AUGUST 2006 NEWS
Wednesday 24 August to Thursday 31st August
Some of the stories over the last 7 days while we took a break:-
Tolls Increase Inquiry The Department for Transport have decided that there will be an inquiry held in October into the proposed tolls increase on the Clifton suspension bridge - BBC - "Bridge toll rise goes to inquiry".
Times Toll pushing Today's (31st)Times leader comments on the leaked proposal that drivers should be allowed to use motorway hard shoulders during peak hours. The Times thinks that the Government is spending too much on road building ( Times says this is one billion pounds a year but doesn't say that this is covered by just one week's roads taxes). The Times wants "tolls, peak-hour congestion-charging and lanes reserved for car-pooling".
PS Using the hard shoulder is to be tried on the M42 from 12th September - BBC - "Hard shoulder plan to beat jams".
Increasing tolls Autocar magazine has produced a report saying that tolls will become one of the biggest roads costs. By 2015 it says that an average driver will spend £1,000 a year on road tolls, and a 30,000-mile a year driver will spend £3,000. And this is without "road pricing".
More toll pushing Regional development officials want tolls on the M62 - Liverpool Daily Post - "Drivers may face tolls to avoid M62 gridlock". You would think that development officials would be in favour of better roads!
European big brother The British Government is giving more money to the European Galileo spy satellite system that will also be used for road prcing - Silicon.com - More cash for road-pricing satellites".
Licence to print money MIG, the owners of the M6 Toll reported on the 24th that they had made £392 million in a PFI refinancing deal on the M6 Toll road. The existence of this refinancing was revealed on 24th May, but the amount was unknown. This is a staggering gain, on a company that only has a share capital of £1.5 million. As far as we can see this mega windfall has only been reported in the Evening Standard - This is Money -"M6 toll road pays Macquarie £392m".
Tolls division The Staten Island Advance reports that Stephen Harrison, the Democratic challenger for the congressional seat of Staten Island & Brooklyn wants tolls removed on the Verrazano- Narrows bridge for his potential constituents. The bridge generates a profit of nearly $300 million a year. Stephen says that State law requires congressional districts to be "compact, contiguous, and convenient", and that doesn't apply if you have to pay a $9 toll.
Tolls Time Illinois has opened its first "Open Road Tolling" lanes, in other words electronic tolls. Gov. Blagojevich said at Tuesday's opening - "Clearing up congestion on our roads is good for commerce, it's good for our environment and it's good for the millions of drivers using our tollway system who want to spend less time stuck in traffic and more time with their families doing other things." So why doesn't he scrap all the tolls?
Tolls suspended Some tolls have been suspended in Florida to ease traffic flow due to Tropical Storm Ernesto. Unfortunately, one truck driver was killed when his semi hit the Three Lakes toll plaza and burst into flames.
Court win The courts usually back the Trolls, but New York State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Glownia is allowing the case aginst the Buffalo tolls to proceed. The lawsuit is from businessman Carl Paladino, Erie County and the Town of Hamburg. Buffalo is the only city in New York State that has road tolls inflicted on it.
Daily Advertiser - "Toll roads won't solve road and traffic issues".
Toll Collect Report by Hannah Jones of the Western Mail on Germany's Toll Collect system for trucks - "Mobile Tolls".
This story was reported in other papers including the Manchester Evening News. One reader from Germany wrote to them - "What they have not told you is that since the introduction of tolls there has been an increase in the number of trucks by-passing the motorways and instead going through small villages and and increased useage of A and B roads which often pass through small towns, leading to increased congestion and raod damage in these areas. I am a sufferer of such a problem with trucks using unsuitable roads to save money."
Mayor sees red The socialists have suggested a "congestion" charge for Madrid. It is opposed by others, including the Mayor who is not a socialist.
Tolls Syndrome Report from the Wall Street Journal - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - "Swedes to vote on high-tech solution to traffic".
A poll this month of 1,000 Stockholmers indicates that 51% will support tolls in the referendum and 40% will oppose them. People living in Stockholm suburbs will not be given a vote, though they are the ones who will mainly pay.
Wednesday 23 August
"For today, not tomorrow"
A glimpse into how turnpikes are financed. Do the people who run publicly owned turnpikes really think that they can beat the banks? Boston Globe - "Turnpike economics".
The Manichi Daily News reports on a dangerous criminal who is being "grilled" by police investigators. He is accused of not paying the toll and instead thowing a piece of paper that said- "I declare I never pay tolls -- Freeway Club".
