Saturday, October 17, 2009

DC Area Agency Wants to Track Every Vehicle

There's a new idea coming which is going to hit every DC-Metro area driver in the pocketbook, not to mention create an Orwellian nightmare which might make speed cameras seem quaint by comparison. The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board(TPB) is considering a pilot study to introduce 'Congestion Pricing' or 'Road Pricing' on existing roads in and around DC.
Congestion Pricing is used in some European cities like London and Stockholm. A plan to implement congestion pricing in New York City was rejected by the state legislature in 2008. However a bill by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenaur to spend $154million of taxpayer dollars to study the introduction of a Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax was met with enthusiasm by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments(MWCOG), which has asked the TPB to request funding for this study in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

According to the proposal the TPB is considering, entitled 'Road-Pricing: How would you like to spend less time in traffic?' (but would have been more appropriately named 'Tolls Everywhere: How would you like to be taxed out of your car?') includes the following description:
"Vehicles would be fitted with a GPS transponder device similar to an E-ZPass, perhaps as part of the registration process. If the program expanded nationally, manufacturers might even integrate transponders into new vehicles, similar to General Motors OnStar system. Insurance companies could also encourage motorists to use transponders as the companies transition to their own VMT-based risk model, as some have already begun to do. This device would record the type of vehicle, the distance traveled, and the time and location of travel. The transponder would sort the data into various toll categories"
Alternative forms of congestion pricing which MWCOG is considering are not much better and would consist of converting most major metro-area roads into toll roads. That would essentially necessitate everyone to use EZPasses to drive anywhere, and coerce them into doing so by charging exorbitant fees or causing additional delays to vehicles without the devices. EZPass malfunctions have resulted in large numbers of drivers being improperly fined with photo tickets or overcharged. The devices can also be used to track people's movements.

If such tolls were implemented the same way the ICC tolls are planned, cameras equipt with Automated Plate recognition technology would be used to photograph non-EZPass users and mail them a bill for their tolls plus a service charge (so much for 'if your not speeding you won't get your picture taken'). This technology has become so annoying to some Europeans that a black market in fake license plates has developed.

MWCOG's plan would first conduct study about how to best dupe the public into accepting the system. Next would come a pilot program on some number of local roads. This would eventually be expanded to all major roads in and out of DC. The theory behind it is that by charging people for each mile of driving, those who cannot afford the new exhorbitant tolls will be forced to ride the bus whether they want to or not, and traffic congestion will improve as a result. Plus the government has a new source of revenue which, after paying the overhead imposed by the vast new bureaucracy the system will create, will generate more money for transportation projects, or whatever else the government decides to quiety divert the money to.

Members of the TPB must still approve this regressive taxation program an request that the Federal Highway Administration to get initial funding for the pilot study out of your tax dollars. The TPB will be meeting on Wed October 21rst, 2009 to discuss this. Maryland and Virginia drivers should fight this plan by anti-car activists to charge the American Taxpayers admission to the nation's capital and force drivers to accept the continuous tracking of their vehicles. Write or call your representative on the TPB, or email the TPB and and tell them where to cram their GPS transponders.
Related News Coverage on: wtop, myfoxdc, bizjournals