so far been notably lacking in transport policy: leadership."
The FT is certainly honest - not many would say that they wanted road pricing and to keep existing fuel taxes. And no doubt any "poor" readers of the FT would agree that this tax which is intended to force them off the road is "progressive". The cost of implementing and collecting road pricing would average about £10 billion a year. To also take three to four pence off income tax would cost another £10 billion a year. That's £20 billion ($38 billion) a year in more taxes / tolls on roads use, or about the same as adding 40 to 50 pence to the cost of one litre of fuel ($2.80 to $3.60 per US gallon). Another "progressive" measure?
PS The FT today published a letter from an Economics professor in Monaco. Naturally he thinks that road pricing is a good idea, except presumably on the roads in Monaco.
New Jersey is not affected by hurricanes as much as Florida, but it is reviewing its plans for this year's hurricane season. Like Florida, tolls would be suspended "to allow for smoother evacuation".
Governor Pataki of New York State has just signed a law limiting the state gas tax. It is set at 4 cents in the dollar. But now as gas rises above 2 dollars a gallon, it will be capped at 8 cents. The total tax is more than that because of federal and county levies. The move is said to be to protect motorists and it is estimated that it will cost the state $200 million this year.
Cutting gas tax rather than tolls will be of most benefit to gas guzzlers. Other new measures include a $2,000 tax credit for anyone who buys a hybrid. Hybrids are imported and can consume more fuel than a conventional car as they tend to be bigger. But no doubt all these moves will keep both the green Greens and the petrol companies happy.
Governor Pataki is also in the news as he has proposed a bill to split the canals from the Thruway authority. Currently $75 million a year of road tolls are used to subsidise the canals. Sounds like a good move. The only strange thing is that a year ago the road tolls were increased by 25 percent and it was announced 3 weeks ago that the tolls for using the canals are to be scrapped:- Post Standard - "How Drivers Would Save".
Monday 22 May 2006
There is an argument in North Devon about the future of the tolls on the Kewstoke road near Weston-super-Mare. Collection of the tolls was suspended in 2005, but now there is a campaign to have them reinstated because more people are now using the road.
The toll was farmed out by the Council to a private firm who used toll collectors standing in the road. It was suspended because the concessionaire was not making money as staff were not always bothering to collect the tolls and because collection was dangerous. It will be interesting to see if those who want a toll prove to be more influential than the majority of roads users who don't want a toll.
Since Douglas Alexander, the new Transport Secretary, said on the 10th that he was a tolls fan, there have been reports from around Britain showing various levels of keenness to admire the Emperor's new road pricing clothes, including:- Norwich Evening News - "Should we pay to get into city centre?" Rochdale Observer - "'We may get tough to smash gridlock'" Belfast Telegraph - "Road pricing: Your bill is on its way".
A Simple Life
Tim Holt, an American Green and cyclist argues that San Francisco should copy London and have a "Congestion" charge. The idea is said to be backed by "alternative transportation advocates, including cyclists, taxi drivers, and pedestrian and public transit supporters":- SF Gate - "Pay to drive into heart of S.F.".
Sunday 21 May 2006
The Desert News from Utah gives a pro and then an anti toll view. The anti views starts "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it and then misapplying the wrong remedies.":- "Road financing too heavy a toll for Utah?".
Saturday 20 May 2006
On Friday, a truck carrying liquid methane rolled over on the Massachusetts Turnpike leading to what one policeman described as "the worst traffic jam he had ever seen". In fact so bad that they had to stop the toll collection to help clear the jam:- Metro West - "Tanker crash creates turmoil".
Associated Press report that legislation has been filed this week in South Carolina to allow a toll booth at the border on Interstate 95, charging each passing car $5. On the other side of the border, Virginia passed the necessary law in April. Though as an Interstate, it will also need Federal consent.
It is quite common to have tolls on roads that are mainly used by out of staters, that is why it is generally illegal to toll Interstates, though permission has already been granted in many cases. But with the toll booths on the border, are they trying to stop people and goods from coming in or from leaving?
