Thursday, 21 June 2012

News shorts from Florida, London, Portugal and Virginia


According to Miami New Times, tolls on all state toll roads in central Florida are rising by 25% on average, an increase intended to match inflation over several years. This has provoked considerable outrage by motorists. Ire seems to be focused particularly on the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority which is using the toll revenue to build more roads. It is responsible for five toll roads, three of which have been converted to fully electronic free flow operations. A group called RollBackTolls has set up a website opposing the strategy of the Authority. The organisation doesn’t seem to oppose tolls per se, but is more of a group supporting directing some of that revenue towards public transport subsidies. That’s an interesting variation on those who oppose tolls elsewhere, who tend to want them abolished and don’t have any interest in tolls paying for other modes of transport. However, I suspect the group will use its name to generate support from those simply opposing toll increases.

If the increase is still linked to expenditure on the tolled network it is difficult to argue against, especially if it clear that the additional capacity is economically justifiable.  Given the state tolling authorities are bound to reinvest revenue in new roads, the risk is that this continues in perpetuity, rather than generating a reasonable rate of return for the owners as an investment, because at some point it wont be worth it to make major investments in new capital.


Fleetnews reports that Transport for London is consulting on amending its current 100% discount for environmentally friendly vehicles, by lowering the threshold for low emission vehicles from those which emit less than 100g/km to 80g/km. The current standard is 100g/km and meeting the Euro 5 standard. There is pressure to reduce this further, in part to increase revenues, but also to keep incentives for more environmentally friendly vehicles at the cutting edge of low emission vehicles.

This discount replaced the Alternative Fuels discount in 2010, which had been criticised for not being based on objective environmental criteria. The latest ultra-fuel efficient petrol and diesel cars having lower CO2 emissions than some older hybrids. Of course an obvious solution, and complication, would be to apply a lesser discount to the vehicles above 80g/m. At the moment it is all or nothing, and if the congestion charge is to maintain this secondary environmental objective, would it not make sense to offer perhaps a 50% discount for those currently eligible that will no longer be so? Or are the administrative costs of this confusion such that it is simply not worth it?


Now I’m an advocate, in principle, although not evangelical about, the switch of toll roads to fully electronic free flow tolls. It saves time, fuel and makes a toll road trip akin to an untolled trip, with the minimum fuss involved in payment. However, what happens when motorists are in a foreign country and face trying to find out how to pay for such a road when signage and information is not readily available. This is the situation in Portugal according to the Daily Mail.

The road in question is the A22 from Castro Marim (near the Spanish border) to Lagos on Portugal’s southern coast. The scenario is that rental car firms do not advise of the toll roads, how to pay or a facility for motorists to pay unless you leave credit card details (in which case the rental car company will pass on the tolls plus administrative charges – which risks being potentially high). However, it is clear once on the roads that there is a toll – just no obvious means to pay. Rental cars and tolls are a perennial problem. Ideally, rental car firms in locations with regular toll use should simply have accounts with tags for the toll roads, and when finally billing the customer the toll transactions can be calculated and added onto the trip. Otherwise, there needs to be clear information in advance of toll roads of ways of paying by phone, for example. No doubt incentives to do this are mixed. Toll roads may make more money from chasing up violators than spending money on information so tourists know how to pay, but I suspect in the long run it is far superior to have a relationship with rental car companies that means motorists find it easiest to use the toll roads. 


Location of Pocahontas Parkway
The West Australian reports that Australian toll road concessionaire, Transurban, has written down its investment in the Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia, USA, by A$138.1 million (US$140.7 million).   It has a 75% shareholding in the road.   The reason being that forecast growth in traffic is not expected to eventuate, as it was predicated on substantial property development that has now been shelved due to the state of the property market.   This concession lasts till 2105 (yes that is a year) and the Sydney Morning Herald claims it originally cost $US611 million ($A815 million) in 2006 values.

It reported that the original deal was that Transurban contributed $US191 ($A255 million) in equity and gained 100 per cent control of the Pocahontas Parkway.  Of the $US611 million of funds for the acquisition, $US487 million was used to pay Pocahontas debt.

In effect, the equity stake is now substantively written off.

Curiously, the Sydney Morning Herald also has a tongue in cheekreference to a claim by some that the road is “haunted”.

No comments:

Post a Comment