Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Abusing the "Abuser Fee" at the Daily Press

In the same editorial noted in the post below, The Daily Press in Newport News took a dislike to one of the few positive proposals on transportation reform to emerge from the House of Delegates: to charge "abuser fees" to help pay for roads. (Click here and scroll down to "Some Ideas to Be Resisted.") Says the Daily Press:

The legislation - embraced by [Gov. Tim] Kaine, too - also implies that Virginia will begin doing what it does not do now: enforce traffic laws. It's a hit-or-miss
proposition these days, and mostly miss.

But let's say battalions of ticket-issuing gendarmes descend on the commonwealth's highways, blue flashing lights and all, in search of "abusers." What will happen? Likely, drivers will amend their behavior - which is the only beneficial prospect in this.

When that occurs, what happens to the revenue stream? It peters out, that's what. Until, of course, legislators broaden the definition of abuse. See how this works?

You can usually count on the Daily Press to totally miss the point. Yes, abuser fees may raise a small amount of money to fund more road improvement projects. But the real benefit is to change motorist behavior. The worst traffic congestion on the Interstates is caused by wrecks -- wrecks often caused by speeding or reckless drivers. The way to reduce the most painful incidents of traffic congestion is to reduce the incidence of wrecks.

Of course, that opens up an entire range of policy options that appear to be anathema to the Daily Press editorial writers and their colleagues in Norfolk, Roanoke, Washington and elsewhere: One way to ameliorate traffic congestion is to create incentives for people to change their behavior. Congestion pricing is one such solution. Paying for road maintenance through a user fee like a gas tax, as opposed to revenue sources that have no connection with Vehicle Miles Driven, is another. And, of course, altering land use patterns -- an option that the Daily Press never acknowledged until it was legitimized by Tim Kaine -- is yet another.

10 Comments:

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Gee, for a minute I thought you were on the right track.

Congestion fees are punishment for not changing your behavior, not an incentive to do so. What change do you think will occur from this punishment? When my dog gets zapped for going too near the dog fence, he doesn't go there anymore.

What you would like to happen is for more people to live downtown, close to their work, but if they have to pay a congestion fee they are less likely to live there or work there. Zap, more sprawl.

An incentive for people to live downtown would be for the state to pay to lower their rent and provide better schools.

All you need for that to happen is the political will and a major tax increase.


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As for tying land use to transportation, look in yesterdays Examiner. There is an article about new development (around route 1?) where the "developers" are paying for massive new road improvements. The improvements will be paid for by bonds, the payments for which will be added to the new homeowners mortgage. To the tune of $1600/month.

Tying land use to transportation apparently means massive new funds for roads, and the end of anything that looks like affordable housing.

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I don't think I'm opposed to higher fees for the handful of raving maniacs out there, but I'm skeptical that is how it will work. I'm afraid it will be just more of a revenue lottery with no connection to prior or continuous bad behavior.

After accidents, the second biggest reason for tie-ups is police activity.

 
At 1:22 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Can we at least acknowledge that there seems to be some confusion here, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for clearing it up, and so every back-and-forth on this point jumps from one set of tracks to the other.

So let's not hear again that raising fines for being a bad driver is in any way a reliable source of revenue, for the reasons that the Daily Press cited.

And I do think congestion pricing is a good strategy - i don't think people will up and move if they have to change their travel time by 15-30 minutes; good gawd.

But i'm skeptical that higher fines will make bad drivers into good drivers - it'll just make them into bad drivers with a lot of unpaid fines.

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

We could do a better job of keeping really atrocious drivers off the road. If you have ever had to take the license away from an elderly driver, you know how hard it is.

It is not a reliable revenue source. But if you can get the very worst drivers off the road, then you have done something.

By getting them off the road you might prevent accidents/congestion.
But if the extra patrols needed to catch them cause more congestion than it relieves and costs more than the fines it brings in, then it is not worth it.