Friday 19 May 2006
Tolls go round
The Daily Telegaph reports that Australian employers are "providing e-tags or reimbursing tolls as part of salary arrangements". We wonder who ultimately pays the cost?
More from Another World
The BBC today updated their story about the Lib Dems suggesting that some cars should pay annual car tax of £2,000 ($3,800):- BBC - "Lib Dems plan a £2,000 road tax".
Not sure what has changed, but the quote from the Tory Environment spokemsn is classic ""If we are to tackle climate change, we need a holistic package of mutually reinforcing measures, not one micro-managing tax after another.". They definitely are from another planet.
Georgia has just signed a PPS contract for Interstate 75 and other roads. It will be partly financed through High Occupancy Tolls and Truck Tolls :- Atlanta Business Chronicle - "GDOT moves on public-private highways".
Colorado is making changes to its Car pool lanes and toll lanes on the Interstate 25. The changes will mean even more confusion as to who can go in which lane and will increase accidents but should generate a big income from tolls and fines:- Rocky Mountain News - "Downtown I-25 toll lanes will come on line June 2".
Thursday 18 May 2006
Lib Dems Brave New World
British politicians are sometimes so illogical we wonder if they are from another planet. Today the Lib Dems came up with the suggestion that some cars should pay annual car tax of £2,000 ($3,800):- BBC - "Lib Dems plan a £2,000 road tax".
Like the other parties the Lib Dems equate CO2 emissions with pollution, and concentrate on the 25% that comes from cars and ignore the rest. Given this position, the only logical answer would be to increase fuel duty. This would be unpopular so they argue for increases in car tax and for more tolls. These only have a lose relationship with CO2 emissions, and in the case of tolls, an inverse relationship. Though it isn't in the BBC report, today's Lib Dems press release also says that Fuel Duty should "keep track with inflation". How brave!
Tolls for those who want them
Latest twist in the bridge argument between Illinois and Missouri is that the Illinois Transportation boss has suggested that if Missouri doesn't want to pay its share of the cost and instead wants a toll, then only cars from Missouri should pay:- St Louis Post Dispatch - "Bridge plan could leave gulf between two states".
Stockholm Con Charge Survey
A new survey has found that over 60% of Stockhom residents are in favour of keeping the "Congestion Charge". A trial of the scheme started on January 3rd and ends on July 31st, following which there will be a referendum.
The survey was done for the Green party, so may be biased, though there are other reports that most people are in favour.
It was announced yesterday that 900 jobs are to go at the Vauxhall (part of General Motors) car plant near Liverpool. Both the Chancellor and the new Trade & Industry Secretary were there to hear the announcement and to grieve over the job losses and promise lots of money if a new car model was brought to the plant. The new Trade & Industry Secretary is of course Alistair Darling. Wearing his old Transport hat he was trying to force drivers, particularly poorer ones, off the road though tolls. What does he want car owners to do - buy cars but keep them off the road?
There are various reports that roads use has fallen due to increases in gas prices. The House of Representatives in South Carolina has now voted to suspend the gas tax from October to December this year. As you may have guessed at the same time the State Transport officials are suggesting tolling the Interstate 95.
Wednesday 17 May 2006
Big US Tolls Expansion
US Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta, yesterday told a meeting of the National Retail Federation what his plans were particularly on dealing with traffic congestion.
His department are to select a small number of large metropolitan areas as pilot areas for things such as bus lanes and road pricing including increasing tolls as roads become more congested. The schemes will then be rolled out elsewhere. He also wants more private toll roads (new and sale of existing roads) based on "public-private partnerships". His other plans include a big expansion of airport capacity.
Democrats are unhappy with various parts of the plan including privatising roads and more tolls:- Forbes / AP - "Time to Face Traffic".
People in Britain may notice how similar USA is to Britain, including announcing plans to business conferences rather than to Parliament.
There is to be a hearing today at the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service into a disputed Congestion charge. Nothing unusual about that, but various groups will argue that the system is flawed partly because it is in breach of both the Convention on Human Rights and the Bill of Rights as there is no independent and impartial tribunal and that "no-one may be fined except by a court of law".
