Further & More
The latest word is that Hong Kong's "electronic road pricing" system (see Trends, June) will use differential fees—people who drive on the most congested roads at the most congested times will pay extra. As R.S. Taylor-Radford urged nearly two years ago in REASON, road-user fees, to achieve the most efficient use of the scarce resource of road space, should be related to the costs imposed by drivers.
Through the Hong Kong system, now in a pilot phase, motorists will be encouraged to choose whether and when to use their cars. The plan is to install about 300 electronic loops under the surface of the most congested roads in Hong Kong and to equip all vehicles with an electronic number plate. Drivers will be advised of the charges in effect at different points and times via electronic signs erected in front of each loop.
Drivers will be billed monthly—for an average $33, by current projections. The system is expected to pay for itself within a year. And the Hong Kong government predicts that the island will be doing a booming business in exporting the system's electronic components.
THE GAMES OAKLAND PLAYS
"All my life," sports writer Jim Murray confessed, "I had supposed eminent domain to be merely the right of a government to bulldoze some old lady's little fruit stand to make way for an expressway." This in response to a 1982 California Supreme Court ruling that Oakland's city government could sue to acquire the Oakland Raiders by eminent domain and prevent their planned move to Los Angeles (see "Football Slaves," Oct. 1982).
The Oakland pols took advantage of the opportunity and sued. In July, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Nat Agliano ruled that they could not recapture the National Football League franchise by exercising their power of eminent domain. If Oakland were to have its way, the judge sardonically predicted "campaigns for political office based on promises dealing with future draft choices, trades, player salaries and the hiring and firing of general managers and coaches. It is questionable whether these are proper governmental functions in any day and age."
In a June investigative story, Patrick Cox reported on private weather-forecasting firms and the case for shifting weather services from the government to the private sector. There are now signs that the Reagan administration is continuing its moves in that direction in spite of the hue and cry surrounding the original proposal.
In July, Aviation Week reported that an advisory committee to the secretary of commerce is working on a draft request for proposals to transfer to the private sector the government's remote sensing (Landsat) or weather satellites or both. The request will be available for public comment in October, and the final request should be released in November. Bids would be due next February.
MR. BENNETT GOES TO WASHINGTON
James Bennett, a REASON author ("The Second Space Race," Nov. 1981) and a vice-president of Arc Technologies, testified recently before the House Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications on the potential of commercially financed space development. Apparently, the fact that Arc Technologies receives no government money and wasn't asking for any was a source of mystery to the subcommittee. An exchange between Bennett and an incredulous Rep. Harold Volkmer (D–Mo.) is typical:
Volkmer: You are not at the present time having any agreements with NASA?
Bennett: No, sir, we do not.
Volkmer: You don't contemplate the need for any, is that correct?
Bennett: No. Our plans allow us to proceed to the point of launch and having our vehicle in service without either buying or selling anything to the government.
Volkmer: You also emphasize you see no need for government funding or government loans, or government grants, or anything else, to people involved in commercialization?
Bennett: No, sir. Our business plan projects us being able to provide the sort of service with no change in the current tax structure or economic…
Volkmer: No tax incentives? No guaranteed loans from the government?
Bennett: We do not require any of that, sir.
When the hearing concluded, Volkmer congratulated Arc Technologies "for your entrepreneurial spirit in the face of everything."
AD CAMPAIGN SURVIVES A BOUT OF BUREAUCRATIC FLU
In August we reported in Trends that a British drug manufacturer, Boots Pharmaceuticals, had launched a direct-to-consumer advertising campaign for its antiarthritis drug, Rufen, over Florida television ("Sluggish FDA Needs Pick-Me-Up," p. 21). In early summer, however, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Boots to stop the commercials. According to the FDA, the ads falsely represented the drug.
Boots then revised the ads, deleting any claims about the drug's performance and instead informing consumers only that Rufen is cheaper than its chemically identical competitor, Upjohn's Motrin. The FDA approved the new price-comparison ads. Boots then reaired the revised commercials, against the FDA's request that all manufacturers hold off on consumer ads for prescription products until the agency has fully studied the issue.