31 October 2005
OCTOBER 2005 NEWS
Canada still battling with Australian Toll firm
The Ontario government has lost another round in its battle with MIG over toll increases on the 407. This report from CUPE ends "The former Conservative government signed a 99-year contract with 407 ETR. Could this mean close to 100 years of litigation over what should have been a public asset but instead has been a silver-plated project for the private sector?" "407 saga continues".
South Africans Rejects Toll
Politicians all round the world are falling overthemselves to have more private toll roads, so we were a bit surprised at this story from Tony Carnie:- Independent Online, SA- "Durban blocks N2 Wild Coast toll road plan". Tolls are opposed because of the effect on local economies, but the story also says:- "an environmental consultancy company hired to assess the project's impact had close and inappropriate financial links to some of the private construction and engineering companies which hoped to build the toll road"
Edinburgh tells the World that it still plans a Con charge
Edinburgh's Deputy Provost recently left the council's ruling Labour group and joined the SNP. He gave various reasons including (Evening News on 25th October):- "I'm not at all convinced that Edinburgh has got the acute traffic congestion problems that our officials believe we have." We were therefore a bit surprised to see today:- Taipei Times - "City leaders talk health", that he told the International Healthy Cities conference in Taiwan that "the city is planning a "congestion-charge policy," which would require vehicles crossing the central area of the city to pay a fee per day", and that though "it may take years before citizens understand the benefits of the policy, efforts to carry out the plan, as well as other measures such as park-and-ride schemes, will continue."
Moore's words of wisdom
Matthew Moore, brave man, has two tolls stories in today's Sydney Morning Herald. In "Howdy, partner", Matthew lists all the "retired" politicians who are doing well working for the toll road firms. In "Open secrets" he goes on to say that "Politicians on both sides have always instinctively resisted publishing details of their contracts with private companies, insisting they are full of commercial-in-confidence material that must be kept secret.", but that the scandal that has emerged with the latest toll road, may force them to be more open in the future (they will still hide past deals). We doubt that Matthew is correct, there is too much money at stake for the trolls. If they can't keep future deals secret, then they will use their money and contacts to hide it with smoke and mirrors.
Toll roads are built as Public Private Partnership schemes which means that the politcians can keep them "off balance sheet". These deals are far more expensive than a state financed scheme, as the banks demand much higher interest and there are 1,001 "consultants" who have to get their cut - Matthew says that "The president of the Australian Institute of Project Management, David Dombkins, reckons it's absurd that governments are doing such deals. It's like buying a house on a credit card instead of a housing loan."
30 October 2005
Too many roads say Lib Dems
Ten days ago we reported on the Topsy Turvy world of Tom Brake, the Lib Dem Transport spokesman. He is at it again:- Observer - "Labour plans mean 25pc more traffic". Tom must be almost the only person in Britain who thinks that the Labour Government is spending too much on roads. The Government have virtually abandoned road building, perhaps Tom would like to rip some roads up and force us all on to horse drawn carts or trams.
The RAC Foundation is quoted as saying "You shouldn't actually build new road space if it's not needed." We hope that they have been quoted out of context. If not perhaps they can join Tom, and tell us which roads they think should not have been built. Some new roads do fill up quicker then others. But if it fills up quickly it shows that the road was desperately needed. If it never fills up, then it proves wrong the claims that traffic will expand to meet the available space and that roads will inevitably be congested.
Spy in the Sky - Going up or coming down?
This weekend there are conflicting reports on Europe's "navigation" satellite programme. The plan is to have 30 geo-stationary satellites for navigation, road tolls, and military purposes.
One report says that the first test satellite will blast off within two months on the back of a Russian Soyuz rocket.
The other report, in the Telegraph says that the project may collapse as it is short of money and the Germans are complaining.
Our bet is that Galileo will go ahead, whatever it costs.
Congestion going down?
The Times report "Road congestion figures show fall" that "Trafficmaster, which monitors traffic flow across the UK, has recorded an average 3% reduction in congestion levels between 2004 and 2005.". They also report a big exception:- "On the M6 in Birmingham congestion increased by 75% in October following a price rise on the new M6 toll road from £3 to £3.50 in the summer."
The reported 3% fall may be a fluke. The Times suggest it could be due to higher fuel prices, weaker economy or lower car sales. But it will probably not stem the calls from politicians - such as Darling, Brake and the Two Daves - for tolls. This is like trying to cure a broken leg, by then breaking both arms. In the short term we need more and better roads, and an end to the all the "improvement" schemes that are designed to cause congestion. We also need to try and restrain population growth, otherwise road congestion and "global warming" will be the least of our problems.
29 October 2005
Special Offer - BBC say that Con charge could become cheaper
The BBC in London "New road toll technology on trial" says that "The congestion charge could become cheaper thanks to new technology." The story also implies that somehow the toll will vary according to pollution caused by the vehicle.
This is "Politically Correct" and will please the London Lord Mayor, but it will hopefully not con too many people. The worst air pollution comes from vehicles that don't pay the charge such as buses and taxis. If the politicians are concerned about air pollution and global warming, then the way to tackle that is by further varying the fuel tax rates on different
fuels. Unlike tolls, fuel taxes don't require expensive technology and big bureauacracies. Tolls do nothing to encourage use of vehicles that consume less fuel, and can encourage drivers to make longer journeys to avoid tolls.
Algarve on Fire
Portugal's Socialist Prime Minister José Sócrates promised there would be no tolls. But now Gordon Brown's opposite number - Finance Minister, Teixeira dos Santos wants tolls on SCUT (sem cobrança para o utilizador) toll free roads. This has particularly angered hotels and expats in the Algarve area. Though Portugal is only copying Florida where they always have their hand out.
28 October 2005
Lib Dems Topsy Turvy World
Yesterday, the Department for Transport said that there had been a 14 per cent increase in vehicles without valid tax licences DfT statistical release.
Today the aptly named Tom Brake, Lib Dem Transport spokesman, has reacted to the news by saying:- "The scale of the increase in vehicle tax evasion is extremely worrying, particularly as the Government have claimed to have been taking measures to clamp down on the problem. These figures lend further weight to the case for scrapping car tax and fuel tax, replacing both - on a revenue neutral basis - with a national road pricing scheme. Road user pricing would reduce congestion, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and end the problem of vehicle tax evasion once and for all."
We are afraid that this proves what we are up against when we are trying to oppose politicians that want tolls. Both the London Con charge, and the planned spy in the sky tolls on all roads, depend on having valid details to determine who is charged. It is a mystery as to how Tom thinks that vehicle tax dodgers will be caught by tolls. It is also a mystery, why he thinks that tolls replacing fuel tax, will lead to less use of fuel and thus less emissions.
Perhaps he could explain, or maybe not.
PS By coincidence WQAD and other sources report that the 60 day amnesty for Illinois toll evaders has just ended. About 15% paid, but that leaves nearly 100,000 drivers owing about $23 million.
Tory Topsy Turvy World
Tonight's Cambridge Evening News reports an interview with David Cameron, the front runner for new leader of the Tory party. He told them that "his support for road tolls was limited to new roads". In previous recent statements he supported tolls on all roads. We have asked his office to clarify what Mr Cameron's position is.
As usual, Florida suspended various tolls due to Wilma to aid road movements. But Florida has now closed some of the lanes near the toll booths. They say "There was a potentially dangerous situation caused by motorists driving through toll lanes at expressway speeds. Motorists are urged to drive safely and slowly through toll plazas." - Is the danger temporarily removing the tolls, or not permanently removing the tolls? Let's hope that there is never a pressing need for vehicles to drive at an unslow speed.
30 Year Sentence
Some Washington state residents are angry because tolls are to be introduced to the western half of the state, on a replacement bridge. News Tribune - "Residents vent their anger on bridge tolls". To "ease" the pain, residents are being told that they will only have to pay tolls for 30 years or so. Murderers get a lighter sentence. And does any one believe that tolls will ever go? Far more likely that the disease will spread.
Virginia has had another offer for the state owned Dulles toll road. It is $5.7 billion for a 50 year licence. The politicians must be drooling, and wondering what they can spend all this loot on. Their first priority seems to be a bigger train set. We wonder if the Virginia people will let the politicians get away with robbing future generations?
Brad Watson for WFAA reports that "Political opposition seems to be growing on a plan to increase tolls in 2007 on the Dallas North Tollway and George Bush Turnpike to help build a new toll road in Fort Worth." Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher says: "Since tolls are supposed to be user fees, they ought not to have to be paying for a project that they are not going to use. Robin Hood hasn't worked for education, and Robin Hood isn't going to work for transportation either."
Robert McKechnie, an engineer, gives his views in MySanAntonio.com "Toll road backers' math doesn't add up". Apart from the maths, he points out that there is no independent review, and that the administrators are not controlled enough. He ends: "We need to force the state to step back and look at this toll road mess that it created. This can be done by voters getting their state legislators to put a hold on any toll roads until the voters get their say." - If only!
Canadians want tolls?
The National Post reports on an "online" survey of 500 Toronto residents. The paper says that 48 per cent of residents said they would endorse a London type Con charge, and 31 per cent also said that they would support introducing tolls to fix major roadways. For some reason, the paper does not report the figures for those who oppose tolls. Now here's a question they could ask -"Do you think that it is better to have tolls or to have roads paid for through a fuel tax?" Even better, when they get the answer, they could tell us how many don't want tolls.
The Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald's reaction to Sydney's Lord Mayor wanting to ape Ken Livingstone and bury the city under a London style Con charge is:- "This tolling system, says Ms Moore, would become "a type of user-pays tax". But hang on, the users are already paying, and paying plenty. There's vehicle registration, and petrol excise, and GST on cars and every other motoring expense. The Lord Mayor sees cars as luxuries, to be taxed at every turn. The truth for many Sydney motorists is that they are necessities ... there could never be a good time to suggest that Sydney become a giant toll booth." "Wrong way, go back"
27 October 2005
EZ not so funny
A report on Maryland drivers who think that they have paid, but are threatened with the removal of their car licence. The Newspaper.com - "E-ZPass Threatens to Suspend Motorist Registrations". The report alsos mentions "recently documented major accounting problems with the bay area (California), suggesting there is no effective system in place to discover when toll booth operators are pocketing tolls." - As far as the driver is concerned someone is pocketing the tolls anyway!
