Roads, Parking and Market Pricing

Market pricing is coming to roads and parking sooner rather than later. Virginia can be in the forefront of the trend, or it can get left in the dust. As General Assembly conferees consider their quasi-socialist approach to building and maintaining roads — raising new revenues from every source but those who actually use the roads, and providing access for “free” — they need to recognize that the technology and theory behind market pricing continues to gain credibility around the world.

The latest point of reference: a mini-white paper written by Bern Grush, founder of Skymeter Corporation, of Toronto, Canada. Grush advocates the concept of Road User Charging, which combines a number of features: (1) road pricing, essentially a charge for vehicle-miles driven, as a substitute for the gasoline tax, (2) congesting pricing, a mechanism to cope with traffic congestion, and (3) parking demand management. It’s the ultimate user pays system, and it’s on the cusp of commercial feasibility thanks to satellite and wireless technologies.

Grush is a thought leader in this space. The challenge of his start-up company is to persuade someone to invest in its untested technology and to pioneer its untested theories. Selling to government requires a frustratingly long sales cycle. But Skymeter has raised one round of angel financing, and it expects to close another round, according to an article in the Toronto Star. Although Grush has articulated the possibilities provided by the emerging technology better than anyone I’ve read, he’s not alone. The success of congestion pricing in Singapore, London and Stockholm are attracting attention around the world.

It’s a travesty that, in a state that prides itself as home to a world-class Information Technology industry, the General Assembly seeks to devise a “stable, long-term source of transportation funding” without giving serious consideration to the latest and greatest information technology and theory. One is tempted to blame the politicians for their small, parochial minds, but the responsibility goes deeper. Politicians draw from those around them — the newspapers they read, the television shows they watch, the conferences they attend, the lobbyists they listen to, the academics, businessmen and citizens they interact with. Ultimately, we have only ourselves to blame for our parochial thinking.

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7 responses to “Roads, Parking and Market Pricing”

  1. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Money trumps all?

    Jim, you state this:

    “Politicians draw from those around them — the newspapers they read, the television shows they watch, the conferences they attend, the lobbyists they listen to, the academics, businessmen and citizens they interact with. Ultimately, we have only ourselves to blame for our parochial thinking.”

    Politicans may “draw” from such sources, but wouldn’t you agree that where the rubber meets the road is:

    (1) Doing the bidding of whomever can write the biggest campaign donations?

    (2) Doing the bidding of party politics?

    (3) Kneejerk reactions to MSM lead “issues campaigns” – many that are actually party politics hidden as “issues” to decive the public?

    I know I don’t have MYSELF to blame for what you termed as “our parochial thinking” by elected individuals.

    I certainly communicate better solutions to them.

    The “blame” in large part appears to me to rest with the corruption of the political process.

    It appears to me to have morphed into a business strategy to enrich politcally influential special interests business – and other lobbies.

    Lost in all this “influencing” is the average citizens whom government is supposed to be serving., not fleecing.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Reid, I wasn’t thinking about you when I made this post — nor of the other active contributors to, or participants in, this blog. I was thinking of the other 99.99 percent of the population!

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here we have a choice between taxing everyone in Va to pay for transportation – i.e. using the General Fund ..

    … and the Conservative ideal of small government and “user” pays and
    we end up with so much smoke in the room from the “corrupt govenment in bed with business interests” machine

    that we fail to distrinquish between METHODs of paying for infrastructure – and the risks of bad government co-opting the money.

    They co-opt or attempt to co-opt the money whether it is taxes or tolls.

    The argument itself takes us away from the main issue which is what is the most fair and equitable way to provide infrastructure for those that need it.

    Folks – we can set up a LOTTERY system that has safeguards.

    JLARC and the Auditor of Public Accounts have suggested ways to better safeguard transportation money.

    Charging users is the correct – the conservative path to deal with infrastructure issues especially transportation.

    Most folks would, in fact, vote this way as the AAA Poll indicated.

    72% or opposed to taxes and 51% were in favor of TOLLs.

    Can there be problems with TOLL money? Yes.

    But what you won’t do is build a TOLL road for economic reasons – unless you know the road itself can stand on TOLLs.

    That’s not the case with tax-funded roads where politics and special interests CHOOSE out of dozens of projects – the ones that benefit them – and not the public.

    TOLL roads have a big advantage especially if they are privately operated (another conservative idea) because private investors are not going to invest in a road unless there is a good chance they’ll get their money back out of it and then some.

    VDOT doesn’t care… one way or the other nor do the folks who would have VDOT build a road for special interests. It’s “free”.

    In my view, when folks argue against TOLL roads – they are, in essence, arguing to continue the special interest VDOT approach because we all know at the end of the day the GA … WILL put some more money into the VDOT Pot.

  4. How do you reconcile the vision of a small government with one that can process literally billions of individual transactions and therefore knows exactly who uses what?

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The same exact way that cellphones work.

    or the same exact way that almost all of your purchases get scanned.

    Whether or not the government gets the data is not a reason for NOT allowing the private sector to provide cost-effective solutions using technology for maximum advantage.

    Would you outlaw cell phones?

    Would you outlaw EZ-Pass and Smart-TAG?

    Would you outlaw credit cards on the premise that because it is electronic and the government can get the info that it violates the precepts of “small government”?

    When it comes to the government tracking down individuals through wiretaps and other fishing expeditions of electronic databases, I have exactly the same concerns that you have.

    The government can already get your cellphone data and/or your EZ-Pass data and/or your credit card data.

    It’s NOT a reason to NOT use electronic tolling in my view.

    If we need new laws to keep the government out of private-sector databases, I’m all for it.

  6. Yes, and the companies that process all that information are enormous organizations.

    I didn’t ask how you would process the information, I asked how you reconcile that with small government.

    I’ll say it again. It is one thing to use electronic tolling to track people in and out of a handfull of controlled Metro stations. It is one thing to use electronic tolling on a handfull of entrance gates to the greenway.

    It is something else again to do it ubiquitously and seamlessly.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – do you use your credit card nationwide?

    Do you consider the technology that “recognizes” your credit card in Seattle or Omaha to be ubiqutous and seamless …


    Ray, have you ever used EZ-Pass.. bought from VDOT and used in New Jersey.. without a hitch?

    Would you consider this technology seamless and ubiqutous?

    And the government part – VDOT – toss them out and replace them with a Private Company to insure that costs are contained ….

    My point is Ray that Private Companies already successfully process information nationwide… worldwide…billions of transactions every day that range for a one-denist practice to WalMart to gas pumps.

    Show me where this not does not work already.

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