Tuesday 16 May 2006
Tolls = Clean Air
Budapest has decided to introduce a toll in the city and to narrow a number of main roads by one lane. The reason is said to be to "improve air conditions":- Portfolio - "Hungary to introduce toll in capital to fight pollution". Tolls are a wonderful device, at a stroke they will improve air quality. It is just incidental that someone somewhere will make a profit. What's the Hungarian for "Capita"?.
PS Further report which mentions the "Radical Pedestrians, a branch of the international citizens' initiative Critical Mass":- Budapest Times - "Council adopts city road tax programme".
Monday 15 May 2006
"Workers" of the World, Unite
Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, is on a private visit to London. As he says he is a socialist he and Ken are getting on well, and Hugo according to today's FT has said how much he admires the London Con charge as it cuts fuel use. Strange that the head of one of the biggest oil producers says that he wants to cut fuel use, particularly as the FT points out that fuel is 2 pence (4 cents) a litre in Venezuela compared with 95 pence ($1.80) in London. But oil producers may have figured out that they are better off under a tolls regime than under a fuel duty system.
The case against the sale of the Indiana Toll Road has started. The state may succeed in stopping it going any further as it has asked that the plaintiffs post a bond for $3.8 billion:- Indystar - "'Major Moves' appeal likely after judge rules"
Texas Toll Party are claiming a few scalps in recent elections. They did not stand, but campaigned against some of the main stream candidates who were most keen on tolls.
PSLater reports say that the Toll Party is being supported by some members of the Libertarian Party and guitarist Jimmy Vaughn, who played a benefit concert for the Austin Toll Party called "Tunes not Tolls".
New M6 Toll Meeting
Green campaigners against the M6 Toll Expressway are having a public meeting tonight in Congleton:- BBC - "Campaigners oppose M6 expansion". Something has to be done urgently to increase the road capacity between the Midlands and the North West, but a new toll road is not the answer. It would use a lot of land but make little difference to congestion. Most drivers would avoid it, as is already being experienced with the existing M6 Toll.
Monday 15 May 2006
California Torture (T)rak
To try and reduce delays at toll booths, trolls all over USA have over last few years encouraged drivers to switch to one of the electronic systems. In some areas this is done by offering free transponders and discounts, but California has recently been offering inducements such as free prize draws. It is usual though not essential that some of the lanes are electronic tolls only, even though this increases the number of accidents as drivers switch lanes. KCBS reports that "Back-ups have increased on most Bay Area bridges since more FasTrak-only lanes were introduced. The strategy, stated by several spokesman in no uncertain terms, was that when the delay got long enough, drivers would cry uncle and sign up for FasTrak." The delay and frustration strategy has increased weekday use of electonic tolls to over 40%, but 75% of drivers at weekends are still using cash:- "Toll Authority Considers Fewer FasTrak Lanes On Weekends"
Saturday 13 May 2006
Hurricane Tolls Cost falls
The cost of suspending Florida's tolls is today reported as being only $19 million last year, compared with $32 million in 2004. The tolls are suspended to speed up evacuations during hurricanes.
Tolls on the way?
Officials in South Carolina want to toll the Interstate 95. They say that they want the money to reduce the number of accidents. Don't they know that there are more accidents at approaches to the toll booths than anywhere else? Tolling the Interstate is illegal under both state and federal law. Getting federal permission will not be a problem, but it remains to be seen if state politicians will agree.
Missouri state senators on Wednesday and reps yesterday approved a Bill to authorise building a privately operated toll bridge. The Bill was needed because the Missouri Constitution forbids toll roads and bridges. Apparently by having it privately operated they can ignore the state constitution. Though it is not certain that this will go ahead as Illinois is still opposed to the bridge being tolled. Does the Constitution allow building half a bridge?
