Transportation Policy

Tear Down the Toll Booths!

|

Reason Foundation founder Robert W. Poole argues for toll roads and against toll booths in the Wall Street Journal:

Americans are going to be driving on toll roads a lot more in the years ahead. One of the least pleasant experiences of this form of travel is the toll booth. But it doesn't have to be this way. We can, if we want, get rid of every toll booth and toll plaza in the country….

Why do away with toll booths? No more delays, accidents and pollution caused by long lines of waiting cars. No more need for large swathes of land for toll plazas, making it possible to fit toll roads into tight corridors where congestion relief is needed. Lower payroll costs, no buildings and no cash "shrinkage" (i.e., theft) by collectors.

The article is behind the subscriber wall, but this link ought to get you through to the whole thing.

More from Poole and Reason Foundation regarding transportation and other issues here.

NEXT: Virile Vermin: Enhanced Mice Live Longer, Play Harder, and Have More Sex

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I don’t use toll roads all that much, but the trip up to Cape Cod this past summer and dealing with a bajillion tollbooths convinced me to get an EZ Pass next time.

  2. What, no mention of transponder tampering?

  3. EZ Tag yo, I be zoomin!!!

  4. I haven’t read the article, but I am assuming that the way to get rid of toll booths is with EZ-Pass type transponders???

    No thank you. I don’t need anyone keeping a log of where I am going and when and what my driving patterns are.

    And what’s to guarantee that they aren’t gonna ticket me for getting from one toll plaza to the next too quickly?

    As it stands, I pay double tolls in Illinois for the luxury of not having my movements tracked and logged.

  5. ChicagoTom,

    They already take a machine-readable picture of your license plate every time anyway. Look for the camera next time as you drive off.

    And I have known people who got speeding tickets based on toll logs.

    Yay.

  6. Good article though I am with ChiTom on this. Why no discussion of the downsides of going cashless (other than the obligatory Union bashing)?

    RFID/Transponder/barcode on your windshield/traffic cameras all enable people to track your movements.

    When the “public sector” (eg. governmnent) installs speed detection cameras there is a massive outcry from this board. Why is it different when a toll road is the only means of getting from point A to point B? I don’t care if it’s the government or a private company that’s monitoring my tracks, it’s still not a good thing.

  7. ChigagoTom,

    Nathan is right.

    They already know…and If u have a Cell Phone…they’ll know when and where u go take a shit…if the phone is in ur pocket.

    In the metro NYC area, it would be too too too too too painful not to use ez-pass. Not only would tolls be doubled…the the lines r crazie.

  8. nathan,

    I know the cameras are there, but I dunno if they snap a pic for everyone who goes thru or only the ones who don’t pay and drive through. In any case, I assume it is harder to get that license plate pic into a DB than it is to just have my transponder logged everytime I pass a point.

    But you might be right. It may be futile

  9. Reason loves speed camera stories like this and this.
    So why would these cameras be accurate when it comes to sending out bills?

  10. Also, I avoid toll roads as much as I can. There is usually an alternative route. Usually, though not always, it doesn’t take that much more time to get there — and if it’s during rush hour — which seems to get longer and longer in the Chicago metro area — I can even make better time.

  11. I think technology is making tracking inevitable.

    However, there should be options for people that don’t use the toll roads much, like a digital debit card that you can buy that has like $40 of tolls loaded on it. Kinda like the pre-pay cell phones.

  12. I’m 4 Camera Enforcement for Speeding.

    This would eliminate Professional Courtesy by Police to their friends, relatives, co-workers and hot chicks.

    I b-lieve that once the Cops, judges, legistlator, etc have to cope with the 55mph (which NO ONE Drives)…the speed limit would be raised to something reasonable.

  13. Tom: they photograph and OCR your license plate every time you go through a booth anyway.

    I am always the first to recommend standing on principle, but in this case you aren’t gaining any additional privacy by refusing the transponder.

  14. “So why would these cameras be accurate when it comes to sending out bills?”

    They are accurate… I take Highway 407 in Toronto every day, usually twice. I get a bill once a month and it’s always been perfectly accurate.

    If you fail to pay your bill, the Ministry of Transportation won’t let you renew your licence plates until you’re paid up.

    The system’s been working just fine for years.

  15. Those who would sacrifice anonymity for convenience deserve neither.

  16. thank u Benjamin “de stijl” Franklin

  17. I have refused to do EZ Pass because of what ChicagoTom said. I got away with this because a) when I lived in NYC I knew every way on and off Manhattan that is toll-free, and b) when you have to cross the Hudson you are going to get in a line regardless.

    I was in a U-haul with a friend in upstate NY, 15 years ago, who got pulled over immediately after a toll booth. We were shadowed by a cop who must have known we were going over the speed limit by the timestamps on the Thruway ticket.