Manchester Labour leader admits support for con charging
Monday's Manchester Evening News reported on the possibility of "congestion" charging in Manchester. It said that Manchester's labour leader, Sir Richard Leese, supports the principal of congestion charging and road pricing. He reveals that he "has discussed a possible congestion charge scheme with Mr Alexander (the Transport Secretary)". The paper invited comments from readers. Here is one from Jake Long - "If the roads are likely to grind to a halt then it is a no-brainer that new and improved roads are where investment needs to be made. Further investment in public transport is just throwing good money after bad.".
Tuesday 22 August
"People of Jamaica need to wake up"
More on the Portmore tolls - Jamaica Observer - "Dark side of Highway 2000 and its tolls". Seems like another Skye bridge fiasco - but with warmer weather!
A call from a highway contractor for more roads spending is what you expect. But Stan Lanford, a former chairman of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, also says - "I believe the fairest tax is the fuel tax, as you pay in proportion to the amount you drive" - Roanoke Times - "Transportation needs funding".
Party Political broadcast
Channel Four last night had a hour long "documentary" on commuting and congestion, presented by Bob Kiley the American ex Congestion Charge Czar. It was just like a political broadcast on behalf of the "Anti Roads, Pro Tolls Party". He wanted more spending on public transport and the money was of course to come from roads users. Though by the time he's finished it isn't clear who will will be left on the road to pay all these tolls and taxes.
He is a big fan of tolls, and criticised drivers for not using the M6Toll. On road pricing we should use the "price car drivers consider too high to continue driving". He also said - "the only way to get the motorist off the road ... is to hit him or her where it hurts".
He attacked politicians (apart from Ken Livingstone) for being scared of the voters. In particular he criticised them for failing to bring in the Edinburgh congestion charge and the £4 tolls on the Forth road bridge.
Sunday 20 August
Tom for Mayor?
Actor Tom Conti was on BBC tv today. He said that he was thinking of standing for selection as Tory candidate for London Mayor. His aim would be to get rid of the Con charge which he says "makes both tourists and residents afraid to come into London" and "particularly hurts restaurants, shops and theatres".
Today we got a little peek about what goes on when there is tolls money around. Common Cause Indiana says that businesses "have the megaphone because they have all the money" - nwitimes - "Political players helped pave way for Major Moves".
The Worcester Telegram reports on what happened when New Hampshire switched to electronic tolls and stopped using their "Old Man of the Mountain" toll tokens. They sold the brass tokens, 15 million of them, for $430,000. The only problem is that the smelter is having to spend a lot of time and money sorting out all the worthless duds!
Saturday 19 August
Channel Four "Dispatches" are screening a doumentary at 8 PM on Monday about congestion. It appears that it will largely be the thoughts of New Yorker Bob Kiley who helped Ken bring in the London Con charge. The other side will apparently be put by a Nigel Hastilow. Someone of that name was cited by Australian Trolls MIG in their evidence to the MPS committee that was looking at tolls. He was of course supporting tolls. It looks like we can look forward to a nicely balanced programme.
Using the Freedom of Information Act more has been discovered about plans for con charges in Yorkshire- Yorkshire Post - "Congestion tolls 'may be forced on the region'".
Milan is considering a toll that may come into operation as early as January. The price hasn't been decided but is likely to be two euros ($2.50 or £1.40). That would seem like a bargain to Londoners who are charged eight pounds a day ($15 or 12 euros). It is also proposed that Milan drivers will be exempt. The only ones who will pay will be those who live outside the city, and they are not happy.
Friday 18 August
Ohio Tolls split
The Republicans want to sell the Ohio Turnpike. This is opposed by the Democrats, and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur goes as far as saying that instead of selling the road, Ohio's leaders should aim to pay off the turnpike's debt and abolish tolls altogether - Toledo Blade - "Criticism coordinated for Turnpike leasing plan". Marcy is a member of the Progressive Caucus who "seek to give voice to the needs and aspirations of all Americans and to build a more just and humane society".
Ken's Vox Pox
According to a poll commissioned by Ken Livingstone most Londoners want vehicles which do the "most damage to the environment" to pay a higher con charge, and those that do less damage to pay a lower charge:- Ken's press release. When it comes to polls, he who pays the piper usually gets the result that he wants. But it is interesting that the London Mayor sees this as backing for higher charges, and does not mention reducing any charges. It is also interesting that he has given up claiming that the charge reduces congestion, it seems that the aim now is social engineering. Perhaps we should all acquire a few toads as pets before it is too late!
