Friday, 23 September 2011

News briefs: London, Illinois, San Diego, Texas, Pennsylvania

Short items from the UK and US today..

London

One of the problems for Transport for London (TfL) is enforcement of the congestion charge against foreign registered vehicles. They are not exempt (unlike in Stockholm), but can pose a problem for enforcement if the vehicles have left the country. TfL uses the SPARKS network, which was set up by London local authorities to form partnerships with motor vehicle registration and enforcement agencies across all 27 EU Member States. As a result, there are now agreements with several of them to recover congestion charging fines from vehicle owners in their home countries. Now the problem of evasion is not high. I recall a figure from two years of around 12%, but have no source for that. However, around a third of that is able to be recovered through SPARKS (let's exclude the non-payment of several embassies, notably USA, from that figure, which totals £50 million from those non-compliant embassies).

Yet there is one way TfL can enforce - it can impound vehicles that have fines beyond a certain threshold.  One group that has been particularly problematic are the expensive luxury and sports cars of the super-rich who fly them to London for summer, from the United Arab Emirates.  UAE paper The National reports that Emirati cars owe TfL £8,280.  The problem is not just the congestion charge, but parking fines, illegal use of bus lanes, running red lights and speeding.  In short, they are young carefree and carless Emirati men who care not a jot for the delays and danger they are placing Londoners in (and of course they are not unable to pay).

The paper continued:

London’s Metropolitan Police have seized cars worth millions of dirhams in a clampdown on groups of young Arabs who gather on the quiet backstreets of affluent Knightsbridge to race their luxury motors.

Police conducted random checks on high-performance vehicles in the area during July to make sure drivers had valid UK driving licences, insurance and number plates.

Seems like the only appropriate approach.

Illinois

Woodridge Patch reports that the Illinois Tollway plans a 35c toll increase to help fund a $12 billion programme of capital investment. The plan includes reconstructing the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (Interstate 90) to link Rockford to O’Hare Airport, a new interchange to connect Interstate 294 to Interstate 57 and a new all-electronic Elgin O’Hare West Bypass that can provide western access the airport. (Full map here)

It is supported by the as it is the first toll increase in 28 years!  The tollway is quite a network of 460km of toll roads in the environs of Chicago.

The Mundelein Review is endorsing the plan, saying:

Tollway officials have analyzed the existing system and developed projects that keep the current roads in good repair, but also position the region for growth. The widening of I-90, for example, will include room for a bus rapid transit lane one day. The Elgin O’Hare west bypass should prove to be an engine for economic development. All these changes, we hope, will lessen the intense traffic jams that make the Chicago region the nation’s most- congested.

A good example of how tolling a network of highways can help maintain that network, but provide a basis to allow that network to be upgraded and expanded with a source of revenue.  It is especially encouraging that the increase in tolls is accepted because it will deliver improvements for those paying and help improve public transport.

San Diego

The San Diego Reader reports that the bankruptcy court put the value of the bankrupted, and now re"nationalised"(by SANDAG) South Bay Expressway toll road at $285 million.  SANDAG bought the road off the creditors for $345 million. I’ll leave it to taxpayers of San Diego to decide if they think it is a good deal to spend more than the market price for a toll road that is intended to be subsidised.

Landline magazine reports: "When it was opened in November 2007, the South Bay Expressway was projected to lure 60,000 vehicles per day from Interstate 5 and other roadways connecting the Otay Mesa Port of Entry to State Route 54. But just two years after opening, the South Bay Expressway was only realizing 22,600 vehicles per day. The operator filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in March 2010 in an effort to restructure $510 million in debts."

Texas

US TV network ABC reports on how the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has issued a number plate twice resulting in a man receiving toll violation notices for roads he hasn't been on.

"Scott loves to show off his 1929 Model-A Ford, but he insists he's never driven it to the Austin area, not when its top speed is just 45 to 50 miles an hour...Sure enough, wouldn't get in it and drive it over there," he said. "That'd be an all day drive!"...The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles admits it has issued some plates twice with the very same numbers...We do recognize that it's a problem and we're working to resolve that problem as we speak," said Randy Ellingston with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles"

By far one of the more important things to get right is to ensure the motor vehicle number plate database does not contain such errors.  Anecdotal evidence is that there are plenty of such agencies with dated databases without the budgets or political will to tidy them up.  Electronic free flow tolling demands this as an enabler, and it is a major threat to the success of such systems when they have errors such as this.

Pennsylvania

Morning Call reports the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is considering moving to fully electronic free flow tolls, and is surveying users to establish their opinion.  Wilbur Smith and McCormick & Taylor were hired to conduct a year long study (honestly shouldn't take that long) into such a conversion.

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