Wednesday, July 24, 2002

They Really Don't Get It

This morning, in the little local paper on my little island in the Pacific Northwest there is an article on why "toll roads are inevitable." They go on to describe the reasons why the state does not have the money to "maintain and expand" the roads in the state. While this is unbelievable on its face, there was a credulous acceptance of this "fact." The entire puff piece was credulous. but what got my goat this morning was their insistence that, "certainly within ten years," when every car has a GPS transceiver in it that deducts tolls, their only conception of "fairness" was class warfare based, designed to make "the rich" pay more than their full share. They plan to continue their social engineering program with HIGHWAY TOLLS! "The Rich", and the routes they travel, must pay the highest tolls. And no debate will be considered. Well, not yet, and not by them. But others will consider, and debate, and attend meetings, because freedom is breaking out all over, in my opinion. I may be a skeptic, but I'm still an optimist.

Why is it that the intelligentsia of this nation will not accept that we all make choices in this life, and they all have, or should have, a cost. Anything free, or subsidized, will become scarce. The law of supply and demand is stronger than the second law of thermodynamics. All planetary water shortages will disappear when everyone must pay the real cost of water. All electricity shortages will disappear when we all have to pay the full cost of electricity. And all highway shortages will disappear when we all have to face the actual cost of our roadways. Traffic will disappear: poof!

Stop laughing, and I'll convince you (if you are logically deficient enough to be laughing in the first place!). Right now, the cost of highways is borne by: 1)The gasoline tax. this is levied on each gallon of fuel sold for highway use. In the federal system, the congress, as usual, steals the money for parks, railroad stations, and anything else any congressman needs to ensure his re-election. I have even heard that the reason that this theft is a good thing is that, get this, if they spent the entire gas tax on road construction and road maintenance, the ARE NOT ENOUGH BULLDOZERS AND DUMP TRUCKS IN THE WORLD to accomplish that amount of work! I kid you not. I don't write material that good. They have the right to steal it, because we lack the means to spend the money ourselves! How about knocking off, say, a nickel a gallon, especially when we have price spikes that can and do cause hardship. But Nooooo! There is now a railroad museum in Sen. Robert Byrd's state of West Virginia that no one (almost) ever visits because it's so far in the boonies, that was paid for entirely with your gasoline tax (stolen) money. According to this morning's article, the state fuel tax money goes entirely to road building and maintenance. Just for the sake of facilitating this argument, I'll allow that this is true.

So they hide the cost in the gasoline price, which we pay so eagerly that the feds get to steal some of the money, and we make hardly a peep. But that cost is transparent compared to the bigger cost which is almost entirely hidden, which is: 2) lost productivity due to traffic slowdowns. When you sit waiting in traffic, or the toll booth line, you are a pure consumer. (You might accomplish something by being on the phone, but that is a relatively recent option, and the same batty legislators are trying their damnedest to make that illegal as well). You are not at work, or even at your daughter's soccer practice. If you are exempt from hourly, your company pays you for doing nothing. If your pay is based in any form on performance, you don't get to perform. And then there is all of that gasoline that you waste right up the pipe. These costs can be estimated (pretty accurately, according to the statisticians), and the amounts are staggering.

Now, for the magic solution to all of these problems. Since we are all getting GPS transceivers anyway, why not merely charge us for what we consume? What a concept! Cars pay a rate optimized for weight, (which relates directly to roadway wear and tear) and pay that rate for every mile travelled. Pay a higher rate for the more desirable time slot. Maybe a different rate for bridges, tunnels, or any stretch of roadway that either carries a higher deterioration and maintenance rate, or is more desirable from a time to destination basis. What do you thing would happen? That's right; gasoline goes down to a dollar, tolls become a significant cost of driving, and everyone will tailor their driving habits to their pocketbook. That's called choice. That's called freedom. Freedom to do whatever you want on our nation's highways. In a hurry? Take the short cut. It is not gonna be crowded, because most people go the other, cheaper way. The toll on that stretch could be adjusted to discourage enough motorists to balance traffic flow. Or build another couple of lanes. If that's what people want, they will pay. If not, not. Trust me. That's how it works. In New York City, the free bridges are far less convenient than the toll bridges and tunnels, yet get plenty of traffic. And the city always cries the poor mouth when the subject of the need for any improvement comes up. No money available, yet the bridges are free of tolls.

Why is this such a controversial, a radical idea? Beats me. I can see where some might say that we need to give "the poor" a lower rate. I disagree, but I'm considered a whacko right wing looney by those who give their lives to public service. (Did I get that wrong? Does the public serve them?) Do the poor live relatively further from their places of employment than the rich (anyone making over @230.00 per week)? If so, isn't that a choice they made? they could move, or they could seek their low paying employment closer to home. Or maybe even (horrors) strive for a higher income! Take some classes. Take in a roommate.

Phase the program in over a few years to allow everyone to get used to it, and you're all done.

Of course, there will always be certain places where the organic traffic flow is too great for any reasonable engineered improvement. In those cases, it may take many years for traffic levels to go down, and traffic jams may persist for years. Or maybe the local people may decide, for their own reasons, that thay don't want to build more lanes or raise any tolls. That's freedom also, for they would have decided for themselves to put up with traffic jams. But my point is, that if we are getting the technology for the perfect solution anyway, and the professionals in this business have already spent a fortune studying and discussing this problem, why is there no official discussion of an alternative to business as usual. It will come, but, in a world where charging for two airline seats that a person will use both of, is controversial, paying for one's use of the public highways is dangerously radical, indeed.

Whew! This solving the problems of the world is tiring stuff. especially with these tight deadlines. And this is only one, little bitty problem we solved today. Gotta go. Sorry about no links, I just don't have the time right now to find and code all that stuff. If you want more of this, email me.