Fiji's Director of Roads has announced that there will be no tolls on the new Rewa Bridge linking Suva to Nausori. Good news. It may seem odd that it is news, as the bridge was paid for by EU and other overseas aid money, but elsewhere roads built with aid money have still been tolled.
Yesterday we mentioned the "North Carolina Turnpike Authority" who as yet have no toll roads. Today an attack is reported on U.S. Senator David Vitter, who was opposing a suggestion for Louisiana tolls. The Senator has apparently now backtracked and said that he supports tolls, at least for new roads. The people who have forced this statement from him are the "Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission". As you may have guessed, this is another tolls group that currently have no roads to manage but with a board of 10 directors.
Another Troll Court victory
The US Appeal Court have thrown out a case brought by truckers aginst toll increases by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. Truckers had argued that the increase wasn't "just and reasonable" under the Federal Aid Highway Act. The judges have ruled that private parties have no rights - Newsday / AP - "Appeals court upholds dismissal of truckers' bridge-toll lawsuit".
Ten ways to avoid competition. Number 10 is "Toll bridges - the epitome of wide moat enterprises." - Seeking Alpha - "Ten Ways to Build Moats to Hold Back Competition".
Thursday 17 August
Topsy Turvy "Free Market"
More Trolls guff today suggesting that if there was a "free market" then there would be a lot more road tolls, and that money would be used to give massive subsidies to public transport systems:- Utne - "Free-market theory could be the key to greener travel".
Mayors in North Carolina have given provisional approval to tolls:- NBC17 - "Mayors Approve Tolls Plan" News14 - "Triangle mayors research toll roads". The reason given is that otherwise they would have to wait 25 years for roads to be built. This is an old Troll trick - the toll roads are financed by borrowing, and if you are going to borrow then it is cheaper to repay the loans from gas or other taxes.
You may notice that the toll proposals come from the "North Carolina Turnpike Authority". This was created in 2002 and has a board of 8. Their website names 11 senior staff- how many will they need when there are some toll roads?
PS It is also reported today that West Virginia are considering new toll roads. The head of the Transportation department says that this will probably only be in the Eastern Panhandle as "the people there are accustomed to paying tolls."
We are not sure whether this is a spoof or not. Transport for London want a travelling fair to pay £8 a day con charge for each of their dodgem bumper cars:- Life Style News - "Fair 'must pay congestion charge for dodgems'".
Wednesday 16 August
Don't frighten the chickens too much
VNU magazines group has a feature on "Driving benefits of satellites". The AA Motoring Trust says that it can see the "benefits of satellite tracking as part of a national road pricing scheme" but is worried that "the cost of introducing road pricing on a national scale is frightening. It could cost tens of billions and maintaining it as much as £1bn a year" Perhaps people would be more worried if they were told the Government's own figures which are that the cost of implementation could be £62 billion, and the annual cost "could be some £5 billion".
Thumbs down from IT
Silcon.com got 650 responses to their feature on the latest road pricing plans. Amazingly as many as 17 per cent of these IT experts thought it was a good idea. The views of the others may be summed up by that of Tim Haines: "There's already a perfectly good road pricing system in place which also takes into account the fuel consumption and emissions of the vehicle using the road, involves no new expensive technology, cannot be avoided and requires no enforcement - it's called fuel tax." "Pay-as-you-drive plan panned".
New York charge
Matthew Schuerman in the New York Observer reports that Mayor Bloomberg is preparing plans for a Big Apple Congestion charge and tolls on all bridges. There is no support for this, but it is being pushed by the usual mix of green and establishment interests including "Transportation Alternatives" and "Partnership for New York City" who's ex head Bob Kiley helped Ken Livingstone introduce London's con charge:- "The Shape of Things to Come".
Tuesday 15 August
End to free ride
Following the recent tunnels death, Massachussets is taking over the management of the Turnpike. It seems that top managers are leaving ahead of various changes, not least of which is that they may have to pay tolls in future!
Boston Globe - "Top staff is leaving Mass. Pike" Daily News Tribune / AP - "Romney-Amorello disagreements continue to end of chairman's time".
More tolls to solve Middle East problems
Trolls and their supporters employ strange logic. An article in USA Today urges a switch from gas taxes to tolls. The reason for this is partly because "burning fossil fuels is causing global warming" and partly due to "events in the Middle East and the growing thirst for oil in China".
