Changing lanes

| July 05, 2007

Congestion pricing has been advocated by the U.S. Department of Transportation in recent years as a tool for reducing congestion without adding lanes or building roads. It can also be applied beyond toll roads. For example, at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach since June 2005 the PierPass program has imposed a “traffic mitigation fee” on shippers for the movement of containers during peak daytime hours and has begun the OffPeak Program, an incentive for moving cargo in the evening.

Congestion pricing is ill-advised “social engineering,” says OOIDA’s Spencer. “People will adjust their habits of their own accord.”

NEW MAINTENANCE STANDARDS. The lease contracts on the Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway stipulate detailed maintenance performance standards that, if not met, would be grounds for a state resumption of control. Potholes, for example, must be temporarily patched 24 hours from time of identification and permanently fixed within a month.

Initial maintenance results in Chicago are encouraging. When a spilled load of mozzarella cheese closed the southbound Skyway in April, the entire clean-up and removal of truck and trailer was done in nine hours.

Roehl owner-operator Tony Martin of Newnan, Ga., who calls his E-ZPass transponder well worth the investment, thinks privatization might be a good idea for new roads if the private operator would “understand the expectations of that road 20 years down the line.” Outside Chicago, Martin says, “I-80/94 has been in ongoing construction for years, and now they’re tearing I-94 into the city up. … It would make sense if they said, ‘We are building the future,’ and really did it, laid the foundations right, and left space for additional lanes.”

Commercial discounts on toll roads come with volume, says Bill Joyce, president of the New York State Motor Truck Association and CEO of BestPass, a recently launched discount tolling service for owner-operators and small fleets. But before his service, he says, you had to run up $1,000 a month in tolls to get these discounts.

BestPass, however, has negotiated the maximum commercial discounts with the Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Ohio turnpike authorities, so that most of those savings can be passed along to the owner-operator. Those using the service also get the benefit of partner PrePass’ nationwide weigh-station bypassing service, Joyce says.

The only cost is a yearly $100 bonding fee and the cost of the transponder, which ranges from a one-time $45 in Maryland to a monthly $1 rental in New York, Joyce says. “And in New York, we give a minimum of 2.5 percent in volume discounts, in Pennsylvania a minimum of 5 percent, and in Ohio a minimum of 7 percent,” in addition to built-in E-ZPass discounts.

Owners of Muffet Trucking Express, a nine-truck refrigerated fleet out of Uniontown, Ohio, use BestPass, says co-owner Laura Muffet. Savings on the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes and the New York Thruway run about $50 to $60 a month, she says.

Privatization raises the possibility, however, of BestPass having to renegotiate discounts with new, private operators. Discount services such as BestPass won’t last long in a privatized world, says Todd Spencer of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“There are no prohibitions against discriminatory pricing,” he says. “We expect to see big carriers and others getting sweetheart deals on these roads and small businesses paying full price.”


Angie Bruskotter of owner-operator business services provider ATBS recently asked independent clients whether they ever applied any kind of toll surcharge.

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