The Big Con
The Cambridge Evening News reports that Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce is opposed to Con charges. It appears that neither are the Council keen. So? - Well Cambridgeshire is one of the seven pilot areas for road pricing. From what we've been able to find out most of the pilots have no intention of ever implementing a "congestion" charge - they just want the money:- "Business chiefs slam talk of tolls"
Thursday 11 May 2006
Car Traffic not moving
Early this morning we got a news release from DfT saying that they had just published the Traffic Statistics for 1st quarter of 2006. In fact they didn't till late this afternoon at:-here.Their spin said:- "Traffic levels rose by 1.2 per cent between Q1 2005 and Q1 2006. Other key results, comparing Q1 2005 and Q1 2006, include:- Car traffic was virtually unchanged; Light van traffic was 8 per cent higher and Goods vehicle traffic rose by 3 per cent ."
This is similar to the pattern over the last few years. Car traffic has hardly changed since 2002, but goods traffic has increased by about 8% (2% a year).
M6 Toll Success
Following yesterday's announcement that the Government is to move towards tolls on all roads, Paul Dale in the Birmingam Post looks at the success of the M6 Toll:- "Toll road that failed to solve traffic problem" "So Minister... still think road pricing works?".
More on Tolls Sell
There were more reports in this morning's papers on yesterday's suicidal leap off the cliff by the new Transport Secretary. It isn't clear yet whether the Tories will join him, though the Guardian are still saying that Tories "are in favour of road charging". According to some reports Dougie's move follows a letter from Tony Blair telling him that it was a priority; though as Dougie's last job was Europe minister, he presumably thinks that more tolls will make us more European.
Dougie said yesterday that " I now want to move from the why to the how." A wise move!
According to the FT, the policy is backed by "business". It has also been backed by the "Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport", who's patron is the Princess Royal - no doubt she will not have to worry too much about paying tolls.
Not dense enough for public transport
Alan Moran argues why public transport will fail. In brief the population densities are too low and business is more dispersed:- On line opinion (reprinted from Age) - "Don't be too transported with delight". Could this be why our rulers are ignoring the population explosion?
£10 Con charge?
Last night in a "State of London" Debate on TV, our Ken revealed that he wants to increase the Con charge again - to £10 ($18.50)"by 2008".
PS According to ABD, Ken also plans to ban cars more than 8 years old from London. Like the Con charge, another move to force poorer drivers off the road. Alas Genevieve! (For those too young to remember a 1904 Darracq car driven by John Gregson and Dinah Sheridan on the London-to-Brighton run in a 1953 film.)
Wednesday 10 May 2006
Yes to road, but No tolls
Officials in America are often keen on tolls. But the Daily Herald reports that some officials are backing resistance to tolls in Virginia:- "Consensus of I-95 meeting: Work needed, no tolls to do it".
Pay as you go for Oldies
Computing reports that insurer, Norwich Union, is extending its trial of pay as you go car insurance. The extended trial will now include old people i.e. over 21s:- Guardian / PA - "Norwich Union is to monitor more vehicles in tests to determine Pay as You Drive insurance premiums"
Europe pushing Tolls
It is widely believed that the plans for more tolls are being pushed from Europe. Report this morning on a conference at end of April:- Infrasite - European Commission plans.
Some of the intitiatives funded by Europe (with our taxes):-
European Transport pricing initiative (including links to "Progress" Designs for Inter Urban Road Pricing in Europe Europrice.
Douglas Alexander, the new Transport Secretary, is already trying to sell road pricing:- Guardian / PA - "Transport Secretary outlines vision" BBC - "Minister to favour road charging".
Later reports via Reuters say "Britain, unlike France, Italy and Norway, has only one major road where tolls are payable -- a stretch of the M6 motorway. Early indications are that traffic volume on the payable stretch has fallen by about 15 percent against 2004 levels." The Government spin doctors are using driver's increased aversion to tolls as proof that it works! But all tolls do is drive people onto less suitable roads. Are the Government that daft that they want empty motorways and all the other roads completely clogged with traffic?
