Sunday, 27 November 2011

News briefs: UK, Canada, Maryland, New Jersey

UK
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Mike Penning has announced that the UK government will not be proceeding with its proposed 33% increase in toll charges this year (or 25% next year) on the busy Dartford Crossing, according to the Essex Enquirer.  The increase proposal resulted in a flurry of submissions to the government opposing it, given the underlying economic conditions.  The government has delayed decisions on increases until 2012, and there is speculation that increases may follow the proposed conversion of the crossing to a fully electronic free flow system to relieve the chronic congestion at the toll booths.  The government is also considering options to build a fourth crossing (it currently consists of two tunnels northbound and one bridge southbound), which would be funded by the tolls.  I previously reported on the Dartford Crossing issue late last year.  Trucking lobby group the Freight Transport Association supports the decision and is calling for the introduction of free flow tolls as soon as possible and any future toll revenue to go into additional capacity.
Toronto

The Star (Toronto) reported some interesting comments from former head of Metrolinx (the Toronto transport authority) at a conference on road pricing:
-  Most citizens believe governments already have the funds they need for transportation. (true)
-  Don't ask people to do things that are against human nature. (true)
-  Transportation agencies need to approach their industry as if it were a consumer product and sell convenience and availability. Transportation should be a lifestyle product, something the customer wants to be associated with. (true)
- You can make a regional case for road pricing but you have to remember to sell it locally. A lot of things come down to the individual and neighbourhoods. (true)
- Make sure you are getting the best capacity out of existing infrastructure. The Ontario government invested more than $300 million in high occupancy vehicle lanes but doesn’t charge for them. (true)
- The only thing people detest more than sprawl is density. (quite!)
- When it comes to pricing structures, it's all about choice. You have to provide people with alternatives. (the question is whether this is mode, route and time of day or part of these)
- Generally the public supports funding for capital — new vehicles, new transit lines or new roads. It is less enthusiastic about paying to operate and maintain those things.(obviously)

I wrote before that Toronto, which already has a free flow toll road, is debating adding a toll lane to an existing road.  However, the debate needs to be had for it to go further.

New Jersey

Bloomberg Businessweek is reporting that New Jersey Turnpike Authority toll roads are forecasting a $45 million shortfall for the year to September, 6% below target.  Part of the decrease is due to snowstorms and Hurricane Irene, but most is attributed to the economy suppressing demand.  This is not expected to cause major problems for the roads, as revenue is adequate to cover opex, capital expenditure and service debts.  Meanwhile, plans to increase tolls on two major turnpikes in New Jersey are proceeding, with the main intention being to general significant net revenues for the state.

New Jersey Turnpike tolls due to rise 53% in January 2012 on the 148 mile highway.
Garden State Parkway tolls due to rise 50% in January 2012 on the 173 mile highway.

Maryland

Website of radio station WTOP reports that the new Inter County Connector (profiled here) toll road will have a 50% surcharge for users without an EZPass, as Maryland's first fully electronic free flow toll road.

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