Congestion charge scares customers away
Some members of the London Assembly are pushing for the Con charge to be suspended - not that this will have any effect as Ken can ignore them all. Islington Gazette - "Shops push for C-Charge suspension". The story quotes a cobbler's shop - "People are scared to pull up their cars here any more. They don't want to pay the congestion charge and they don't want to get a parking ticket. There are now so many empty shops that it looks like a run-down slum."
Darling plan - Drivers will volunteer for Tolls
Perhaps it is the ghost of James M Barrie, and not Eric A Blair who is writing the script for Darling's Toll plans. At yesterday's IPPR Road Pricing battle plan meeting, Alistair said:- "We need to piggyback road-pricing on to systems already being offered by the market. Drivers who already pay for navigational information could use that provider to calculate their road price. Insurance companies could also play a role by requiring drivers to fit black boxes." Times - "Navigation boxes will make road tolls viable".
This fantasy courtesy of the Murdoch press will please the right wing academics, and the businesses that support both them and the political parties, but not surprisingly it show no understanding of most people. Alistair and his friends with their Mercedes, chauffeurs, and taxi life style are a million miles away from the ordinary woman or man driving long distances to work, and without the luxury of a company black box that doubles up as both a tax meter for Gordon Brown and a spy for the real Spooks.
Horse and Buggy Tolls
Australian papers report reaction to yesterday's statement that Sydney's Lord Mayor wants to blanket the whole city under a London style Con charge. Margy Osmond from the Chamber of Commerce said that it was "a simplistic solution that would drag Sydney back to the horse and buggy era":- Daily Telegraph - "Sydney city toll slammed"
Toll on Poor Filipinos
Syke Garcia in the Manilla Times asks "Why does the government guarantee the profits of multinationals and big corporations so that they will not lose money? Take, for example, the highway tolls. Why are the toll operators allowed to jack up their fees just because external conditions threaten their profits? Hey, business is supposed to be about risk-taking and nowhere in the world can you find the situation like here in the Philippines where public utility operators are guaranteed fantastic profits? We must really be a stupid people. No wonder the Japanese and Koreans see us as fair game. Poor Filipinos, that's right. We'll always remain poor!"
Clifton Suspension Bridge Tax
The "charity" that runs the Clifton Suspension bridge has applied for an increase in tolls Toll Increase Notice. The bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was completed in 1864. For some mysterious reason it was handed to a charity in 1952 and is not a free public highway. We sympathise with the Trust, but instead of applying for a toll increase, they should be asking for the bridge to be taken over. Roads users contribute nearly £50 billion a year in taxes, why should they have to pay more to use this bridge? Stephenson's Brittania Bridge and Telford's Menai Suspension bridge are both free of tolls, so why should Brunel's Clifton Suspension bridge have to bear a toll? We hope that users of the bridge will object, but fear that they have been conditioned to regard tolls and toll increases as inevitable as death and taxes.
26 October 2005
More EZ laughs
The Eagle Tribune in New Hampshire reports that the Turnpike has so far been unable to prosecute people who don't pay. There are cameras that record licence plates, the problem is that they have 11 types of license plates, including veterans plates, conservation "moose" plates, and legislative plates. In some cases different plates will have the same number!
"Warning over road pricing plans"
This was the headline in many of this morning's papers. It comes from a press release by the RAC Foundation. They are speaking today at a seminar "Road user charging: building a consensus" being held by the Institute of Public Policy and Research - a New Labour think tank. The seminar is being led by Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary. Other speakers include the Lib Dem transport spokesman, Tom Brake, and Stephen Norris who was once a strong opponent of the London "Con" charge.
You might think that as the RAC Foundation claim to represent drivers, they are campaigning against tolls - No - They are "warning" that there needs to be a massive propaganda exercise to sell tolls: - "the potential benefits of road pricing must be spelled out ... start building an understanding of and support for road pricing now"
We sent out this release:-
"AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE is being formed to try and sell the idea of tolls on all roads.
The Government is hoping to get all party support for it's plan to have tolls ranging from tuppence to over a pound (£1.34) a mile on all Britain's roads. Government consultants have estimated that the scheme would cost up to 62 billion pounds to implement, with annual running costs of 5 billion pounds on top.
The Government realises that motorists do not like tolls and given the chance will reject the idea, as the people of Edinburgh did in a referendum earlier this year. So the Government have been trying to get all party support, so that voters will have no choice on this issue.
The Lib Dems were already keen to impose more tolls, so the potential stumbling block was the Tory Party. It seems that even this block may have been removed, as the two remaining candidates for the leadership (and Alan Duncan, Tory transport spokesman) have come out in favour of tolls on new and existing roads.
The politicians may not get everything their own way as the idea is opposed by various groups, including the National Alliance Against Tolls, who said:-
"Most drivers instinctively don't want tolls, they are already paying fifty billion pounds a year in taxes and do not want an added burden."
"Tolls are a regressive tax which favours rich drivers with large cars. They will force poorer drivers off the road, that is not an incidental effect - it is what the politicians want."
"The annualised cost of this scheme will be about ten billion pounds a year. That compares with only seven billion pounds that is being spent on the roads. Would it not be better for Britain to spend this money on better roads rather than a spy in the sky bureaucracy?"
London Con - Better than Sliced Bread
Yesterday's Financial Times "Road charge greatly benefits London" highlighted a report to be published by the
Centre for Economic Policy Research (a European body who's sponsors include European cental banks and government departments). The research, by Georgina Santos of Oxford University and Gordon Fraser of Cambridge University, has concluded that the London Con charge "has greatly benefited the capital" and that Ken's March to the West is "likely to exceed the costs by 50 per cent". We imagine that even Ken will be amazed at these results.
"Lord Mayor calls for more Sydney road tolls"
We couldn't quite believe the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald. The Mayor - Clover Moore - says that the "ideal" is to have tolls on all Sydney roads. Clover is an Independent, but if in Britain, she would be quite at home with New Labour or right wing Tories.
PS This is the report in next day's Daily Telegraph - "Toll to enter city"
Australians keep the Tolls rolling in
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on Transurban, toll road operator. There have been "concerns" that high "fuel bowser" prices might lead to less people using toll roads. But Transurban claim that therir research shows that "Australians were willing to cut spending on entertainment, clothing and holidays before curbing payments on tolls". It's nice to see that people realise that keeping the trolls happy should be their first concern.
The broker, Citigroup, have upgraded Transurban from "hold" to "buy". They say that the company now owns "all the bright jewels of Australia's toll market". The company plans to invade the USA, another place where the people know who's boss. Other Australian operators are currently trying to sell Kiwis on the "wonders" of tolls.
25 October 2005
218 year step back
Richard Brawer in the Asbury Park Press has written in about the proposal to privatise some New Jersey roads:-
"Selling the Turnpike and Parkway would be a 218-year step backward. Before the Constitution, private individuals controlled roads across the colonies. They set up barriers, or pikes, and collected tolls. When the toll was paid, they "turned the pike" to allow the traveler through.
That system was open to abuses not limited to lack of repairs and excessive tolls. Similar abuses can occur today. What is the state going to do if the lessee or the toll road owner doesn't meet its contractual agreement? Sue? Take the road back?
Building and maintaining roads is a major function of government. Why do we have a gasoline tax if not for that purpose?
The corruption in New Jersey is a major reason our politicians can't find the money to maintain our roads. Sweetheart, no-bid contracts that overpay for maintenance have siphoned off huge chunks of money that should be going to maintaining roads and bridges."
No wheels on my waggon
The BBC report "City considers congestion charge" that the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority want to introduce a "congestion charge". This was first reported in January, but they have now applied for Darling's shilling. Applicants for money from the "Transport Innnovation Fund" must help to keep the Road Pricing waggon rolling. The waggon has no wheels, but like the Emperor with no clothes this doesn't matter. Earlier this year the Leader of Manchester City Council said he would oppose tolls as it could be "extremely damaging" to the local economy. We hope that he and the people of businesses of Manchester will make it clear that they are opposed to wasting public money on this folly.
On Sunday, the Mirror had an exclusive from Stephen Hayward "Congestion Charge UK". He has managed to get some details from the Department of Transport on Darling's Shilling, including this list of those who are in the first set of applicants for the Transport Innovation Fund handouts:-
Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall & Wolverhampton, Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Derby City, Derbyshire, Devon, Durham, Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton, Kent, Lancashire, London Borough of Greenwich, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northants, Bedfordshire, Luton, Bucks, Nottingham, Reading, Shropshire, Southend on Sea, Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, Surrey, Telford and Wrekin, Torbay, Tyne and Wear, Warrington, West Sussex and West Yorkshire.
Motoring journalist, Quentin Hayward, gives his verdict:- "If this is allowed to burst out of the laboratory like an out-of-control Frankenstein's monster, Britain's transport infrastructure could be reduced to a smoking ruin."
Australian Con Trick
The "Productivity Commission" (part of the Australian Government) has just issued a report "The Private Cost Effectiveness of Improving Energy Efficiency". Efficiency apparently involves quantity (it is a 500 page report) with gems like:- "Congestion pricing does not result in energy efficiency improvements that are cost effective for those drivers priced off the road - they are shifted to other options which they value less than travelling on roads at a particular time. If congestion tolls are set appropriately, these costs will be more than made up for by the efficiency gains (time saving and lower vehicle operating costs) accruing to those still using (and now directly paying for) the less congested road system. The size of the net efficiency benefits will then depend on the costs of administration and compliance. However, remaining road users will also be paying tolls - a transfer payment to government that does not have negative efficiency implications because it involves taxing a negative externality. These charges will, on average, exceed the efficiency benefits received by this group (BTCE 1996a) and hence, in a financial sense, they are also worse off. Those travellers who place a high value on time will be better off but those with lower valuations of time savings will be worse off after paying the congestion charge. The latter group still make the journey because the value of the trip to them is greater than all of the costs involved, including vehicle operating costs, travel time and the congestion toll."
If we can understand English we would have thought this meant it was a bad idea. But according to the Sydney Morning Herald - "Higher tolls for peak hour"
they have reccommended that motorists should pay higher tolls during peak-hour traffic, based on the "success" of the London Con charge. Let us hope that when and if the Australians go for this, they blame their own politicians for treating them like suckers.