Latest report in the Guardian online implies that the only problem that the Tory party have with the Government's proposals for road pricing is that it won't be ready for a decade. The Guardian also (incorrectly) implies that in the meantime the Tories think that the Government must do more in areas such as "funding northern tram schemes, and rolling out congestion charges in other cities":- Guardian - "New transport secretary backs road pricing"
Predictably today's reporting was one sided (do the Government spin doctors get a bonus?). About the only criticism that got reported was Paul Smith from Safe speed being quoted on politics.co:- "Road pricing is regressive"
No Tolls promise going, going, gone
The Liberals in Victoria have changed leader, they have also changed policy on tolls on the Eastlink. Originally they promised that there would be "no tolls", that changed to "half tolls" and now it's "full tolls".
Tuesday 9 May 2006
Ken's love affair with USA
According to Bloomberg, Ken has had another go at the Americans. With reference to the American ambassador being "like a chiseling little crook'", Ken says "I stand by everything I said about the ambassador. If he can't take the heat, he shouldn't be in the kitchen.". We are a bit surprised that Ken should use one of President Truman's phrases, and in the same speech suggest that President Bush may be tried for war crimes. "London Mayor May Sue U.S. Over Car Fee; Says Bush Is Criminal".
The Birmingham Evening Mail reports that at a conference last night, West Midlands business leaders rejected the idea of tolls:- "Road charging not right for region, say city bosses". We are glad to see that the bosses have some sense. Tolls are after all best when it is the other gal or guy who suffers. Problem is that the Government is promising lots of money to pay for transport improvements, but only to those who say that they love tolls and will bring them in at the first opportunity.
PSThis report appeared in Shropshire Star on 15th May
At the end of last week, one of the runners for the Democrat candidature for New York Governor threw out the suggestion that NY should have London style "congestion" charges. According to Newsday this morning - this has put him to the bottom of the list. They say his gaffe was not the idea - it was admitting it before you get elected.
Tolls for Rich
One of the Troll tricks is to bring in "HOV" lanes for cars with more than one occupant. They are usually underused and a waste of space, so they then come up with the idea of letting other drivers use the lane if they pay a toll. So far they have got away with this trick, but in Utah they are rebelling. One resident says "Tolls are just a way for the rich to pay for privilege. Other methods, like a general tax increase, should be used to improve capacity and help build new roads. I believe that here in Utah, we don't like prima donnas, or those that would like to pay for privilege." Daily Herald / AP - "Poll: Most disapprove of an HOV lane fee".
Monday 8 May 2006
M6 Toll decline ends
Traffic on the M6 Toll in April was again down compared with the corresponding figure for 2005. But it looks as if it hadn't been for the unusually high number of non working days, the traffic would have been up on the year before:- Detailed traffic figures.
The Government is also going to do its bit to help the toll road. No, they are not going to buy out the tolls. Instead there will be road works on the old M6 thoughout the summer. There are rumours that the company may use the opportunity to put the tolls up again:- BBC - "Months of repairs to M6 potholes".
Ken and "over there"
The Times does not like our Ken, but when it comes to backing him or tolls, there is no contest. So this morning it published an attack on the Americans for not paying the Con Charge.
By coincidence today's Harvard Political Review had an interview with Ken. Strangely enough he does not froth at the mouth. When asked about the Con charge all he says is "I've just decided to double the size of the congestion charge zone by taking it to Kensington, but we won't enlarge it beyond that. The next stage, early in the next decade, will be a much more sophisticated road pricing policy based on a tag and beacon or even a satellite system so you can specifically target roads that suffer from congestion."
They are still arguing about the proposed new bridge over the Mississipi. Illinois wants it to be free, Missouri wants to toll it. This is part of a common pattern, as most of the bridge users will be people from Illinois who have to cross the river to get work. The Editor of the Belleville News suggests that they move the jobs:- "Just go around the toll bridge".
Sunday 7 May 2006
USA only "mean"
The London Transport Commissioner yesterday launched another attack on the US for not paying the Con charge. He said that they were "shockingly mean". The Americans may think that London is warming to them as only a month ago Ken said the US Ambassador was a "chiseling little crook" for not paying.
New Toll Czar
Friday's Cabinet reshuffle included Douglas Alexander replacing fellow Scot, Alistair Darling, as Transport Secretary. Alistair seemed like a pragmatist who realised that his road pricing plans were daft. Dougie's voting record indicates that he is keen on tolls, though that may just mean that he was following orders. As he is an MP for Renfrewshire we wonder whether he supported the removal of tolls from the Erskine bridge, or would he like to bring them back?