The best system of all is apparently that of Singapore which has electronic road pricing. Though Trolls outside of Singapore would probably not want to also have Singapore's punitive annual vehicle taxes and rationing of permits to buy a car:-
The first August auction has just been held and 3,300 permits to buy a car were sold - some at 11,900 Singapore dollars and some at 12,500 Singapore dollars (about $US 8,000 or £4,200). Annual road tax for a 1600 cc car is 950 Singapore dollars ($600 or £320). Cars over 10 years old pay higher rates and later become "time expired". Fuel taxes for petrol / gas driven cars are a lot higher than USA and a lot lower than in Europe. Fuel tax for diesel cars is even lower than in USA. (Singapore Government - car information).
Monday 14 August
Maryland Toll Queue
Americans quietly suffer tolls, but one of the Baltimore papers has a complaint (well almost), about "spending two hours backed up at the Bay Bridge". (This is the Bay bridge (really 2 parallel bridges) over Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.) To reduce the problem the west bound tolls were removed some years ago. But there are still queues at the eastbound tolls. A task force is considering what to do, and in the meantime drivers are urged to buy EZ passes and on busy days to travel between 10PM and 7AM. We wonder what would happen if they tried removing the tolls?
American Trolls are campaigning hard for higher tolls, more tolls, and road sales. They are getting a helping hand from the Federal Administration which has made it easier to toll existing roads. This is a report published at the end of June by the Government Accountability Office - "States' Expanding Use of Tolling Illustrates Diverse Challenges and Strategies". The report includes a correlation analysis which indicates that states are keener to toll where they have a big population, high vehicle mileage and low share of Federal gas tax.
Saturday 12 August
Lib Dems to hit drivers - first instalment
Yesterday the Lib Dems announced new tax proposals "Fairer, Simpler, Greener". The net effect is that taxes on personal income reduce by £12.8 billion, and corporate taxes reduce by £0.2 billion. This will be paid for by raising capital gains taxes by £6.2 billion and "additional environmental taxes" of £8.1 billion, with £1.3 billion going into "contingency".
They say that the £8.1 billion for "additional environmental taxes" will come from "three principal sources - aviation, vehicle excise duty, and fuel duty"
Aviation will apparently be £3 billion, though planes in the north of Scotland will not have to pay anything.
On vehicle excise duty the top 3 bands would be increased- £150 band to £850, £190 to £1500, and £210 to £2000. They say this will yield £750 million.
They are a bit coy about putting a figure on the extra fuel duty, but by deduction it would be £4.35 billion, which would increase cost per litre by nearly 10 pence. though drivers in "remote rural areas" would get a small subsidy.
They conclude "We remain committed in the long term to the development of a scheme of National Road User Pricing. This is already being applied on a limited scale to tax congestion in big cities and we support the principle as well as local experimentation."
Friday 11 August
There is a threat of more tolls in Lousiana:- KATC / AP - "Possible tolls on interstates". The Louisiana Transportation Secretary says that more tolls are "essential to the economic recovery of the state after the hurricanes and are needed to better prepare for future events". Really? Tolls kill recovery, and the first thing Florida does with a hurricance is to suspend tolls to speed evacuation.
PS Denial from the Governor's office - The Advocate
PPS Comment from Jeff Crouere - Bayou Buzz - "Louisiana Political Winds And Bad Ideas Are Tolling Against Blanco"
PPPS Another denial from the Governor's office - Nola / AP
Yesterday's FT had an article by Robin Harding, urging businesses to support more tolls which are "a regressive tax on the poor (and) a free-market policy of benefit to business and the rich":- "Why business must back congestion charging".
We agree with the FT that tolls hit the poor, but don't agree with the assertion that tolls benefit business.
Mr Harding quotes the anti roads "Commission for Integrated Transport" saying "a universal congestion charge could save transport operators £191m ($364m) per year in lost time". He also says that "Congestion fees are an economically efficient, free-market policy" and "The government must make clear that a fair share of the revenues will come back in better roads or lower motoring taxes.".
Like all the other sellers of tolls, this ignores the fact that there is an administration cost which based on Government figures would be around £10 billion ($19 billion) a year. It is rather difficult to see how business would gain from paying £2 to 3 billion in tolls or how there is any spare change to pay for better roads or lower "motoring" taxes.
Thursday 10 August
Latest Roads Use figures
Statistics for 2nd quarter of 2006 came out today. They follow the recent pattern - car traffic is not increasing and is actually slightly down on the same quarter in 2005 and 2004. Commercial traffic is still increasing.