Don't hold your breath
Maryland is thinking about electronic tolls. The Editor of the Capital says "Of course, the state could just rip down the tollbooths and forgo collecting the tolls. It could reason that the money collected doesn't go far when stacked up against the hours wasted and the gasoline burned in order to collect that money. But, no, we're not holding our breath for that one, either." "Maybe someday"
In Australia we are having a three week free trial offer on the Cross City Tunnel, but it looks as if Pennsylvania may top that by offering toll discounts. Philadelphia Business Journal - "Pa. Turnpike discounts proposed"
Perhaps if toll road users were strong enough, they would get a permanent 100% discount!
24 October 2005
BBC supports Tolls
BBC's Radio Five this morning covered the issue of Road Pricing and Congestion Charges. Unfortunately though the programme probably thought they were being fair, they did not invite a contribution from anyone who was opposed to the principle of tolls. The usual myths were repeated without challenge. Here are a few of them:-
"Road pricing would be "tax neutral"." - This is ludicrous. Taxes would have to increase by £10 billion just to cover the annualised cost of collection. (This is the same as adding over 20 pence a litre to fuel duty.) On top of this it is likely that the Government would aim to get more net revenue than now.
"Traffic and congestion in the London Congestion zone has fallen vby 15 to 30%." - There has been a reduction in the number of vehicles
entering the zone, but it has had little effect on congestion. Transport for London at the end of 2004 asked people who lived in Inner London what the effect of the zone had been, the people who thought that their travelling time had reduced were outnumbered by the people who thought that it had increased.
"The London Congestion Zone, despite the concerns before it was introduced, has had no adverse effect on business." - Even Ken Livingstone must have been amazed that the BBC would say this. Every survey of shops and restaurants has indicated that they believe that the charge has had a very
major adverse impact.
"The people of Edinburgh would have said "Yes" to tolls, if it had been a slightly different scheme." - The vote was three to one against. A few more may have voted for a different scheme. But the people of Edinburgh, apparently unlike some at the BBC, had the information and the time to consider the true facts. They saw through all the propaganda and voted against tolls even though Edinburgh council had loaded the question to try and get them to vote Yes.
Charities supports Tolls
The Institution of Electrical Engineers, a charity, is organising a "symposium" on introducing "Road Use Charging", as they did in 2003 and 2004. Last week we had the Institution of Civil Engineers, another "charity", launching a national and regional campaign in support of tolls.
The situation was similar when we were helping to fight against the Edinburgh tolls. The organisations campaigning for tolls were nearly all classed as "charities" and many of them received funding from the authorities.
The NAAT can not register as a charity as we campaign against the authorities. Tolls, of course, hit the poor hardest and are hardly noticed by rich drivers who may benefit as the poorer drivers are forced to make way for them.
This may seem a bit odd, but is consistent with schools for the rich being treated as charities. After all, why shouldn't the rich and the powerful get a lion's share of charity as well as everything else?
Drivers "won't care"
Today's Journal in Teesside reports that half of the cost of a new Tyne Tunnel would be financed by borrowing by the Tyne and Wear Passenger Authority and half by the contractor that would operate the Tunnel and get all the tolls.
Stan Smith, of "North East Against Tolls", part of our alliance, says this would lead to the "worst of both worlds". The report ends "If, come 2009, drivers are zipping through a nice new tunnel (and not paying through the nose for the privilege) then they really won't care how it was all paid for." "Getting to the other side"
The Editor may not care. But:-
What happens to the half that is paid for by the authority? We have been told that this will be charged as tolls as well.
It is cheaper for the public authority to borrow, than it is for the company. So why don't they finance all the cost?
As well as paying for the cost of the tunnel, drivers will be paying millions to cover fees and profits of the operators and numerous "consultants".
Most important of all, why should drivers be ripped off, when they are already paying £50 billion a year in taxes?
23 October 2005
More secrets from the public
Delaware is negotiating a public-private deal that many of the State legislators didn't realise that they had approved. But even worse, the details are secret. Delaware online - "Privatized I95 deals kept secret"
If they have any sense they will of course keep it secret. After all you don't want the turkeys to know they are being fattened up for Thanksgiving, it might make them nervous.
Less Privacy for the public
Americans have gone in for RFID devices in a big way, but some are concerned about Big Brother:- NorthJersey.com - "To save money, we open our lives". This is part of what Kevin G.DeMarrais has to say:-
"How do you feel knowing authorities can track your travels through E-ZPass transmitters?
My first reaction is that I have nothing to hide, and it's worth it to save time and money at the tollbooth. And those transmitters have also been used to track down criminals. But that shows the potential for using them for purposes beyond paying tolls. Murder is one thing, but how about for evidence in a civil suit or divorce?
The issue is the basis of a recent book by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID." which claims the chips are part of a collusion between government and big corporations to invade our privacy."
22 October 2005
M6 Toll Traffic - Down again? - Yes
The operators of the M6 Toll have now released their traffic figures for September (though they were reported in Australia earlier in the month). For the fourth month in a row the traffic figures are lower than a year ago (down to 46 thousand from 52 thousand), and are about 15 per cent below its peak reached in August 2004. Traffic Figures and Chart We issued this statement:-
"Many politicians, including the remaining two contenders for the Tory party leadership seem to be keen to inflict a lot more tolls
on Britain's already overtaxed drivers. The traffic figures for the M6 toll show that most drivers do not want tolls, and will avoid them if they can. What is the point of building roads, and then having them empty because of tolls? If the tolls were removed from the M6 Toll, then there would be a better overall flow of traffic, and less fuel and time would be wasted."
More on Wilma
As hurricane Wilma brushed passed Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, more tolls have been suspended in Florida to speed evacuation.
21 October 2005
A Tale of Two Bridges
The World Bank is apparently trying to force Bangladesh to "securitise" it's longest bridge - the Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge. It looks like one of those schemes that generates lots of fees for advisers and banks, and only lawyers can understand. If this trend continues, the world will be driving along mainly privately owned roads and paying expensively for the privelege:- Financial Express - "Officials not ready to sacrifice 'cash cow' - Securitisation plan for Jamuna Bridge faces stiff opposition"
The situation is slightly different in the home of the World Bank. There are plans for a new billion dollar bridge at St Louis, Missouri, to supplement the existing bridges across the Missisipi. The Federal government is willing to pay part of the cost and so is Illinois on the east bank. But Missouri wants it to be tolled. Originally all the bridges in the area were tolled but are not now. Missouri's plan seems to be that Interstate 70 traffic would be forced onto the toll bridge, while local traffic would still be toll free. This policy of extorting money from others goes against what Interstates are supposed to do. They are about communication between states, free from toll barriers and for the good of all.
"We've golden soil and wealth for toil"
We wonder if the Australian anthem when it says "toil", really meant "tolls", though maybe there isn't much difference. There are more sad reports today (though it's tommorrow in Australia!):-
Sydney Morning Herald - "Light at the end of the tunnel" This editorial includes some of the Cross City Tunnel secrets that have now been disclosed:- "If improved public transport - including rail - cuts tunnel traffic, the tunnel operator must be compensated. So for 30 years there must be a bias to private road transport around the tunnel. Given oil shortages, the smog problem and broader fears of global warming, this makes no sense. Future contracts must not bias government decisions against the public interest in this way. Such deals should not become a way of selling government responsibilities to the advantage of private interests."
Daily Telegraph - "Legality of tunnel deal questioned" We don't normally agree with the Greens, but they have hired a barrister to challenge whether the Cross City Tunnel deal was legal. He says that the Government does not have the power to agree that it will close roads to try and force motorists onto a tolled route.
Weekend Australian - "Road sage: not just academic" More about academic, John Goldberg, who has riled the toll road operators by claiming that their profits rely on tax subsidies and queried whether there are any profits behind the dividends. The report also covers the massive amounts that the toll road operators pay in "fees".
"Road user charges" not a tax?
The two Davids competing for the Tory party leadership were interviewed this morning on Radio 4 Today programme. David Davis said nothing on roads, but David Cameron said that he was in favour of both more public spending and lower taxes. The main way that he will achieve this trick was quite clear - if PM he would bring in "road user charging". He said that we needed "better roads and railways" and "they are going to have to be paid for and there "may" be road user charges".
As tolling all roads will cost ten billion pounds a year to run, he will certainly add to public spending, albeit it is all wasted. But the only way he can cut taxes is to pretend that these "road user charges" are not a tax. We have asked him to confirm that this is what he will do.
PSon the 22nd, Both the Times and the Telegraph did profiles of "Dave" mentioning his support for tolls.
A to Z of the Con charge
Following the challenge by the US embassy to Ken's Con Tax, it has now emerged that there are 55 embassies refusing to pay, ranging from Algeria to Zimbabwe. There are 30 other embassies who continue to pay.
Telegraph opinion piece - "Can Pay, Won't Pay".
20 October 2005
The Oregon "Trial"
Oregon is inviting our old Australian friends MIG to build some roads for them at a cost of one billion US dollars:- News Register - "Australian toll group gets OTC nod".
It isn't clear what road Oregon is going down. About 4 years ago, they got the idea that soon people would be using a lot less gas in their cars and thus they would lose gas taxes. Instead of increasing the tax per gallon, they decided that they would scrap gas taxes and introduce tolls on all roads.
They set up a "Road User Tax Force" to draw up plans. If the idea of setting up a task force was to effectively kill a daft idea, then they have done a great job. (Perhaps we should suggest this to Alistair Darling.)
It now looks as if the toll road operators are to be given a consolation prize - well, ok, it's a billion dollars.
Road paved with gold, or Ghost tunnel?
In a surprising development, the Australian government have released what they say are the full details of one of their secret contracts with toll operators ABC - "Cross City Tunnel documents released".
The document is 2,000 pages long, so perhaps they hope that no one will bother to read it. One beneficiary from this "system" must be the lawyers who get paid for all these words.
"No Tolls" Politician in despair
Paul Austin in the Age reports that Victoria's Liberal leader is in despair, mainly because of the "no tolls" policy that wasn't. "Pressure is mounting on beleaguered Doyle". Extract from article:-
"Doyle's announcement last month that he was abandoning his totemic promise to abolish tolls on the Mitcham to Frankston freeway sent a shockwave through his party. The risk is that the "no tolls" backdown may become the signature event of his leadership - some MPs are wondering whether Doyle is the first political leader in history to break a core promise before winning office.