  18. But Alice,
    How would I use my, ahem, feminine wiles to get out of a ticket then? Are you really saying that I shouldn’t be allowed to put my twins to work to defeat the government?

  19. Episiarch,

    U have NOT been in NYC recently.

  20. perhaps ur right hit chick.

    next time i get pulled over by a lady cop…i’ll pull out my schlang.

  21. This would eliminate Professional Courtesy by Police to their friends, relatives, co-workers and hot chicks.

    I would imagine it will only take a phone call to get the ticket voided if it is issued to someone in authority.

    There was a nice story in Chicago about an alderman who got a ticket for violating the the cell phone while driving ban that he voted for. The cell phone ban passed in 2005, but this alderman apparently just realized (after getting cited) that maybe he should get a hands-free kit.
    “I should have known better. And I’m gonna try to get my car equipped so it doesn’t happen again,” Tunney said.”It’s fairly common to see people talking on their cell phones. So, I got caught. I’m treated like everybody else.”

    This guy also had his license hand delivered back to him BEFORE paying any fines or anything after he called the supervisor of the officer who cited him. Treated just like everyone else my ass.

  22. The public-private partnerships are still too political to really work in the best interest of the consumer. Politicos are not going to give these big contracts to build and maintain the roads to people and companies they don’t like. And the companies they don’t like are probably the ones that I would.

  23. From the Sun-Times < href=”http://blogs.suntimes.com/backtalk/2007/10/me_and_my_big_mouth.html”>blog:

    Tunney dug himself in deeper today by saying he called Town Hall District Cmdr. Gary Yamashiroya to question whether his officers had something better to do than “pull people over solely for cell phone violations.”

  24. Alice,

    Please explain. I have been there recently (though not on a weekday) and used my same old routes: Third Avenue Bridge on, Willis Avenue Bridge off of the FDR, from or to the Bruckner or Hutchnison.

    Also: This would eliminate Professional Courtesy by Police to their friends, relatives, co-workers and hot chicks.

    Why makes you think professional courtesy won’t just make it into the speed camera office?

  25. Didn’t somebody (I think it was Balko, might have been on his personal blog) link to a study a while back that found EZ-Pass toll roads raise their rates faster than classic toll-booth roads?

    People are less likely to notice a price increase when they pay for something in a lump rather than each and every time, same as they’re less likely to notice a tax increase when they’re subject to withholding. EZ-Pass makes toll roads more convenient for both the drivers and those wishing to gouge them.

  26. Bronx is easy..

    Try it with the Triboro goin 2 queens…and 59th sucks ass

  27. Bronx is easy..

    Try it with the Triboro goin 2 queens…and 59th sucks ass

    All true, which is why one should avoid them. Depending where in Queens, go Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge and then get on the BQE.

    These are not perfect solutions, but you avoid tolls and have surface street options available all the time.

  28. Per this article, many EZ-Pass states allow the records to be subpoenaed for civil matters.

  29. Those who would sacrifice anonymity for convenience deserve neither.

    I get wher you’re coming from, but either we want to encourage the use of private roads or we don’t. You won’t get widespread use of privately built roads with cash-only toll booths every 10 miles or so.

    Granted, there’s not a private road in sight from DC to CC, but they already know who I am and what I drive. This is is just one more data point.

    Now, if they start handing ourt speeding tickets based on travel time, then they can kiss my ass and I’ll get right back in the cash-only line.

  30. I agree Chicago Tom for once. I hate the idea of the government or anyone monitoring where I go. But there are big drawbacks to toll plazas. All and all, I think I would rather just go back to government funded roads with all of their ineffeciencies. We pay a bizilion dollars in taxes in this country. There is no reason why the government can’t provide a reliable system of free roads without having to rely on tolls or the private sector to do it.

  31. There is no reason why the private sectorgovernment can’t provide a reliable system of free roads without having to rely on tolls or the private sectorgovernment to do it.

  32. TANSTAAFL

  33. There is no reason why the government can’t provide a reliable system of free roads without having to rely on tolls or the private sector to do it.

    Hear Hear! And that doesn’t even touch the fact that most toll authorities are some of the most corrupt government entities/departments around.

    In Illinois it’s used a slush fund for the the well connected.

  34. You won’t get widespread use of privately built roads with cash-only toll booths every 10 miles or so.

    if it’s a private road, I would imagine the “privacy” aspect wouldn’t be as big of an issue since the records would have to to be subpoenaed and require a court order to get them. In theory.

    Unless you are suspected of terrorism or anything terror related — at which point the private entity should willingly hand over all your records upon request.

  35. Let’s say we have a Walter Block private toll road revolution and all highways are privatized. I think I would try to sell tracking data to offset costs and thereby undercut the competing routes on toll costs.

    Selling personal data works just fine for MySpace and Facebook, eh? Most people don’t care if they’re tracked; it’s just us crazy people.

