Tolls are regressive, inefficient, debt schemes! Before cashless tolling, about 30% of revenue went just to administer and collect the toll. While that number may be a bit lower due to automated cashless tolling, with the sheer volume of errors and violation notices, the inefficiencies are passed to the toll payers. Remember, tolling is a for-profit, big money industry, with their own lobbying group to boot. They see toll payers’ complaints about a lack of due process, suspended registrations, and extortionary fines on small tolls synonymous with cashless tolling as mere “hiccups”.
Outrageously, that lobbying group is now crying poverty as they demand a $9 billion bailout from the Federal Government “to offset the huge loss in toll revenues expected in the next 12 months.” Tolling agencies claim that due to the Covid-19 pandemic traffic and revenue has declined to range from 50% to 90%. As per their letter to Congress “unless toll facilities receive immediate relief, many will be forced to comply with bond covenant requirements, which could necessitate reductions in workforce, adding to the rapidly swelling ranks of unemployment; delays in capital projects, slowing the economic recovery that will be desperately needed; and increased pressure on elected officials to consider toll rate increases.” Essentially, they want a bailout under the guise of infrastructure funding to pay off their bonds and ensure their credit ratings remain strong. In fact, as Land Line points out, the $9.2 billion they want stems from a model that relies on credit rating agency estimates.
It does make sense to see groups lobbying for infrastructure spending. Our nation desperately needs a large infrastructure bill as our roads, bridges, mass transit, electric, and water systems all need major upgrades. Furthermore, infrastructure is seen as a good way to put people to work and get our economy jumpstarted following COVID-19 shutdowns. Fortunately, the House of Representatives is pushing back by abandoning tolling pilot programs and placing strong guardrails regarding congestion pricing tolling. The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates released a strong statement on the matter. Frankly, the push for congestion pricing by some think tanks and advocates in the wake of Covid-19 is grotesque. Small businesses and commercial corridors are on life support adding any tax to them at this stage could kill them. Not to mention the trucking industry helped keep this nation afloat during the pandemic, adding a tax that disproportionately targets them is a slap in the face!
Enter New Jersey which is trying to stimulate their economy with infrastructure projects funded by toll hikes on the Jersey Turnpike (36% increase), Garden State Parkway (27% increase), and Atlantic City Expressway (57 cents). In the case of the A.C. Expressway, The plan also calls for a direct connector to be built to the Atlantic City Airport, the installation of cashless toll collections, and support for NJ Transit’s proposed Camden-Gloucester light rail. In addition, there are plans to widen 16 sections of the Turnpike and Parkway and one part of the Atlantic City Expressway.
The most efficient way to fund infrastructure remains the fuel tax which has not been raised nor indexed for inflation since the 90s. True, as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and transition to electric-powered a new funding mechanism will need to be found, but that mechanism can not be one built on debt that siphons needed revenue to private companies and investors.