They have stopped issuing quarterly figures for pedal cycles, two-wheeled motor vehicles, buses and coaches, because "these estimates lack the sufficient level of robustness for publication purposes". This is political speak meaning that the figures that they want to increase have fallen:- Report Excel tables.
Tories back tolls
We reported on the 4th about proposals for road tolls round Heathrow and Stansted airports. There are more reports with the reaction of the local Tories - they think tolls are a good idea - but not here:- Observer News - "Council attempts to put brakes on tolling fears" Hertfordshire Mercury - "Bid for probe into airport roads charge".
Councillor Bass from Essex says that the most likely model is the "Queen Elizabeth II Bridge" and says that "Essex motorists were already used to this system and accepted that without it, the M25 would grind to a halt.". It is sad that the Tories accept the fallacy that the M25 would grind to a halt without the tolls. Tolls have the effect of slowing and delaying traffic and reducing the capacity of the road. In America (but not Britain), tolls are suspended if there is an emergency and there is a need to speed the traffic. Tolls such as those on the Dartford Crossing also cause accidents as some traffic switches lanes on the approach to the tolls.
The report also says that tolls would require "hundreds of millions of pounds in investment". The actual figure calculated by the Government's own consultants is that the implementation cost could be over £60 billion. Most drivers would regard this not as an investment but as a scandalous waste of money, which should be spent on improving the road system. Will the Tories realise this?
On 28 July we mentioned Computing magazine's report on changes to Con charge technology. Today they published our view - ".... This is one IT system that most roads users would be happy to see crash."
Why Italy said no
The Italian Government say that they said no to the Trolls merger because Abertis is partly owned by a construction company which breaks a 1999 agreement. They had other worries:- Istituto Bruno Leoni - "Rome Stops Merger Between Italian and Spanish Companies".
Driving Riff Raff off the road
Today's City Diary from Dominic Walsh in the Times says - "I was given an interesting take on the congestion charge debate yesterday when I had lunch with an investment banker who drives his Jeep Grand Cherokee into the City every day. Far from decrying Ken Livingstone's plans to raise the charge to £25 for four-wheel-drive vehicles, he said that he would be happy to see the charge raised even further. "The higher the better. That way the roads will be clear and I'll be able to get to work more easily. And I know loads of people who think the same."
So we must prepare ourselves for roads used only by buses, taxis, Ferraris, Porsches and top-of-the-range four-wheel drives. Not quite what Ken had in mind, I suspect." Who knows?
Wednesday 9 August
Pay-as-you-drive 'black box' cars
Some reader comments in IT magazine - Silicon.
More on the Establishment Tolls Bandwaggon
The Yorkshire Post reports on predicted gridlock on the M62 and suggests that road pricing may be a possibility. They quote the views of the Freight Transport Association and the RAC Foundation. Both those bodies have elsewhere made clear that they support road pricing and tolls. Those views do not represent the majority of Britain's drivers, nearly all of whom will have to pay a lot more with little effect on traffic levels.
Tuesday 8 August
Tiger's tail pulled
The Democratic Revolution Party are disputing the result of Mexico's presidential election, and today stopped the tolls:- CNN - "Mexican leftist's supporters seize tollbooths". Stopping tolls is a direct challenge to the establishment and very risky.
"Bring back the old tolls"
Pro toll campaigners are trying to get North Somerset Council to bring back tolls on the Kewstoke Road to Weston-super-Mare:- BBC - "Viability of toll road examined". The tolls were suspended in 2005 because collection was not economic and the toll collector's job was unsafe. Some money may need to be spent to make the road safer for drivers and residents, but there is no justification for tolls on any road, as the authorities already milk drivers for one billion pounds every week.
More reaction to latest toll plans
The Freight Transport Association apparently represents companies that own over 200,000 lorries on Britain's roads. Despite this they are keen supporters of road tolls. Their press release today says:- "Yes to road pricing - but build more roads". They don't explain why drivers should pay more for roads, when the Government already collects one billion pounds a week from them. But most of all they don't explain what makes the FTA think that the Government would spend any of it on roads.
Yesterday's Daily Telegraph was one of the few papers that didn't fall for the tolls propaganda. Today's paper had a few letters on the subject, including from Frank Tomlin of Billericay, Essex:-
"Sir - The Government should study the contrasting systems of Switzerland and France.