He has joined Steve Bracks (Labour leader and Premier), who had been deeply embarrassed by breaking his written and signed pre-election pledge of a toll-free road.
"No tolls" was going to be the slogan that neatly summarised one clear difference between Doyle and Bracks. So neat that it could fit on T-shirts, bumper stickers and on those plastic banners that political parties string up around polling booths on election day. "Half-tolls-for-cars-and-motorbikes-for-five-years-and-then-full-tolls-after-that-for-everyone" doesn't quite have the same impact."
It's a Sad, Sad World
The Ohio Turnpike increased speed limits for trucks in order to entice them on to the toll roads. They have succeeded in getting 17% more trucks, but accidents have increased by 40%:- Toledo Blade - "65-mph truck speed fuels pike accidents - Study blames 40% increase on new limit".
What a sad, sad world. Rather than scrap the tolls, they have increased accidents.
No Tolls, Ain't Natural
The Centennial bridge, between Iowa and Illinois, has been handed over by Rock Island for Illinos to run. The bridge was built in the 1930s, but has recently been improved with tolls being removed in 2003.
At the handover ceremony the former bridge manager, said "It just doesn't seem natural not to have to stop at the toll booths".
Meanwhile toll free Utah is one of the many states that is moving towrds more tolls. One Salt Lake City paper reports that the toll roads financiers "are just salivating at the chance to put the whole deal together" - It must be all that salt - or could it be something else?
Illegal Tolls in Phillipines
Consumer rights groups are fighting toll increases in Luzon. They say that signing of the tolls contract by the President just before he left office and the way it has been implemented is in violation of various Phillipines laws:- Manila Sun Star - "North highway toll hike questioned anew before SC".
19 October 2005
Another major storm - Wilma - is expected to hit US in the Florida Keys area, which is being evacuated. Tolls in the area have been suspended. Perhaps one day Americans will realise that they might get around better if they removed tolls all the time.
Easier Tax Breaks for Toll Operators
The Federal government in Australia has amended section 51D of the Tax Act. This is to make it even easier for firms to get tax subsidies on roads and other privatised projects. Despite what has been happening recently, the right wing coalition of Liberals and Nationalists wants to see more privatisation of basic services.
A weighty problem
Angola in Indianapolis is asking that tolls are not increased, as it will drive more trucks on to US 20 which goes through the town. Though if tolls are increased, they may use weigh stations and police to "encourage" trucks to go back to the toll road.
The US embassy refusing to pay the Con charge was reported in USA (see 14th), British and other news media have now latched on to this Times - "Diplomats rebel on congestion charge". Germany is also refusing to pay. Ken's henchmen say that the embassies are breaking the law as "the congestion charge is not a tax, it is a charge for a service".
We wonder what service you get for your eight pounds - the only one that we can think of is that you are protected from harrassment for non payment.
18 October 2005
More EZ laughs
Believe it or believe it not, New Hampshire are still not doing anything about those who drive through the tolls without paying. Perhaps they are raking in so much from the other Janes and Joes it doesn't matter. Eagle Tribune - "State still not fining toll evaders"
More Tolls will help conserve oil - (in the long run)
One US paper today carried an article from an economics professor. In part it suggests scrapping the gas tax and instead having more tolls as it might have the effect of "encouraging greater fuel conservation".
He may be right, in at least one sense - Drivers can all switch to gas guzzlers; the oil will run out sooner, we will be forced to reduce consumption and the Greens will be happy - Wonderful!
Australian Toll Road Operators blame the Government
The Australian reports that the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development has defended the toll road operators. They say that road closures and other devices designed to force drivers on to toll roads where specified by the Government. It was also said that toll roads were the only way forward if governments choose not to borrow, and hide public expenditure off balance sheet.
Korean truckers strike
In South Korea, truckers have voted to go on strike. Their demands includes lower road tolls. The Government say that they won't agree, though the truck strike in May 2003 stopped trade.
Beggar my Neighbor
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazzette speculates on the wisdom of privatising the Indiana Toll Road. The Governor wants to increase tolls and sell the road off. The road is mainly used by out of state truck traffic. "Privatizing roads requires planning"
This is another beggar my neighbour policy. The road should be reclassified as a toll free Inter state.
It is reported that the incoming chairman of the American Trucking Association is in favour of tolls. We wonder what his fellow truckers will think. One of them rather mildly said "I'd rather come up with something like a higher fuel tax - and I know how that sounds these days - to pay for a renewed road system."
Illinois is spending five billion dollars overhauling its toll roads, including replacing the toll "plazas". One of the plazas being replaced is at South Beloit at a cost of twenty five million dollars. The Rockford Register Star reports the local mayor as saying ""It's a mess right now. It's backed up every weekend and holiday. It's going to be much more convenient and a lot safer when it's all done, and everyone should be happy." - In our view some people may be sad that so much time and money has been and still will be wasted, when the roads should be paid for by using the gas taxes.
New Zealand First win Toll free bridge
No party had a majority following New Zealand's General election a month ago, and there was a lot of uncertainty. It has just been decided which parties will be in the coalition. It includes many minority parties including New Zealand First who oppose road tolls. The new harbour bridge for Tauranga, will not now be tolled. stuff.co.nz - "Toll free harbour bridge for Tauranga part of Winston deal"
Ice on the Roads - British Engineers call for Tolls
The Institution of Civil Engineers has called ICE - Press Release for a "carrot and stick" solution to road congestion. It says that people using roads is responsible for air pollution, employees arriving late for work, and increased costs of goods and services to the public. You might expect civil engineers to call for more and better roads - but no - roads users are chastised and to be beaten with the stick of tolls. We sent this reaction to the BBC report BBC - "Gridlock Britain 'chokes economy'", though they have never published the case against road pricing and "congestion" charges:- "Based on Government estimates, the annualised costs of collecting tolls on all roads would be £10 billion. This compares with annual spending on road building and maintenance of only £7 billion. The answer to congestion is to spend on improving roads and transport, not on a toll collection system that will just add to the burden of roads users."
Tolls Uber Deutschland 2
The Times reports that the new German Government is considering plans to sell the 8,000 miles of autobahns. They say it could raise 130 billion euros (90 billion pounds or 150 billion dollars). A slight problem is that it would mean tolls for motorists. It is not clear whether Frau Merkel, the new Chancellor, will risk the wrath of Germans and emulate Margaret Thatcher by selling off the family jewels.
17 October 2005
Dodgy traffic figures used to sell tolls tunnel
More news is emerging about the Australian Tolls scandal. Though if the people there are like the people in Britain they will just ignore the revelations, switch channels and open a tube of fosters:- Daily Telegraph - "Black hole tunnel".
The Real problem
It is fashionable at the moment for politicians to preach the myths about "global warming"and use it as an excuse for road tolls and other impositions on roads users. But there is a piece today "Strong political will needed to contain population growth" by Shamsuddin Ahmed in the New Nation of Bangladesh. It could have come from many other countries, if the papers were brave enough to print it. The piece isn't directly about road tolls (though it mentions the tolls from famines, cyclones, floods and tornadoes). It is about a country with a population that is growing at 2 percent a year, with almost everyone ignoring all the consequences and with the United Nations Population Fund apparently producing (low) population figures out of thin air.
Every day there are an extra 100 thousand people alive in our World. This presents a major problem not just for roads and oil, but for everyhing else.
Funeral bell tolls
Grainne Gilmore reports on a protest planned by central London funeral undertakers. Hearses have to pay the Con charge, as do mourners in the cortège and visitors to chapels of rest. The undertakers want an exemption. Times - "£8 tax adds to mourners' grief".
"Toll roads are pricey answer to budget ills"
The Denver Post editor writes about proposals for more tolls on Colorado roads. The editor says that Northwest Parkway and E-470, are the third and fourth most expensive urban-area tolls in the nation on a cost per mile basis. Tolls on these two roads averages about 21 cents per mile. The tax cost of driving on non toll roads is about 1 cent a mile for fuel tax and another 1 cent for other auto taxes. The editor concludes "You can choose to pay 21 cents a mile, with all the attendant hassle, to drive toll roads instead of public highways. Or you can vote for a more convenient public highway network with 60 worthwhile projects throughout the state financed at far less cost by $1.2 billion in highway bonds paid for by surplus revenues without tolls - and without a tax increase - We wish all our choices were this easy. "
Back to Business as usual in New Orleans - at least for tolls
New Orleans has been having quite bad congestion on the roads. People are having to travel longer distances as their homes or work have ben temporarily relocated, there are high volumes of traffic due to relief and reconstruction work, and some roads are still not usable. Today things will get even worse as tolls come back today on the Causeway. The Times-Picayune predicts that "traffic leading to the bridge is sure to slow even more with the resumption of tolls"
16 October 2005
Geordie Drivers to be monitored by cameras
Today's Observer reports that the Tyne and Wear area (which includes Newcastle) is to have a new CCTV system. The purpose is to record the licence numbers of all cars driving in the area. The ultimate aim, as in London, is road pricing. Civil liberties groups have attacked the scheme, though the bureaucrats claim that details will not be used or kept. The RAC Foundation (a group that supposedly represents motorists) said that monitoring drivers was "benign".
"It's a rip-off"
There was more today in Australian news about the great Highway Robbery, including this one from Stephen Long of ABC:- "Drivers steer clear of Cross City Tunnel".
15 October 2005
Toll collection in Bangladesh
A Bangladesh paper The New Nation - "Normalising prices" attacks inflation and cites the example of:- "Truck loads of perishables or consumables coming to Dhaka are required to pay illegal 'tolls' at dozens of points on the way. The toll collectors are groups of organised gangsters and in many cases allegedly the police themselves indirectly. The 'tolls' have a way of increasing delivery costs by some 20 or 30 per cent to say it conservatively and the higher costs of transportation are then passed on to consumers."
Hole in the Truth
Arnie as Governor of California has vetoed a bill that would have required top bureaucrats to submit "true, accurate and complete" written reports to the Legislature or face criminal prosecution. The bill was introduced because legislators said that the recent large toll increases were because bureauacrats had delayed telling them about bridge problems till a point was reached where they had to increase tolls.