Friday 5 May 2006
Tolls for "Charity"
Unofficial road tolls are mainly a problem in very poor countries. But it seems that richer countries have them too:- Lindsay This Week.
We thought this was bizarre, but then we remembered that the organisation that collects tolls on the Clifton Supension Bridge is officially a Charity - and they collect tolls every day of the year.
The Star Ledger reports that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is replacing one million transponders because their batteries are failing earlier than expected. Users of the transponders are being given a new one for free and have to send the old one back to be "disposed of under environmental regulations". We wonder what the regs say about all the emissions caused by toll booth queues?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that two employees at the State Road and Tollway authority have pleaded guilty to paying refunds due on toll accounts to themselves.
"Give us more money"
There have been more reports on the proposal for "Congestion" charging around Auckland. Today Scoop has a press release from a business association. They point out that the NZ Government has just announced a $9.4 billion ($6 billion or £3.25 billion) operating surplus for the nine months to 31 March. The surplus is in part due to an extra five cents on fuel excise and extra General Sales tax receipts due to fuel price hikes. They say "The Government needs to drop its obsession with a London-style congestion charge for the central Auckland business areas, and start directing the hefty surplus it is already making off Auckland taxpayers and drivers towards fixing Auckland's transport shortcomings."
Tories going Greener
The Barking & Dagenham paper in London reports that a senior Dartford Tory councillor is backing David Cameron's "plans" for higher tolls at the Dartford crossing for "gas guzzling cars".
Thursday 4 May 2006
"No Way" to New Toll
South Africans chant "No way, we ain't gonna pay" at a meeting to discuss the proposed Wild Coast toll highway:- Daily News - "Angry residents demand end to N2 Plaza plan".
"Which" consumer magazine have found that hybrid cars save little fuel compared with conventional cars:- Guardian - "Green claims for hybrid cars fail to add up, says Which? survey". We have nothing against hybrid cars, but this report does explain why they are exempt from tolls and "congestion" charges. The drivers are going to save little or nothing on fuel, so we have to find some way of rewarding them for being green.
The report also mentions that electric cars are environment friendly "when charged with cleanly-generated electricity". This is another unfortunate green delusion. "cleanly-generated electricity" goes into the baseload, so any marginal or additional uses are all coming from the burning of oil or gas.
Wednesday 3 May 2006
It appears that the ideas of American Greens are just as impractical, inefficient and uneconomic as those of British Greens. They want to encourage fuel efficient cars. Does this mean that they will scrap tolls and increase gas tax? Of course not. Instead they propose that cars carry a "bar code" which would be scanned at tolls and gas stations etc, and more fuel efficient cars would pay lower rates for gas and tolls etc.
Reuters report that the merger of Spanish Troll - Abertis, with Autostrade from Italy has now been agreed. The chief executive of the Italian firm has been dumped as he backed protests about Italian roads being run from Barclelona:- "Autostrade board ignores CEO, approves Abertis deal".
There have been a lot more objections to the proposal (see 27 April) for tolls around Auckland. One business association says that the idea is so bad, that it would even prefer an outright ban on cars - which would have to be kept of the road during the morning peak - once a week:- Scoop - "Carless hours almost preferred
". Auckland obviously like cars, as it is also reported today that they are permanently banning them from the Grafton bridge, which will be reserved for buses, bikes and ambulances:- NZ Herald - "Cars to be banned from Grafton Bridge".
Tuesday 2 May 2006
The West Virginia Turnpike was recently stopped from raising its tolls. By way of retaliation it has cut back, and stopped the $75,000 it spent each year on planting wildflowers:- Charleston Daily Mail - "Turnpike officials
cut wildflower program". We wonder how they managed to stop previous year's wildflowers from self seeding? Does this mean they will also save on weed killer?
Monday 1 May 2006
The USA is the biggest non payer of Ken's Con charge according to figures just released:- BBC - "US tops 'congestion charge debt'".
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