In Switzerland, you are required to buy an annual motorway permit. You pay the equivalent of about £17.50 and display a sticker in your windscreen. The figure "06" is clearly visible to the police.
There are heavy fines for driving on the motorway without a valid permit. You can buy the permit at border crossings.
This is much cheaper to operate than the French péage - no toll booths, no staff to man them. For the motorist, it is much cheaper and there are no queues at the toll booths.
The Swiss use their motorways. The French do not, at least not the péage sections, which carry very little traffic.
In France, the tolls have moved the congestion from the motorways to the routes nationales. Towns and villages that hoped to be relieved of through-traffic when the motorways were built find the congestion worse than ever.
If the British Government introduces the French system, it is likely to have the same effect."
(The Swiss Vignette system is of course little different to the annual vehicle duty.)
Tolls in Court
Progress on case for removal of last tolls on the New York Thruway:- Buffalo Business First - "Thruway suit delayed".
Theodore Harris, represented by lawyer Vincent Simone, has lost the latest round of his battle with the New Jersey trolls that control the Garden State Parkway. He had prepaid tokens with no money value on them. When the tolls doubled, the Turnpike Authority demanded 2 of the old tokens:- Press of Atlantic City - "Token resistance".
Yesterday the Government announced that it was getting local authorities to review speed limits. In theory, limits could increase, but the aim is lower limits both in cities and in rural areas.
The Government usually manages "leaks" of news to get the spin that it wants and prepared comments from "independent" sources. The "news" was only out today. As usual the media had reactions from the groups that claim to represent motorists but mainly support the establishment, and they got inconsistent answers on whether they supported lower speed limits. Was the announcement made on the wrong day?
"Flawed" proposals from MPs
The Association of British drivers have issued a press release in response to yesterday's "Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport" report from MPs. Their Environment Spokesman Ben Adams says:-
"These proposals are flawed at every step.
Even working within the current King Canute form of political climate change science, the proposal fails to take into account the dust-to-dust energy cost. Measured like-for-like in a calculation that includes all costs from design to vehicle end-of-life decommissioning, a 4x4 is more environmentally friendly than a hybrid.
The transport sector has done much to reduce emissions, and modern cars are now the greenest form of family transport available.
Vehicles with high fuel consumption already pay more in the tax and duty on the fuel they use, any additional burden is not only bad science and bad economics but also bad news for the election prospects of any party supporting it."
Monday 7 August
The Establishment Tolls Bandwaggon
The BBC had a "Head-to-head" on their website about today's recommendations from MPs. Supposedly representing motorists was Edmund King from the RAC Foundation and he was up against a spokesman from the aniti motorist group - Transport 2000. One of them said "We need to look more seriously at road pricing schemes, or pay-as-you go schemes. That way we can target the roads that have more congestion and as a result target CO2 emissions more directly." If you thought this was said by the spokesman for the anti motorist group, then think again.
This evening's online edition of the Guardian also had something on road charging plans, and according to them David Cameron has given it his "outline support". There is also something on the Tory website which implies that they support more tolls, and just want more details.
Democracy comes to Afghanistan
We reported in May that toll collection would start in Afghanistan in June. Here is a report on how the Afghans have reacted. At least toll collection sounds a relatively safe job for the foreign advisers:- Introducing the toll road to Afghanistan.
There are some reports that EU and other interests are being mobilised to "persuade" the Italian Government to change its mind and allow the Trolls Merger.
More Tolls Tosh
Many of today's papers including the Independent repeated the fantasy that drivers welcomed yesterday's "leak" that a lot more tolls are on the way. We suspect that Alistair Darling as Transport Secretary realised that this and everything his department said about road pricing was a load of tosh. The fear is that Douglas Alexander, the new Secretary, really believes it.
The papers have merged this story with a report - "Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport" - published today from the "Environmental Audit" Committee of MPS. The report The report (pdf version) The Oral evidence to MPS.
The committee attack cars for being the cause of pollution and say with emphasis(paragraph 75 which is part of the section on "Reducing carbon emissions from road transport") "We strongly support the introduction of a national road user charging scheme as soon as technically possible-and would support the revival and early introduction of the formerly proposed Lorry Road User Charge.". They also say that the aim should not be to reduce congestion, but to force drivers off the roads, and they therefore want higher overall taxes on roads use.