14 October 2005
Highway Robbery? - No, it's more like they are taking Australia
There are more reports today about what is happening in Australia. It is as if the scales had fallen from their eyes. Australian newspapers still back the principle of toll roads, but it is difficult to see why:-
1. Glenda Korporaal in the Australian gives a detailed account of what politicians and operators have been doing:- "Toll barons drive bargain".
2. Michael West in the Weekend Australian gives a similar account:- "Pay per trip and then a whole lot more".
3. Darren Goodsir and Matthew Moore in the Sydney Morning Herald report, "Tunnel's hidden treasure", on how as the traffic goes up on some toll roads, the tolls don't come down, instead the Government takes a share. Some of the details are secret, but it seems that the Goverment gets between 10 and 50 per cent of extra revenue received if traffic goes over 110 per cent of predictions. This gives the operators a reason to exaggerate the expected traffic, and it gives the Government a reason to force drivers to use the toll road by closing or restricting non-toll roads. The report says "In the tunnel contract, for instance, the Government and the operator have agreed on possible road closures across a dozen suburbs within a five-kilometre radius to help force cars to use the road."
The Tennessee Toll Waltz
Tennessee is the latest US state threatened with toll roads. Oddly enough the Tennessee Highway Commissioner who is pushing tolls is named "Nicely". State and federal gas taxes in Tennessee come to 40 cents a gallon. (In Britain, the fuel tax is 61 pence or 108 cents). IF they really need more money to pay for roads, then the fairest most efficient way to collect it is to add a few cents to the tax. Though we must admit that free roads don't generate big profits and all that goes with that.
London Mayor makes Battersea an island
Sarah Halls in the Wandsworth Guardian reports that Battersea residents are complaining that the borough is being turned into an island by the planned Western extension to the Toll zone which will border Battersea. (Battersea derives from Badric's Isle, an island in the Thames in medieval times.)
One of the oddities of the Con Zone, is that if you live in it, then you are relatively well off as you get a 90 per cent discount on the charge, and can then drive around as much as you like. Ken is already planning to have a thin strip of no man's land just outside the western extension. Residents in this strip will get the 90 per cent discount if they enter the zone. But having conceded this principle, he will be under continuous pressure to extend the strip. Where will it end - Hadrian's Wall?
Map of Zone showing residents' 90% discount strip.
Gregory Wallace from America's National Motorists Association argues that tolls in New Hampshire should be removed:- New Hampshire Union Leader - "Remove the toll booths from New Hampshire's highways". Here is an extract from his article:-
"THE HIGHWAY toll system is at best a major irritation that no body wants. At worst, it is a dangerous obstruction in the middle of our highways that kills and injures many people each year.
Toll booths are proven to create crash zones. These zones expand outward, not just at the tolls, but well before them as people jockey for position in order to get into the shortest line or "E-ZCrash" booth. These crash zones extend beyond the tolls and to alternate city and town roads used by drivers avoiding the delay of sitting in line at the tolls.
Highway tolls contribute to driver fatigue, irritation, inattention and, yes, the infamous "road rage," whatever that is. A driver who falls asleep or has a medical emergency while nearing a toll booth will always crash into the toll booth or other vehicles rather than trundle off the side of the road.
The state needs your 75 cents or $1 so badly it is willing to risk your life and limb. Your quarters are so important to the state that it pays the State Police to sit at the tolls and write tickets to motorists who may not have dropped in their 75 cents.
There are other, safer ways to fund the turnpike system without tolls. The state should switch to another funding mechanism before another motorist is killed at a toll booth"
The NMA has more about tolls on their website :- "Taxes and Tolls".
Revolution Part Two - USA dares to take on London Mayor
The American embassy in London is rebelling against paying the Con charge. They stopped paying from July 1st (surely a few days later!) as embassys do not have to pay taxes. The Mayor claims that it is not a tax! Will he send the redcoats in? USA Today - "British tax not our cup of tea".
13 October 2005
Capitalist report says "More Tolls!"
Yesterday the capitalist club aka the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) published a report on Britain's economic performance. Britain was generally rated quite highly for its right wing policies but the summary said:-
"The consequence of decades of under investment has been congested roads and an unreliable rail system, which may be holding back productivity. Additional road building will not by itself permanently relieve these pressures, rather it needs to be combined with congestion charging. The success of the London Congestion Charge suggests that there might be growing public acceptance of the principle and growing interest in a nation wide congestion charging scheme, although this would be costly and not feasible for some years. Nevertheless, it is important in the meantime that all tiers of government undertake research and experimentation on smaller scale projects that build on the experience of the M6 toll road and the London Congestion Charge. The Government should monitor incentives for local authorities to pursue local congestion charging schemes. This might be done by making funds from the Transport Innovation Fund available sooner. Additionally, future planned increases in funding for local transport could be made contingent on local plans to tackle congestion."
Rumours that Gordon Brown wrote the report are probably untrue! But what is true is that Gordon will be looking forward to chastising drivers while at the same time raking in some cash to pay for his odd mixture of left and right wing policies - the only thing that they have in common is that they all take money away from middle Britain while leaving headline income tax rates unchanged - it doesn't seem to matter too much where the money goes to.
Con Charge for Baby
Richard Crowe reports in a Berkshire paper about a family from Bracknell. The parents have to take a five month old baby on regular visits to Great Ormond Street Hospital. They have to carry an oxygen tank and other heavy equipment. Because children under two years do not qualify for disabled badges, they have to pay both the eight pounds Con charge and three pounds an hour for parking. The Government say that they are going to change the law.
The situation is not unique, people in other parts of Britain (particularly Humberside and Merseyside) are having to pay a heavy amount in tolls where they need regular treatment in a hospital on the other side of the river.
Cars a "potent weapon"
There are more reports about authorities taking the Darling shilling and saying they will bring in tolls. One novel reason for anti car measures mentioned today Western Mail - "Are we on the road to Hell?"
is "Cars have also become a potent weapon for terrorists who load them with explosives and drive into crowded city centres". Though this report from Catherine Jones ends "Time will tell if hitting the driver's pocket will oust him - and her - from the driving seat. If they do decide to walk, the only loser will be the Treasury..
No Tolls - Hurry, limited period offer!
We said on 6th October, that we doubted that the operators of Sydney's cross city tunnel would reduce tolls. Well they have proved us wrong - a bit. They have now cooked something up with the politicians and said that there there will be no tolls charged between October 24th and November 13th. They are also indefinitely removing administration fees for occasional users of the tunnel. The operators say "Three weeks, no tolls, no nothing. If you're going to the beach and you live in Balmain, go and use the Cross City Tunnel. You'll find it's marvellous and you'll get there quickly." - We quite agree with them. It is marvellous for three weeks, and then it will be back to an expensive road that Australian motorists are being forced into by the deliberate closure by politicians of alternative roads.
PS Further to recent reports on the way some Australian politicians are involved with the toll operators, the Australian today reports that the "loyal minder and media director" of the former premier who has just joined the toll road operators has herself moved to a firm that is handling PR for the Cross City Tunnel. She says that "her appointment and the tunnel operator's decision to bow to intense public pressure and put a three-week freeze on tolls is a coincidence."
Democracy - Texas 1984 Style
Texas are appointing a committee to look at proposals for toll roads. They will have a budget of $325,000 for consultants Daily Texan - "City to vote on funding toll road research"
Sounds fair? - Except that ordinary people won't get a vote, and the Austin Chronicle reports that opponents have pointed out that the committee is dominated by toll road advocates who will no doubt get the report that they want from whoever is appointed as "consultants"
There is also a report today on how if people are "educated" they will support tolls. No doubt Winston Smith would agree. Though Terri Hall of Texas Toll Party says "If they want to really know what people think about this, put it to a vote." San Antonio Express - "Education may shift toll road acceptance into fast lane"
Manned booths are better
Due to the "success" of electronic tolls, New Hampshire is to phase out "exact change baskets" and recruit toll collectors. - Eh? - Apparently they have now decided that it is quicker to pay an attendant than throw the correct money in a basket. This may well be true, but if it is, then how about electronic tolls?Nashua Telegraph - "At tolls, E-ZPass popular option"
(Figures for method of payment are 43 percent pay cash, 39 percent pay electonically, 15 percent pay with tokens (this is banned from January), 3 percent have accounts.)
New Orleans Toll Correction
We reported on the 6th that New Orleans was bringing back tolls on the Causeway from Monday 10th. It is now reported by Suzanne Le Breton that they haven't put the knife in yet. The toll authority says that "We are still very much in a recovery state, and many people who are still having financial troubles brought on by the storm have to cross the bridge. In addition, traffic on the Causeway approaches is already backed up, and adding tolls would just cause the traffic to back up even further." Slidell sentry News - "Causeway bridge still not collecting tolls"
PS Later reports say that the toll will be back from Monday 17th.
Report fom inside Con Charge Bastille
A report on the arrangements for collecting the Con charge. Like almost all news media reports they have fallen for the myths, though in a slight twist they say it has been a success because there was "none of the civil disobedience predicted by critics and no major faults allowing drivers to get away without paying" silicon.com "Inside London's Congestion Charging hub".
No Views is Good Views
We have reported that two (David Cameron and David Davis) of the contenders for the Tory leadership have said they are in favour of tolls. Yesterday it was Liam Fox's turn to tell the Daily Telegraph his policy views and today it was Ken Clarke. Neither Liam nor Ken said anything about tolls (or much else). Being optimistic this is good news.
Japanese reduce Traffic Jams
The Japan Times reports that over 4 years after it was implemented, the number of users of electronic tolls has just topped 50 percent. The reason for electronic tolls according to the Transport ministry is "to cut back on the number of personnel who collect tolls and help to ease traffic jams" - No prizes for guessing how they could have eliminated both of these completely!
700,000 avoid Japanese Tolls
Japan has problems with people not paying tolls, including "motorcycle gangs that force their way through toll gates and activists who refuse to pay". There were 700 thousand unpaid tolls in 2004, with a value of 1.5 billion yen (8 million pounds or 13 million US dollars). The authorities seem to have almost no way of enforcing payment, but they are going to fine those that they can catch 300 thousand yen (1,500 pounds or 2,600 US dollars):- Daily Yomiuri online - "Unpaid road toll cases top 690,000 in FY04".
