Thursday, 14 March 2013

News briefs - Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, USA

Australia - Transport Reform Network calls for treating highways as utilities

Supply Chain Review reports that the cross-sector lobby group, Transport Reform Network (TRN), is calling for roads to be managed more like the electricity and water sectors, as a utility.  It was commenting in the context of a lack of funds to address problematic railway level crossings.  TRN suggests that any reform needs to look comprehensively at ownership and fuel taxes as well as tolls,  it is more concerned that talk of road pricing isn't about "bolting on" a solution to existing structures, but is part of a more comprehensive reform of highways across Australia.

This is quite enlightened and actually far beyond how most commentators, lobbyists and governments think of roads.

New Zealand - NZTA enforcing tolls against recidivist violators

The NZ Herald reports that the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) successfully enforced a prosecution against a man who failed to pay NZ$5000 (US$4109) in tolls on the Northern Gateway toll road north of Auckland (the only state highway toll road in the country).  

Robert Masaberg was convicted in North Shore District Court of 20 charges of failing to pay a toll and was ordered to pay $1156 in fines, court and prosecution costs.He owes $5181 in unpaid tolls for the Northern Gateway Toll Road, unpaid administration fees and additional costs connected with attempts to get him repay his debt.

It was reported nearly two years ago that no one had been prosecution for non-payment, it is clear this policy has changed.  Three other prosecutions are to be pursued for evaders.   NZTA says the non-compliance rate for the toll road is 4%, which after four years of operation remains perhaps higher than would be expected.

South Africa - Times reports on allegations of poor practices by SANRAL

The Sunday Times of South Africa reports on a court case that claims the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) has implemented the Gauteng toll system unlawfully, and in a way that is "disproportionately and unjustifiably expensive".  It undertook a three month investigation that raises questions about procurement practices that seem to favour certain suppliers, including a consultancy (TolPlan) that it claims has a vested interest in the promotion of projects as it works on the feasibility studies, tenders for development and engineering work on the projects.   It also claims that Kapsch won the tender for the toll system based on a minimum level of "black empowerment" shareholding of the firm set up for the contract, but has bought out most of that black shareholding (and will receive more revenue as a result).   Noting that the Kapsch led firm will receive around 25% of the tolling revenue (which if true, is comparatively high).   

The story is that it is a "cozy club" which implies a potential element of either corruption or sloppy mismanagement by SANRAL.  SANRAL CEO Nazir Alli admits that it "looks" like Tolplan had a conflict of interest by adjudicating on tenders and then working on the projects themselves, and another manager noted that SANRAL accepts consultancy recommendations "99%" of the time.

Clearly allegations of this kind raise opposition to tolling in the country, if the sense is that those promoting tolls are doing so out of personal financial interest.  The more that looks like being the case, the more damage is obviously done to plans to expand tolling the country, and damage both to SANRAL and those companies which engage in such practices with full awareness of what is going on.

UK - MP suggests tolling road to pay for maintenance

Whilst government considers reform of the highway sector, the Bournemouth Echo reports that one MP has floated tolling an existing road, that needs a £26 million (US$39m) major repair which is currently unfunded.  The MP is Chris Chope, who represents Christchurch and is from the Conservative Party. The road is the A338 Bournemouth  spur road, the main road from the east and north into the city.  The idea has been scorned, no less than because it would mean motorists paying to use an existing road, and risks substantial diversions of traffic onto parallel routes or dissuading visitors altogether.

USA - Pennsylvania - fully electronic tolling open option for congestion pricing

The self-styled "liberal" news-site Keystone Politics comments approvingly about the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's plan to convert manual tolls to fully electronic tolling, saying the key advantage (beyond removing people from "dehumanizing" work) would be to allow for higher tolls at peak times, to reduce congestion and encourage public transport usage.  The plan is to replace all toll booths over five years, and frankly the sooner the better.  

USA - Texas - toll tag options

The Waco Tribune has a useful article on toll tag account options in Texas.  It outlines how there are three toll road authorities in the state, each offering toll road accounts that are effective on all toll roads in Texas (TxTag, provided by Texas DoT. TollTag, provided by North Texas Tollway Authority.  EZ Tag, provided by Harris County Toll Road Authority.  It describes how non-tag toll prices can be between 33-50% more than tag product prices.  

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