The committee led by a former Shadow Transport Secretary have some odd ideas. A five year old child would know that cars are only responsible for a small part of emissions. The child would also realise that if you wanted to reduce vehicle emissions, then you would legislate for cleaner engines and tax fuels - you would not bring in tolls or higher vehicle duties. The Lorry Road User Charge that the MPs are keen on was intended to be tax neutral for UK haulage firms and only sting foreign hauliers, but the administration cost would have been more than the yield.
The Committee of MPs also suggest an unspecified increase in "Air Passenger Duty", but do not suggest any tax on aviation fuel. The response from Doctor Ladyman, a Transport Minister responsible for roads but not aviation was that "attempting to raise air travel taxes risked only affecting those on low incomes. It would affect poorer people who wouldn't be able to take their holidays abroad any more." It seems that "poor" people going on holidays abroad are more important than people going to work, hospital, shops, and visiting friends and family - where the Government aim is to force the poorer drivers off the road - presumably so that these other "poor" people can get to the airport a bit quicker!
One of the few exceptions to the delusions of the press is the Telegraph - "Labour risks pricing people off the roads", though even they are deluded into saying that tolls are a good idea in principle if not in practice. And this is a press release from Safespeed who are not fooled.
Sunday 6 August
Kenneth Davidson reports on private toll road deals:- "It would be hard to find one deal that could be justified on the grounds that it delivers value for money, unless it is based on the proposition that the Government is so hopelessly inefficient it can no longer put out to competitive tender infrastructure projects such as roads.
Perhaps. But if there isn't the departmental expertise to specify a normal construction tender for a building or a road, it follows there isn't the expertise to specify a contract that sets in concrete the rights and responsibilities of the Government and the private consortia over a 30-year period." The Age - "PPPs: private gain, public pain".
More Tolls Laws
The Sunday Times has obtained a "leaked" letter from the Transport Secretary to the Leader of the House of Commons. They plan to introduce new legislation to make it easier for the Government to force the introduction of more tolls:- "Motorists face black boxes in cars for road pricing"
The BBC are again following the Government line and assert that "The success of the London Congestion Charge in reducing traffic levels has caught the Government's eye ... the technology for tolls on all roads is already being put in place, now the Government is preparing the legal framework too".
PS The Press Association this afternoon issued a story which has appeared on the BBC and elsewhere. They say that "Motoring organisations have given a guarded welcome to the plans". What this means is that the establishment dominated RAC Foundation and AA Motoring Trust are still backing tolls. The views of ordinary car and lorry drivers obviously don't count at thje BBC or in the press.
In their TV News reports, the BBC went one better than the Press Association, according to them the reaction of people in the street was "About time! We can't wait for it to be introduced."
We issued a press release, but it seems that most of the news media does not wish to worry their readers!
"Our alliance is worried that new legislation can only mean increased pressure to introduce tolls with the aim of forcing poorer drivers off the road.
Last year the Government set up the Transport Innovation Fund to try and induce authorities to bring in tolls. So far this bribe is not working, as authorities take the money but seem to have no real intention of introducing tolls. The people of Edinburgh rejected tolls by three to one last year, and authorities must fear that tolls would be political suicide.
The Government collects one billion pounds a week from drivers, but only spends one pound in seven on maintaining and building roads. Some of this derisory amount even goes on measures that reduce road space for cars and increase congestion.
The Government's own advisers have estimated that the cost of setting up a system of tolls on all roads could be over £60 billion. Drivers should tell the politicians that they don't want more taxes which will be wasted on bureaucracy and black boxes, they want less taxes and a better road system."
Saturday 5 August
No Toll Queues
We occassionally report on tolls being lifted during emergencies to ease traffic flow. The Port of Hood River Commissioners in Oregon have gone one better, their new policy is that when the toll queues reach a certain point then they will lift the tolls till the traffic clears:- Hood River News - "Port tests 'as needed'
toll waiver". We can't see many Trolls copying them!
Associated Press report that after the Stock exchanges closed on Friday, the Italian Government said it was saying "No" to the deal between Spain's Albertis and Italy's Autostrade, that would have created the world's biggest Troll, controlling over 4,000 miles of roads in 16 countries.
Singapore toll rise
From Monday, some of the Electronic Road Pricing charges in Singapore are changing, with increases of up to 100%. The tolls vary according to time and road. They are reviewed quarterly with the aim of forcing more drivers off the road and reducing congestion. But the vast majority of drivers just cough up - as one driver put it "To pay less and still get to work on time, I would have to be on the road earlier. I value my sleep more than the toll I'm forced to pay." Someone, somewhere must be making a lot of money.