12 October 2005
Only yesterday we reported on tolls gloom, now John Collett in the Sydney Morning Herald says what a wonderful investment they are:- "Power house". The report includes:-
"Putting aside the question of value for consumers, the tollways have proved to be terrific investments. While delivering on their promised high yields, they have also provided investors with unexpectedly high capital gains. Investment bank UBS calculates that ASX-listed tollway stocks have produced a total annual average return of more than 25 per cent over the past five years. It is their near-monopoly position with a captive customer base that gives them the potential to be very good investments."
The reason for Tolls BOOM!
Further to yesterday's story from the Age, the Australian now reports:- "Road investors slug taxpayers" on John Goldberg's findings on how toll road operators have boomed (at least up to now). The report says:-
"TAXPAYERS are subsidising the nation's biggest toll roads through billions of dollars of tax breaks to wealthy private investors in the projects.
The private toll roads would not be financially viable without the huge government subsidies."
Contract that Government says doesn't exist, but will bankrupt them if they break it
The Daily Telegraph reports that New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma claims that there is no secret contract to make sure that the new Cross City Tunnel operators make a profit:- "No taxpayer tunnel bailout".
Despite the Premier's statement "A confidential paper, tabled in Parliament at the request of Greens MP Lee Rhiannon, said if the number of motorists using the tunnel dropped, the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) would need to negotiate with the operators, CrossCity Motorway, to "restore the financial viability"."
A later report from the Sydney Morning Herald "http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/tunnel-great-says-scully-on-day-of-mixed-messages/2005/10/12/1128796590072.html" says that the Opposition Leader has demanded that the Government should immediately release the full contract and said that "The Labor Government continues to hide behind lawyers and secret contracts while motorists and residents suffer." Though the Government denies that there is any such contract, they at the same time say that "the Opposition's plan would effectively bankrupt the state because it would open the Government to damages from the operator."
"Parasitic economic model"
Many less developed countries suffer from a combination of internal endemic corruption and external bodies forcing tolls etc on them. Evan Jones in the Jakarta Post bravely reports on the situation in Indonesia:- "Flushing away rent seekers and bureaucrats". Here is part of his article:-
"The entire rent seeking culture of patronage networks (including those lobbyists who influence the making of new laws) is based on a parasitic economic model. Like vermin, these networks live off their hosts; they thrive in dark and hidden corners, away from the spotlight of public scrutiny.
Under the Soeharto regime these networks multiplied and rooted themselves into any part of the economy where there was an opportunity to collect tolls, fees or other kinds of levies. Too many of these levies, legal and otherwise, exist to this day. Exactly where and to whom the money goes is often not transparent (which is a polite way of saying that the fees are too often being embezzled).
To extend the vermin metaphor, any householder can tell you that the best way to eliminate rats or cockroaches is to destroy the habitat and remove sources of food. Least effective is the tactic used in the current anti corruption campaign of eliminating pests one by one."
Who is fooling who?
On the 6th we reported that Birmingham apparently believed in Santa Claus as they suggested that motorists would be paid not to drive. The Birmingham Post today repeats the story:- "Pilot project will reward people for not using cars"
We are not sure who is fooling who.
PS The BBC have had reports in the last few days about authorities in various parts of the country taking Darling's shilling and saying that they will toll their people. Despite our requests, the links to these stories on the BBC are only to the authorities. The anti toll side is ignored.
M6 Toll Traffic - Down again?
The operators of the M6 Toll seem to be in no rush to publish in Britain their traffic figures for October. Though it appears that they know them in the Land of Oz, home of the company with the biggest stake. According to Oz reports on the 6th, monthly traffic is down 11.6 percent on the previous year. If correct, then daily traffic is 46 thousand, which is slightly down on September. Despite the road being almost empty compared with the toll free M6, it still rakes in one million pounds a week for the operators, give or take a few coppers.
Voice of America is famous for its anti-communist broadcasts. Now it is extolling the virtues of tolling. Or is it?
Its piece on High Occupancy Toll lanes ends "American capitalism has the answer. If single drivers start plugging up the HOT lanes, just keep on raising their tolls until enough of them slink back to the highway equivalent of the coach section." "Drivers Who Get Hot Over Commutes Get HOT Lanes".
Tolls gloom. Hurrah!
The Australasian Investment Review reports that Toll Road operator, MIG, has received a scare with its global traffic figures for September. It suggests that higher oil prices have reduced traffic and wonders if this is just temporary. It says that MIG has problems with two "recalcitrant" higways - the M6 Toll in England and the 407 in Canada. "Will Oil Prices Scupper Toll Roads?".
PS There was a similar story by Rod Myer in the Age:- "Indebted toll roads divide opinion". Rod says "Investors in toll roads are becoming uncomfortable with the high levels of debt the sector is carrying." He also reports that an academic - John Goldberg from Sydney University - has looked at toll road financing and says "When debt is factored in the toll roads will never make a profit or pay off their debt and are only being kept alive by the support of tax concessions in the form of infrastructure bonds."
Survey shows Con charge damage to London
The Forum for Private Business have done another survey and issued a press release "London business rocked by terror attacks and C-Charge" . The survey of 1,000 businesses shows that one third are thinking of moving because of the toll and three quarters support the FPB call for the charge to be suspended for six months.
Please note that they have a link at the top of the page for a PETITION to be sent to the Mayor.
Today in the Daily Telegraph it is the turn of the old favourite for the Tory leadership - David Davis - to set out his policy ideas. He says "Ideas shape politics. We should, for instance, harness new thinking and technology that could improve Britain's roads or drive real progress in tackling climate change." "Rhetoric isn't that important: the right values are"
The new technology to "improve Britain's roads" is of course road pricing and tolls. Mr Davis has emphasised his working class roots, so why is he so keen to embrace right wing ideas that will waste billions, hurt most people, and only benefit the fat cats?
Euro-Trolls band together
Various papers report European groups getting together as "MEDIA" to make toll collection easier. The operators are: Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône, ATMB and SFTRF from France, Autostrade in Italy, ASFINAG in Austria, the Swiss Customs department and DARS in Slovenia. For the moment the electronic toll will only apply to trucks. But the ultimate aim of the eurocrats and the toll bandits will be to force tolls on all vehicles throughout Europe. Boursier.com - "Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône joins forces with five toll-road operators in the Alpine region to develop a joint electronic toll collection service for heavy goods vehicles"
Tolls Uber Deutschland?
It may be a coincidence but yesterday Germany appointed a Conservative Chancellor, and today Transport News Network reports that Germany may extend its trucks toll scheme to cars:- "Germany Plans to Toll Cars"
The report says that the proposal for the toll is "similar to the Austrian model, where drivers can buy passes for an entire year or a shorter period of time such as just a few days". "Vignette" systems are not really a toll, as they allow the driver to use any road any number of times. They are just another scam to effectively bump up road tax.
Big Rig Rip off
Michael Cabanatuan reports that some Bay area car drivers are being charged over $12 to cross a bridge. Their FasTrak responders are wrongly identified as being on a big truck:- San Francisco Chronicle - "Error could cause a car to be charged big-rig truck rates".
10 October 2005
Telegraph backs right wing Tories
The Daily Telegraph is getting the five candidates for the Tory leadership to set out their policy ideas. Today it is the turn of the new favourite - David Cameron. He says "We must welcome measures that share the burden of funding improvements in universities and transport between the taxpayer and those who directly benefit - for example, through tuition fees and mechanisms for road pricing." "The Punch and Judy show is over"
The Telegraph says "Mr Cameron sets out a series of attractive ideas: deregulation, urban regeneration, traditional teaching methods, elected police chiefs (hurrah!), road pricing, tuition fees and, not least, a healthy scepticism about the illiberal agenda being pushed by this administration".
The Daily Telegraph also reports today on plans for electric identification devices to be installed in all cars in European Union. It says:- "The devices, readable by satellite, would also be capable of being used with a "pay as you drive" road pricing scheme." "Car chip that could foil thieves and speeders throughout Europe"
The story says that Tory Shadow Transport Secretary - Alan Duncan - says "This is just the sort of thing that should be decided by a sovereign democracy. One of the dilemmas of modern society is the ability for technology to follow our every move." Mr Duncan presumably does not like things European, but he should welcome this with open arms, as last week he told the Tory Party conference that he supported road pricing, as does the man he is backing - David Cameron.
Labour Premier Joins the Toll Bosses
The man who only two months ago was Labour Premier of New South Wales has joined a Toll road operator.
Ean Higgins and Geoffrey Newman report that though the Premier "came to power in 1995 promising to remove tolls on the M4 and M5 toll roads, commissioned before his election, he ended up seeing the tolls increased" and more toll contracts awarded for private toll roads including- Sydney's Eastern Distributor and the M7 ring road. "Political, academic and union figures yesterday expressed views ranging from concern to outrage about the move." The Australian - "Row over Carr's plum job at bank".
Unfortunately for ordinary Australians, this is not the only instance where the politicians have promised to remove or reduce tolls, and then failed to do it.
Patrick Kurp reports on a new road east of Houston which is to be paid for by "pass-through tolls"(in Europe known as "shadow tolls"). In this case the county is to pay for the road and get reimbursed by the state based on the number of vehicles using the road:- Houston Chronicle - "Alternate route to road financing".
Shadow Tolls are better than real tolls. With this scheme, the state will in effect be passing on some of the gas tax paid by road users.
In Europe it is usually the road builder who gets paid in shadow tolls. This is another trick for hiding public expenditure, with the likelihood that the public will pay a lot more than if the road had been financed from public borrowings.
9 October 2005
Cities to take the Tolls Bribe?
Today's Sunday Times claims that more than a dozen towns and cities are on the road to bringing in "road pricing". The places include:- Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Shrewsbury, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Wolverhampton. The cities apparently hope to gain pots of money through Alistair Darling's Tolls Bribe Pot, known as the "Transport Innovation Fund" "More areas plan to set up traffic charge schemes"
We don't believe that these places are daft enough to bring in tolls schemes. But they may be shrewd enough to play the game and pretend. After all even Alistair may not believe in it.
