New York Times sponsors debate on where toll-$s should go - score tied 2.5 roads/2.5 transit

October 8, 2012

2012-10-08: Two contributors to a New York Times debate on where toll money should go say dedicate-it-to-the-road-being-tolled. Two say it's better to spend it elsewhere - transit is the most popular recipient. A fifth has it a bit both ways.

Sam Staley a market oriented policy writer at Florida State University in Tallahassee and Reason policy writer says political leaders should resist the temptation to tap toll revenues for other purposes.

"Tolls are direct user fees and thus provide an important element of market-like transparency and accountability. Drivers pay the tolls because they benefit from the toll road, not because they want to finance other government programs. This direct relationship has an enormous practical advantage, because toll revenue becomes a direct measure of users' willingness to pay.

Whenever possible, Staley writes, "toll revenue should be used to maintain and enhance the facilities that are tolled, including new toll lanes that facilitate bus rapid transit and passenger vehicles."

Diversion can "dilute the critical role that road pricing plays in holding transportation officials and policy makers accountable."

"Wary of wily"

In the current climate of fiscal austerity and retrenchment, Staley predicts the public will be "wary of wily attempts to extract even more revenue from them for politically determined priorities."

Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennyslvania and mayor of Philadelphia also says: "No, money from drivers' tolls should not subsidize other costs, like mass transit."

Transit he says should get its own funding.

"Using toll dollars paid by car owners to underwrite public transit would create the feeling that drivers were paying for something they don't use. The public accepts additional funding for transportation most readily when the costs are paid by the people who use them."

Rendell calls for the US Congress to lift restrictions on state use of tolls.

"Opponents say it is unfair to make people pay twice for a road, but that makes no sense. You pay for a house when you buy it, but you also pay to maintain it ever after. Our citizens understand tolling and accept it when they can see the benefits."

Support for tolls when benefits seen

He recounts how little opposition there was to tolling the untolled Scudder Falls Bridge over the Delaware River near Trenton to add lanes and reduce congestion of commuters:

"I received seven letters protesting the toll... A few years earlier, when I eliminated funding for spraying the black flies in central Pennsylvania, I received thousands of angry messages."

Todd Litman who runs an alternative transport think tank in British Columbia says there's a major shift away from roadway use to transit, biking and walking, and funding should follow that developing preference.

But he favors toll express lanes: "Everybody can benefit if congestion pricing is applied on existing urban roadways, with higher fees during peak periods to reduce congestion and a portion of revenue used to improve alternative modes of transit. This would create true options: travelers can pay to drive uncongested, travel on convenient and comfortable public transport, or drive free during off-peak periods. This increases overall transportation efficiency and equity."

Drivers without credit cards or bank accounts

Lexer Quamie policy counsel at the Civil and Human Rights leadership conference thinks tolls impose a burden on the poor: "Tolls can also lead to separate and unequal commutes -- a shorter, faster route for drivers with greater discretionary income and a longer, slower road for lower-income drivers. This becomes an even greater problem when road pricing relies on cashless, electronic technology. Drivers who lack credit cards and bank accounts or who cannot afford large deposits may be unable to drive on toll roads at all."

Toll revenue earmarked for transit she says "rarely makes it there."

Support transit in the same roadway

CW Marsella until recently the chief executive of the transit agency in Denver CO now a consultant thinks roads that incorporate a transit element can be expected to help fund that, but roads purely tolled for cars should not be expected to. He remarks on the success of the I-25 toll express lanes which were formed out of underutilized HOV lanes: "(W)e had a lot of excess capacity. The state and regional authorities decided to allow single-occupant vehicles to use the lane, if the driver paid a toll. The revenue was dedicated to the maintenance and operation of the lane, which had been the responsibility of the Regional Transportation District. Thus drivers who chose this toll lane were, in effect, supporting public transit."

Sharing of expensive facilities can often save resources and improve service, he notes.

But roads that are purely commuter routes shouldn't be expected be subsidize different routes, Marsella writes.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-10-08

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