Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Transporation Planning Board Pushes to Track, Tax Area Drivers

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted at its October 21rst meeting to seek federal funding to conduct a study of a controversial per-mile tax on drivers throughout the DC metro area, including suburban Maryland and Virginia. The road pricing plan, if implemented, would involve charging tolls on existing roads in DC and suburban Maryland and Virginia. The tolls would be adjusted based on time of day and location in order to discourage less wealthy drivers from using roads during peak periods and to raise up to $4.8 billion per year in new revenue from the pockets of area drivers (compared to $420 billion extracted right now through area gas taxes). In order to accomplish this all cars in the region would need to be fitted with GPS transponders and according to the proposal "This device would record the type of vehicle, the distance traveled, and the time and location of travel."

Road pricing systems are already in use in London and in Stockholm, but a proposal to implement it in New York city was shot down by New York state. The purpose of the study would be not to determine whether the system is a wise choice (the TPB members have already concluded they want the money), but rather to determine how to re-brand or repackage this new tax in a way that would avoid widespread organized opposition. The study will take place in 2010. After it is complete, the next step would be a demonstration of project of tolling via GPS tracking on one or more local roads.

A representative from AAA made a scathing commentary on the proposal : "The charges for driving as proposed in the Brookings paper are so high that they are no longer tolls, they are fines, intended to penalize and discourage driving" and "You know, it's illegal for motorists to drive intoxicated. Apparently no such rule exists concerning consumption while writing grant proposals." However WTOP quoted Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman voiced his support for the new revenue road taxes would generate: "Most of us sitting at the (Virginia) table have voted for every single tax that we have had a chance to vote for, and we still can not get anything done. "

Some local government officials responsible for setting tolls and transportation are often exempt from EZPass tolls since they have been issued free EZPass transponders by their state. According to an article by WTOP last year, Virginia issued a free EZPass to their Transportation Commissioner and 16 members of the VA Commonwealth Transportation board. Maryland issued transponders to citizens appointed to the Maryland Transportation Authority and to the Secretary of Transportation, as well as "vehicles of officials and employees of the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the State" with total of 15,00 free transponders in use by the state of MD. Maryland lawmakers are currently involved in a scuffle regarding their free ezpasses, but regardless of the outcome they will still retain a $500/year travel expense account which can be used to pay tolls.

Because several members of the TPB are local elected officials who are up for re-election on November 3rd 2009, a supporter of and area resident attempted to acquire the TPB's voting record on this issue for the public. After two requests to contacts at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to acquire this information the response was that the TPB does not record individual votes and that, and that the minutes of the meeting would not be made available until shortly before the next TPB meeting (ie after the 2009 elections). Here are the members of the transportation planning board; we suggest our readers contact their area's TPB representative and advise them to make the TPB more transparent and accountable. You may wish to talk to your area's representatives on the MWCOG board of directors, which also approved the study.

Coverage on WTOP
Coverage on TheNewspaper.Com
Text of the Road Pricing Plan Proposal