Australia to invade USA
The Australian reports on the early completion of the latest toll road. It says that there are some doubts as to whether toll roads will continue to be a licence to print money. But it concludes that Australia's two big toll operators - Transurban and MIG are primed "to export the Australian infrastructure privatisation model and are both increasingly active in the US, where Credit Suisse First Boston recently estimated that there are 255 billion US dollars of toll roads waiting to be privatised. " "Motorway builders cement early-bird bonuses".
Statehouse for sale - "one careful owner"
Jack Colwell in Indiana's South Bend Tribune proposes a brilliant idea. He says if they are going to sell roads, then why not sell the Statehouse building and lease it back with people having to pay to enter the building. He ends:- "Lest you think I'm joking about Statehouse tolls, let me stress that it is no more of a bad joke than leasing the Toll Road. " "Statehouse tolls just a joke, aren't they?".
We think that Jack is joking, but the politicians all over the world are long used to selling off public assets to fund their pet schemes or to reduce taxes or to keep their "sponsors" happy. And as for the future generations - well they don't have a vote do they!
Democracy - Texas Toll style
Jim Forsyth of WOAI of San Antonio reports on the way tolls are being forced through by an unelected body who have refused to allow a vote. He predicts that the result will be "At the best - more traffic congestion. At the worst, and most likely - the privately owned tolls will default, leaving Joe Sucker to pick up the costs for tolls he never wanted, which have increased his commute time and cost him thousands in tolls. ":- "For Whom the Road Tolls".
8 October 2005
Michael West comments on Australia's tolls racket called IBTOS (Infrastructure Borrowings Tax Offset Scheme). The taxpayer is paying "hundreds of millions of dollars" on top of the tolls. No wonder some of the operators are paying "18 million dollar bonuses". Applications under the Freedom of Information Act to find out more have been "fobbed off":- The Australian - "After the prelims, the big stoush".
Toll Barriers give boost - to Pollution
Indiana Toll authorities have abandoned plans to move toll barriers near Portage, where residents had complained about "the noise pollution and emissions from vehicles that idle in line to pay tolls":- Herald Argus - "Barrier blocked".
Quite right - if they were to move toll barriers because they cause pollution, then where would they stop!
6 October 2005
Fat Cats want Road Pricing
The Institute of Directors say "Reducing carbon emissions will require bold policies such as extensive road pricing and the possible expansion of nuclear power. Business has been cleaning up its act for a number of years and it is now up to the Government to take the lead." (Press Release on "Climate Change" yesterday.)
European Space Agency funding Toll trials
It has been revealed that the people who are supposed to be doing space research are using taxpayers' money to subsidise experiments with electronic road tolls. They are giving at least three million US dollars for a trial in Dublin:- Telecomweb - "Using Satellites To Collect Tolls, Ease Squall"
You have to laugh when the story starts "One of the major causes of congestion on roadways can be attributed to cars stopping to pay tolls."
Birmingham believes in Xmas - Every Day!
Yesterday we reported that Birmingham's Transport leader was opposed to a London type Con charge. Today the Birmingham Post reports that "Birmingham Forward" have suggested that instead of tolls, they could pay drivers to journey off peak:- "Off-peak drivers 'should be paid'"
This is a strange story. Does anyone believe for one second that the Government would have a negative toll system? If so then, is your name Santa Claus?
Guy Adams in today's Independent reports that the West London Residents' Association are meeting to decide whether to legally challenge the extension of the Con Zone. Dr Gordon Taylor is quoted as giving two possible routes for a challenge:-
"One is through the GLA Act, and the question of whether the board of Transport for London - which has two members opposed to the extension anyway - has a fiduciary obligation to meet in opposing the scheme."
"The other route involves seeking a judicial review of Livingstone's decision."
We will have to wait and see what happens, but such a challenge would be very expensive, and the authorities will probably be able to use the money that they collect from Londoners.
South Africa to fall for Con trick?
Marchelle Hermanus reports that Cape Town are thinking of bringing in a congestion charge, following the success of the L:ondon scheme. It is amazing how far this myth has spread! iafrica.com - "Pay for congestion?"
Oz to lower tolls?
It is reported in Australia that they are looking at reducing the toll on the recently opened Cross City Tunnel which is almost empty.
We doubt that they will. Australian drivers have been conditioned into accepting tolls as a way of life. The Toll road operators can't afford to wake the Australians from their stupor, by letting them think that they have any say.
New Orleans Toll
Things must be looking up in New Orleans. They will be bringing back tolls on the Causeway from Monday (though they won't attempt to stop National Guard vehicles). They certainly know how to make sure that the city's economy revives.
Texas Toll protestors sue Governor
People for Efficient Transport Inc, a group protesting against plans for turning Texas roads into toll roads, is taking the Texas governor to court. PET are represented by Steve Smith, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice. They say the Governor's plans, and the way they are being carried out violate the Texas constitution:- emediawire - "Governor Rick Perry Sued; Lawsuit claims Governor Lacks Authority to Privatize and Toll Already Tax-Funded Public Highways".
Drivers freed from artificial speed limit
The Greeley Tribune reports that speed limits are about to be increased on Tower Road. Speed limits on the road were lowered to 40 mph from 55 mph when a nearby toll road was completed in 2003. This was part of the agreement forged with the E-470 Public Highway Authority to encourage toll way use The relief for drivers is because the agreement said that the speed limits should be restored when the toll road had paid off a certain amount of debt:- Greeley Tribune.
What we don't understand is why they did not come up with some excuse to continue to penalise drivers by getting from them either the toll or a speeding fine.
5 October 2005
Tories turn right again
Yesterday there was confirmation that the Tories are moving right to New Labour policies such as road pricing. As David Charter reports in today's Times - David Davis in a question and answer session, "showed that his brand of reform will include a range of right-wing ideas such as funding road-building by tolls"
This is what David Davis (Shadow Home Secretary and likely next Tory leader) said as part of his "Reform" lecture:-
"Something of the same debate about the environment has long been echoed in discussions of Britain's transport needs. Our transport networks are simply not capable of meeting the demands we place upon them even now - let alone in the future. And though there is plenty of scope for argument about how rail or air links could be improved, the fact is that most people will always want - and business will always need - to be able to travel by road.
And again the argument has been polarised. Some environmentalists argue against road building of any kind. There's not a by-pass that doesn't present some threat to nature. But simply building more roads is hardly the answer, because, as we all know, new roads attract new traffic, and they become bottle-necked as well. New technology offers us a solution. It can allow to make much better use of our existing road network, and to expand it only in line with real demand.
Road pricing isn't a new idea, but new technology can make it a practical reality. Sophisticated schemes of road pricing are already in operation. You will find them from Singapore, to Germany, to Norway. Road pricing will encourage people to travel at different times of day, just as already happens with rail and air travel, and it will encourage more efficient use of transport. So it can greatly reduce congestion.
On road-pricing Labour deserves half a cheer, again, for being willing to consider the implications. But London's congestion charge, introduced with some political entrepreneurship by Ken Livingstone, isn't really a form of road pricing at all. It's little more than a tax, and while there's nothing like a tax to put a smile on Red Ken's face, the danger is that the charge gives proper road pricing a bad name."
So now we know, we appear to have a right wing consensus to use drivers as a cash cow. The only argument seems to be about who will do it the least inefficiently.
Brum Transport Leader Against Con Charge
The West Midlands is one of the areas that the Government hopes can be bribed to introduce some form of tolls. But Paul Dale from Birmingham Post reports that Len Gregory, the Transport boss on Birmingham City Council, says "congestion charging as it happens in London is something we would not consider." "London road charging 'not an option' in Brum"
"Smile Please" One Million Times A Day
The Mayor has not lost any time with pushing ahead with his Toll Zone expansion. German electronics firm, Siemens, has been awarded a contract to provide camera and automatic number plate reading equipment:- Siemens Press Release
The press release says "The cameras will capture details of an estimated 1 million number plates every day.". This certainly seems to indicate that the scheme should make money, but doesn't indicate that it will discourage many vehicles. Unfortunately those that are deterred seem to be the cars occupied by shoppers and restaurant goers.
Yesterday, the Mayor published the results of a poll that he commissioned. There were various questions including two on the Con charge:-
How strongly do you support or oppose congestion charging in Central London?
20 percent : Strongly support
21 percent : Tend to support
13 percent : Neither support nor oppose
9 percent : Tend to oppose
32 percent : Strongly oppose
4 percent : Don't know
From what you know or have heard of the scheme, how effective do you believe the congestion charge scheme has been in reducing traffic congestion in Central London?
21 percent : Very effective
46 percent : Fairly effective
15 percent : Not very effective
7 percent : Not at all effective
10 percent : Don't know
What does it all mean:-
He who pays the piper, gets to call the tune.
A lot of people have fallen for the myths that have been fed to them with the help of the news media. Note the wording "what you have heard".
The people with the most experience of the zone are those living in Inner London, and in TfL's report in January, most of them said that they thought travelling times were worse since the Con charge started.
We wonder why there was such odd wording to the effective question e.g. what does "not very effective" mean?
Their own poll still says that there are large numbers who are "strongly opposed".
Does the opinion poll, imply that they havn't been able to get empiric evidence to prove that there has been a reduction in congestion?
"Selfish, Greedy interests"
Kenneth Davidson reports how decisions on Melbourne's transport are taken in the interests of the operators of toll road schemes using PPP (public private partnership) which are costing billions more than alternatives. He says "At least in the '80s there was a debate. The political race today is much more sophisticated and the stakes for private interests are much higher. This risk that public interest might get up is much less if it can be nobbled before it gets to the starting gate." The Age - "A tangled transport web".
Truckers Against Tolls 1
Indian Truckers started striking this morning to get tolls removed from a 30 km stretch of road that links into the national road network:- NewKerala.com - "Vehicle operators go on strike". PS The strike was called off tonight after India's Shipping and Surface Transport Minister said that he will "sort out their toll tax issue within a month's time".
Two Killed in Nigeria
Various news sources report fighting between police and army in Lagos. What most reports don't reveal is why. But sapa.afp say "Both police and soldiers routinely resort to lethal force when dealing with the civilian population and officers extort illegal tolls from motorists on a daily basis." This particular incident started "when an army officer tried to prevent a police patrol extorting a 20 naira bribe from a motorcycle taxi driver".