  36. nathan: Most people are resigned to being tracked, and may not be aware of how they are actually affected by the use of their identifying data. Whether or not a private road company would do such a thing is speculation. Why wouldn’t another company specifically not track their customers or hold higher privacy standards as a business model to compete?

    chicagotom: If government corruption and inefficiency is the problem, how is more government the answer? How would you pay for these ‘free’ roads? Gas taxes? Voluntary donations? Advertising?

  37. Every road I drive on is already a toll road. It’s called a gas tax. On the whole, it’s proportional to the amount of wear and tear a vechicle puts on the roads. I’m perfectly happy to pay a the gas tax at a rate that’s adequate to fully fund all road work in my state. Why are some roads more equal than others? Otherwise, where does it stop? Why just put tolls on the major freeways, how about putting up sensors for every last bit of residential road? The gas tax is, quite simply, the easiest and least intrusive way to address the problem.

  38. if it’s a private road, I would imagine the “privacy” aspect wouldn’t be as big of an issue since the records would have to to be subpoenaed and require a court order to get them. In theory.

    Agreed. I was talking more about the technology involved in cashless tolls, which I didn’t state clearly.

  39. New World Dan: In NH we have both toll roads and a gas tax. The toll roads are primarily (interstate 95, 93, and parts of Rt 16, which is the Spaulding Tpk.) corridors for tourist and commuter traffic, in other words, people who do not pay gas taxes in the state. This seems reasonable to me.

  40. DangerMan,

    I would sincerely hope that alternative highway companies would arise that try to compete on privacy protection. I myself would gladly pay more to use them. I loves me some privacy for the sake of privacy.

    But I estimate that the average joes would just see the lower price tag and take the McRoads every time. And the average joes being the safer bet when targeting consumers, I would think McRoads might be the only highway options to some destinations.

    I would still, of course, prefer that to government-provided roads that track me.

  41. “There is no reason why the private sectorgovernment can’t provide a reliable system of free roads without having to rely on tolls or the private sectorgovernment to do it.”

    The government can tax. The private sector can’t. How do you have private roads without tolls?

    They used to have a system of private roads in the middle ages. Medival lords could build castles on rivers to tax river traffic and also built bridges for profit. It ended up devolving into rent seeking and seriously destroying commerce. I would rather have a system of national taxes like gas taxes to pay for roads than a system of private companies building roads that I have to pay for everytime I use.

  42. “””Try it with the Triboro goin 2 queens…and 59th sucks ass

    All true, which is why one should avoid them. Depending where in Queens, go Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge and then get on the BQE.”””

    Or the Williamsburg.

    I’m guessing they will all be toll roads one day. It’s just an extension of the systems used in London to fight traffic congestion.

  43. chicagotom: If government corruption and inefficiency is the problem, how is more government the answer? How would you pay for these ‘free’ roads? Gas taxes? Voluntary donations? Advertising?

    Gas taxes and advertising would be A-OK by me.

  44. How about the combo of gas taxes and weight based vehicle registration fees?

  45. The toll roads are primarily (interstate 95, 93, and parts of Rt 16, which is the Spaulding Tpk.) corridors for tourist and commuter traffic, in other words, people who do not pay gas taxes in the state.

    Why wouldn’t they buy gas? I mean, I buy gas all the time when I’m using major highways.

  46. Why not buy gas? The length of travel in a state (see Delaware) may be so short that most traffic doesn’t need to buy gas. For a time at least, long haul truckers used to gas up at terminals in Ohio or New Jersey and truck all the way across Penna. on I-80 without buying diesel. That’s one reason they want to toll it.

  47. I have a personal theory that if the various levels of government stopped their social engineering experiments and focused on, oh, infrastructure, they might find they have all the money they need for roads already.

  48. New World Dan —> No offense but have you just sold your cave and traded up for a home that includes internet access? I thought everyone and their grandma long ago realized that politics has kept the gas tax from getting anywhere close to reflecting the actual cost of driving. For example, how much gas tax would you pay to drive 40 miles? Let’s just call that 2 gallons. What does it add up to? 75 cents? $2? The Northwest Parkway (public-private tollway), it’ll cost you $2 just to go 10 miles. Are their costs really that different?

    I agree that in a world with taxes and government operated roads, the gas tax would be “ideal”…… but that’s only if somehow we could turn political influence off.

  49. DangerMan,
    That’s why there’s also a federal gas tax. Admittedly, it’s poorly distributed and a lot of it ends up in non-road projects. In theory, it should be going to support things like I-80 across Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, instead of being wasted on bike paths in northern Minnesota.

    Allen,
    As I’ve already said, far too much of the gas tax ends up in the wrong places. That said, why are we to believe that tolls on public roads won’t suffer the same fate? So why don’t we take this to its logical conclusion and put a GPS on every car and tax based on vehicle weight and miles driven, delivered to whatever locality is responsible for the given road? Not a terrible idea, but tedious and orwellian.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.