Friday 4 August
"We've had it with your higher tolls"
Marilou Johanek in the Toledo Blade goves her views on:- "A bumpy road ahead for turnpike travelers".
Punishing the easy target
Some more on yesterday's story about road tolls round Stansted airport.
John Bridge, Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce boss says "Once again, it looks like a case of lack of Government funding prompting a local council to look at alternative ways of raising revenue. It is very worrying, and totally unacceptable. It will simply punish the people who are the easiest target, the motorists." The RAC repeat their support for tolls:- Cambridge Evening News - "Airport road toll 'another tax on drivers'" BBC - "Toll roads proposal for Stansted"
Thursday 3 August
New tolls for old?
They have just discovered that an 1830 Tolls act was not repealed. It is suggested that the Act be used to reintroduce tolls - fortunately it only applies to one minor road. The Great Yarmouth Mercury quotes Local historian Colin Tooke - "Having tolls now would certainly solve the financing problem with the Acle Straight. But the queues are bad enough as it is - if every vehicle had to stop to pay a toll the traffic would probably stretch back as far as Norwich!":- "Pay-as-you-go Straight twist".
Another report on local authorities (this time it's Essex and Herts) saying that they will bring in tolls, in order to get Government money:- EADT24 - "Road tolls around Stansted and Harwich?" Observer - "Toll plan in £2.5m airport gateway bid". The Essex councillor responsible for highways says "We are not particularly keen on road user charging", but then goes on to agree with it. The AA Motoring Trust are also a bit confused, they are still enthusiastically backing tolls, but seem to disagree with the details.
Friends of the Earth are not confused, but are "delighted". They obviously see that the aim is to hurt roads users and return Britain to Victorian times.
Report by Stepen Moore on the Big Dig:- (Wall Street Journal) - "Tunnel to Nowhere ". We don't know if it's correct that toll collectors get "$60,000 to $80,000 a year, but where there are people queuing to paytolls, there is usually another line of people getting hand outs. Something that Texas should bear in mind with its Grand Tolls scheme.
Some of the Massachusetts politicians are opposing any suggestion that there are more tolls to pay for the Big Dig mess:- "Local reps object to more tolls".
Election time is coming up and there are other reports of candidates in Massachusetts distancing themselves from tolls. In the main it is the new candidates who call for tolls to be scrapped, while sitting candidates deny (with fingers crossed behind their backs) that they support tolls.
Tuesday 1 August
Governor to try and stop tolls hike
The Toledo Blade reports that if the Ohio Turnpike Commission increases tolls, then Governor Taft will try and get the increase reversed and get the Commission to reduce its costs:- "Taft opposes turnpike toll increase". Even if the Governor means it, when there are suckers to pay the tolls, then the chances of getting economies or efficiency savings are zero.
Trolls have long arms
Finnish drivers (who are free from tolls in their own country) are being sent bills for unpaid Norwegian tolls by a British company:- Helsingin Sanomat. When the authorities say that you haven't paid a toll, and demand the toll and more, most drivers cough up whether it is correct or not. The Trolls have very long arms.
Swedish Trial ends PS
Yesterday we reported on the Swedish politicians keeping their promise and ending Stockholm's "Congestion" Charge trial. Today there is a possible reason - it is expected that there will now be heavy congestion due to roadworks:- Radio Sweden - "Traffic Chaos Could Push a "Yes" Vote". This is of course similar in effect to what happened in London - exceptional road works were undertaken and completed just before the charge started.
PPS Radio Sweden reported on the 3rd that "thousands of people have still not paid fees for driving into the city centre". The amount owed is 30 million kronor.
More congestion planned
The Times reports on the Government's latest congestion plans. In 2000 the Government said that they aimed to cut congestion by 8%, the lastest plan says it will increase by 4% "Promise to keep traffic moving is scrapped as jams worsen" DfT - "Journey Time Targets for Urban Areas" (click link at bottom of page "PSA Technical Note" to see details).
Population and traffic (particularly vans) are rising, but with congestion you have two opposing forces. The first is that like water, traffic will try and find the best, quickest, most convenient way through. The other force is the authorities, who try and dam the traffic by reducing road space for vehicles. Drivers would be better off if the authorities just sat on their hands.
More hot air
According to the BBC there is now a climate pact beween Britain and California. This comes after a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Terminator. The meeting was also attended by the BP oil boss and Virgin airline boss - so that's alright then - for the rich, powerful, big business and oil guzzlers.
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