Truckers Against Tolls 2
In Illinois, truck firms are leaving, because of tolls. They are also using local roads, one says "I would like to take the tollway because it is safer and faster but it is just too expensive right now." Northern Star - "Tolls, fuel costs force trucking firms to move to other states".
Slow down for EZ electronic tolls
Many US toll roads now have electronic systems which in theory reduce delays at toll booths. But most toll booths have speed limits, ranging from 5 mph to 15 mph. Steve Eldridge in the Washington Examiner now reports that despite tight spaces and the need for toll facility staff to walk through the area safely, New Jersey has decided to ignore the speed limits at its toll booths as enforcement is "confusing" and "angers patrons."
As a stunt, an Alabama Bank is (just for an hour) paying the tolls for commuters on the Emerald Mountain Parkway. They say that they "want to put a smile on the faces of Montgomery's commuters ".
More from the Land of the Free for "All"
Charles Valenti, Delaware Wave editor, complains about plans to bail out the roads system by selling the roads to toll operators. The plan will not only help the foreign companies that will run the toll roads, it will also help various developers, who will be able to build with the roads that serve the developments being financed from tolls levied all over the state.
4 October 2005
M6 - back to square one
The information that was leaked to the pro tolls / anti roads brigade was yesterday made available to the rest of us:- Highways Agency - Press Release 3rd Oct 2005 and Highways Agency - M6 toll Evaluation
As you might expect the information does not quite match the spin. The report compares March 2003 (before the M6 Toll opened) with March 2005. The key items (at least based on what they have published) are:-
On average the non toll road is carrying over three times more traffic than the Toll road (132 thousand compared with 43 thousand). And the busiest stretch is carrying about 3.5 times more traffic (156 thousand compared with 43 thousand).
The M6 Toll does better with share of through light vehicles (cars and vans travelling the whole length). Using satellite tracking they have calculated that about one third of through light vehicles use the toll route.
The overall weekday traffic (Toll and parallel section of old M6) has increased from 160 thousand to 185 thousand (16 per cent). The Greenies would claim that this is all extra traffic generated because there is a new road. But most of this traffic will have been diverted from many other less suitable roads.
There are no reliable figures for heavy goods vehicles, but it has been assessed that nearly 30 percent of the vehicles at the approach to the Toll road are trucks, but only 7 per cent of the vehicles on the Toll road are trucks. This confirms that trucks are boycotting the Toll road.
Weekday traffic on the old M6 has reduced 8 per cent (142 thousand to 132 thousand, average along the stretch that is parallel to the Toll).
Weekday traffic along the M6 Toll is about 43 thousand (the Toll company traffic figure for March 2005 is 50 thousand, but not all vehicles travel the whole stretch of the Toll).
Weekday traffic on the old M6 along the busiest part of the stretch that is parallel to the Toll has reduced by 3 per cent (160 thousand to 156 thousand).
Weekday traffic on the M6 either side of the section parallel to the M6 Toll has increased 14 per cent (111 thousand to 126 thousand, counted just before the road splits betweeen Toll and non Toll).
3 October 2005
Tories turn right
At today's Tory Party conference, Alan Duncan, their Transport spokesman said:- "We are grappling with the growing problem of congestion, and we will engage responsibly in the debate we need to have about road pricing and the better use of our cars in the limited space we have."
This seems to signal that the Tories will move to the right, and support a policy which will hit the hardest those who are on low incomes and those who have to travel long distances to work.
2 October 2005
More Government Spin or is it a Joke?
It appears that traffic on the old M6 is back to nearly where it was before the M6 Toll opened. We say it appears, because this information seems to have been leaked by the Government to some of the press and the greenies in an attempt to persuade people that we should have even more tolls. You have to admire the Governments's nerve. They are admitting that the M6 Toll road is a failure, as it has not attracted enough traffic off the old M6. Their solution? - Put tolls on more roads! Observer - "Motorway toll puts more cars on roads" and Scotland on Sunday - "Motorway toll 'increases congestion'"
The anti roads lobby are saying that as the traffic on the old M6 is back where it was, the building of a new road (the M6 Toll) just created extra traffic to meet the increased capacity. The extra capacity has of course not been filled, because a toll was put on it. In any case, the new road will have displaced traffic from other roads to the east of Birmingham, and the overall effect is that in the area of both the old M6 and the new M6 Toll there will be less traffic using less suitable non-motorway roads.
There are two tragedies. One is that they are apparently too daft to see this. The other is that if it was not for the toll, there would be more traffic using the new road and relieving pressure on other, less suitable, roads.
We issued this statement:-
"Anti toll campaigners are amazed by the latest twist as the spin doctors try to sell the idea of tolls on all roads.
The Highways Agency are now saying that the stretch of the old M6 in the West Midlands has gone back to the traffic level that it reached before the M6 Toll road opened at the end of 2003 - 200 thousand vehicles a day.
The M6 Toll road is used by only 50 thousand vehicles a day, and the traffic in recent months has actually fallen.
Though the M6 Toll was planned by the Tories, Labour have been keen supporters and hailed it as a success.
Labour have however now done a 180 degree turn and are saying that it shows that there should be tolls on more roads.
It appears that they have accepted that putting a toll on a new road, just defeats the purpose in building it, as roads users will avoid it if they can. Their conclusion is to put tolls on more roads, so that roads users can only avoid them by keeping off the road.
Roads users are already overtaxed. More tolls will add to the burden, because even IF the Government did reduce other roads taxes, the total amount would have to go up just to recover the extra cost of collecting the tax.
The Government's own experts have estimated that road pricing would cost between £10 billion and £62 billion to implement, with annual running costs of £5 billion on top.
If you assume that the higher government estimate is more realistic and spread the initial costs over ten years, then the annualised collection cost is over £10 billion a year, or THE SAME AS ADDING ANOTHER 23 PENCE A LITRE TO THE COST OF FUEL!
"The Government should stop this daft idea now. Instead they should be improving roads. They collect nearly £50 billion a year from roads users, but only spend £7 billion on roads."
"Taking the "free" out of freeway"
TriCity News reports that Vancouver is looking at some form of road pricing.
It looks as if they have fallen for the usual pro tolls arguments:- "traffic will increase until the whole of the earth's surface is covered by cars", "the London Congestion Charge has reduced traffic / congestion by 30%", and "gas taxes should be spent on anything except roads".
1 October 2005
We have your number!
It is reported that the Government plans to have RFID devices installed in all vehicle number plates. This is to make it easier for them to enforce "congestion" charges and road pricing.
Coventry ready to jump into the (hot) water
Coventry is joining the queue for Alistair Darling's congestion handouts:- Coventry Evening Telegraph - "Congestion charge study".
We only hope that this apparent willingness to introduce more tolls, is all a game. The authorities can't really be that daft. Can they?
Expansion of Toll Zone - Protest planned
The BBC report that the Forum for Private Business are planning a protest:- "Congestion charge protest planned"
We hope that they succeed, but there are three reasons that Ken gets away with it. The first is that he has dictatorial powers. The second is that the opposition to him is fragmented. The third is that much of the news media circulates the propaganda about the "success" of the existing Con Zone.
Expansion of Toll Zone - More details
1. Extension of the Con Zone is officially predicted to increase congestion in the existing zone. This is mainly because the 230 thousand residents in the added area will now be eligible for 90 percent discounts on the charge.
2. The Mayor has ignored two consultations. The first showed that 70 per cent of residents and 80 per cent of businesses opposed his plans. So they then had a "survey". The sponsor of such surveys can usually guarantee the result that they want, but by a narrow majority, most people still opposed him.
3. The Mayor has refused to answer questions from the news media, because "he is too busy".
4. It will cost about 120 million pounds to instal the extra signs and cameras etc.
5. Transport for London - Official report on the extension
Yesterday's Official Press Release from the Mayor
Expansion of Toll Zone - More reports on yesterday's news
Telegraph - "Congestion zone doubles as mayor ignores objectors"
Times - "Livingstone takes charge zone farther west despite opposition"
Japan moves nearer to Private Roads
Japan has taken another step towards privatising its main roads. The four expressway public corporations that control 7,000 kilometres of road have been turned into private companies. Japan Highway was split into three regional companies. The other three:- the Metropolitan Expressway, Hanshin Expressway, and Honshu-Shikoku Bridge were kept intact. All six of the new companies will have private sector bosses, but initially all the shares will be held by the government and the local authorities.
"Potholes take their toll"
Indian papers report more toll increases, while the toll roads are full of potholes. By law, twenty percent of the tolls should be spent on the roads.
Toll Operators Demands
Thailand is helping to prove that it is the private toll operators that rule the roost. The Bangkok Post reports that the government has been trying to get the toll operators - Don Muang Tollway Co - to reduce tolls in return for a longer concession period, but the operators want more. The toll operators are also demanding money because not all drivers are forced on to the tolls as there are some other roads.
MySa.com reports that anti toll campaigners - Texas Toll Party- have donned orange vests and are handing out fliers to rush hour drivers, to make sure they know they are about to be ripped off.
Utah Uncommon Sense
Utah politicians are thinking about introducing toll roads. One of those who think this is a BAD idea is the Daily Herald:- "Are toll roads the solution?".
Here is part of the story:-
"Toll roads are an alien concept to Westerners, who are used to wide open spaces and no slowdowns for money baskets.
A toll road requires a management bureaucracy. Giving a bureaucracy its own revenue stream is like giving matches to a pyromaniac. It only makes matters worse. Killing a vampire is easy by comparison to dismantling a toll-road authority. Just ask the people in New Jersey, who were assured that once tolls paid for the cost of building the New Jersey Turnpike, the toll booths would disappear. That was more than 50 years ago, and the toll booths are still firmly entrenched at every highway exit.
Who really benefits from a highway? Every day someone pays for public services he either doesn't use or uses rarely. People without children pay for schools; law-abiding people pay for police officers and prisons; and we all pay for fire departments even if our own house doesn't burn. We do all this because it's part of our social compact: We know that schools, police and fire protection make for a better community. The same is true for roads. We all benefit from roads, so it can be argued that we should all shoulder the cost. A toll road, on the other hand, allows some people to get by without paying their share of a service they enjoy."
Texas Uncommon Sense
Further to yesterday's "Doh" story, more is revealed of the way they aim to cover Texas in toll roads:- PR Wire - Press Release from Texas Toll Party.
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