Most rush hour accidents are rear-enders, I suspect. If that happens you already have a backup/congestion, and you already caught the guy: raise the fines substantially for rear enders and you don't need additional police resources.

I think congestion pricing is a good strategy, too, but over a long period of time the higher cost of living/working/doing business will cause people to preferentially consider other locations. This is an "incentive" to leave town, which I think is a good idea, and EMR does not.

It also shows why changing land use patterns takes so long: you are right, people won't move just because of congestion pricing, but when the decision to move is made congestion pricing will become a factor.

Under congestion pricing some people will go earlier or leave later, (or go someplace else) but we have long since passed the point where that is a very useful strategy: "rush" hour is now approaching four hours.

Congestion fees will NOT relieve congestion. The way they work is that the more congested it is the higher a price you charge for access (to the additional lane or whatever). You get the most money by charging the maximum price you can get without actually reducing the flow (congestion).

People object to HOV lanes because they perceive them as a waste since they don't appear full. However, they carry more people than the other three lanes combined. Hot lanes will let some people exit the regular lanes and pay the toll. But you can't let too many people do it or the HOT lane gets congested and the price isn't worth it. The way you prevent that is charge a higher price so less people will use the service. The fewer people who use the service, the more congested the regular lanes remain - and the more the toll is worth the price.

Congestion pricing or "Value" pricing as it is called will not reduce congestion, but it will raise revenue you can spend on roads (or transit). Or, you could use the congestion money to improve schools and subsidize rents in town so people would actually drive less.

The confusion comes from trying to link land use and transportation. You have to figure out your goals and prioritize them: is it raising money, lowering costs, preventing congestion, improving traffic flow, reducing pollution, reducing VMT, saving open space, or promoting New Urbanism?

They are all admirable goals, to some extent, and at least some of them are mutually incompatible. So what's the best mix?

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Congestion pricing will reduce traffic congestion. The goal is to get drivers to NOT pay the toll. If it doesn't work at the initial tolling rate, then raise the rate - and then raise it again. If you make it painful, they will stop coming. If you don't grasp that concept, then you don't grasp what congestion pricing is.

And: we don't need to raise the fines on bad driving to get them off the road. That's a different track. We could get them off the road by just declaring that we'd suspend their licenses earlier than we do now.

 
At 10:44 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Nope, the goal is to collect the money. I can provide references that show why congestion pricing will relieve congestion only a little. Metro already uses congestion pricing by charging more at rush hour. See how well it works?

If you are right and they stop coming, then they will (eventually) go someplace else, and they may take their jobs with them. Moving the congestion someplace else does nothing to reduce traffic, and nothing to reduce sprawl, and nothing to rebuild the cities.

If it moves someplace else, next we will call for transit in that area, and then congestion pricing......

 
At 6:12 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

BMW thinks London's congestion fees are costing them a million British pounds per year for demo rides and company business. The company is now considering whether to move out of London.

It has only been two years since the fees were established. the price has gone from 5 to 8 pounds and the area is set to expand. Small merchants hate it, especially those located just OUTSIDE the congestion zone.

Almost half the money brought in is used to maintain the system, but bus service has improved through less congestion and more funding.

The Tube has not benefitted, because it is mostly operating at capacity anyway.

 
At 7:34 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

The day that Metro raises its fares in 10- or 15-minute increments, then we can compare it to congestion pricing.

I marvel at the embrace of hypermobility, the idea that we can simply go where we want when we want, by ourselves. Yeah, rugged individualism, that.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

We can have some other system, if we choose. It will offer less service, less convenient service, a lesser class of service, over a smaller area, at lower speeds, and cost more.

Who in their right mind would choose such a system?

 
At 7:26 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) restriction does encourage carpooling, but otherwise it acts perversely to increase congestion. "Analysis of Bay Area data suggests that the effect of the combined penalties is larger than the positive carpooling effect. Thus, the likely net result of HOV restrictions in the Bay Area is worsening congestion."

University of California Transportation Center

 

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