EZ-Pass Unintended Consequences

So we were told that the EZ-Pass system would make things more efficient, and with fewer toll workers to pay, more of your toll dollars could go to road maintenance. But one problem with EZ pass is that it hides costs from the consumer:

When Tolls Increase …

… on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in January, drivers aren’t going to see the new fares on their tickets, our friends at the Patriot-News report this morning.

The argument for snookering drivers?

Tolls are increasing 3 percent a year, so PTC officials say they’ll save money by not printing up a new batch of tickets every year. Besides that, about two-thirds of Turnpike drivers use EZ-Pass, and thus, probably neither know nor care how much they’re paying anyway.

When I paid with the ticket on the PA Turnpike every day, I knew exactly what the tolls were for pretty much all the exists out to Reading, because I forked over the change with ticket every day. Now with Z-Pass, I couldn’t honestly tell you what the tolls are on the PA Turnpike. This is going to give transportation authorities a lot more leeway in boosting tolls, since a majority of people will hardly notice. Sure, you can look, but it takes effort to find out.

This isn’t very libertarian of me, but I tend to disfavor tolls as a means for paying for roads. It’s not practical to toll every road, and for those of us who have to take toll roads, we pay for our road with the toll, while our tax dollars pay for the roads everyone else gets to drive on. To me roads are a public resource, and funding them with tax dollars is my preferred way to pay for them.

8 thoughts on “EZ-Pass Unintended Consequences”

  1. I really don’t think that was unintended. Its kind of like credit cards, it makes people stop paying attention to the real cost. It was only a matter of time.

  2. Not to split hairs or anything, but toll roads are hardly a libertarian concept when payment is made to the government. As I understand it, turnpikes used to be privately owned, and not all of them charged a toll. Some were profitable enough simply because the businesses along the road saw more shoppers than they otherwise would have without a road.

    This is only my understanding, based on a few articles I’ve read over the years FWIW.

  3. The problem with the idea of private roads is that a road is a monopoly, generally speaking, on getting from one point to another along some reasonably optimal path. Plus, it stands to reason some roads are going to be paid for with tax dollars, since I think most homeowners would be pretty pissed having the road they live on sold to a private company that could put a price on leaving their own home. How much is that worth to you? So because roads are a monopoly, even with private business running them, the market is going to be regulated by the government, which means it’ll hardly be a free market.

  4. I don’t disagree. Privately owned turnpikes existed at a different time, and were most likely confined to commercial

    I’ve exhausted every scenario I could think of where a private road system might work, and it just doesn’t seem possible given our circumstances.

  5. You say that your tax dollars pay for the non-toll roads, and that is true. The tax that pays for federal road spending and the tax that pays for most state road spending are taxes on motor fuel. So larger and heavier vehicles pay more, because they use more fuel. Vehicles that travel more miles pay more, because they use fuel in proportion to the distance driven.

    Its almost like a user-fee.

    Now, there is subsidy from general funds and local spending on roads. But the subsidy to roads is more than offset by the proportion of motor-fuel tax that subsidizes other less carbon-friendly transportation options such as commuter rail. Plus, roads are a societal good necessary for other government functions such as post, police protection, and fire protection. That the rest of us get the freedom to use them as well does not negate that the community would need local roads with or without auto traffic.

    I do know of a guy in the Congo that undertook the private maintenance of an intercity road there. He employed a laborer for each mile of road to basically work all day with a shovel to fill in the low spots from the excess of the high spots. Within weeks his few trucks were making enough additional trips, because of increased speed, to generate more than enough income to cover the costs of his road maintenance staff. It was entirely unsanctioned by government, and although it benefitted everyone he did it to benefit himself.

  6. Don’t move to Central Florida, where it appears most freeways are toll roads.

  7. It really bugs me that roads that are supposed to be tax-funded also require a toll; when I lived in New York, I did my best to avoid toll roads. Sometimes it was impractical, though, especially for long trips.

    Apparently Mises.org has a nice book about how to privatize roads; I’d like to read it, because I’m not sure how to go about it myself. According to the blurb, though, the book is rather long, because they have a lot of work to do, to overcome this public perception that roads need to be government-sponsored.

    For what it’s worth, my parents-in-law live in a very small town where the main road is owned by the people who live along it; the only exception is my parents-in-law, where the relevant portion of the road is actually owned entirely by the person across the street. I have no idea how that road is maintained, though, or who takes care of the culvert; that is something I ought to ask my parents-in-law!

  8. One of the arguments for tolls also is that drivers on a toll road can be charged enough to not only cover the maintenance of the road but to cover the cost of increased congestion caused by adding one more car to the road. The problem with this that in order to do this well you have to actually adjust tolls during periods of peak traffic. And regardless of who’s running the road, no one is going to like being told that tolls will climb during the rush hour.

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