Anti-toll people are communists

I find it hilarious that so many suburban conservatives are up in arms over the toll plan. These are the same people who attack all sorts of supposed creeping socialism and proclaim that the market should solve all of these problems – and yet when it comes to a problem that actually affects them, all of the sudden they go weak on the orthodoxy. Of particular note are their vehement attacks on mass transit – which, unlike roads, requires a direct user payment at time of service (no, folks, gas taxes don’t count – the analogue here is tolls).

The fact is that “free” roads (no, folks, gas taxes don’t pay anywhere near the full bills) share more with communism than with capitalism. The trick here is to remember how the two systems handle “scarcity” (demand exceeding supply).

If the demand for a good, let’s say, TVs, exceeds its supply, the “solution” in the Soviet Union was a combination of rationing and simple long lines. People in Soviet Russia might have had to pay very little for TVs, but they were quite often unavailable and when they were available, they had to wait a long time to get them. In other words, the way that supply and demand are balanced in a command economy like the one the Soviets had is by making people stand in very long lines.

In a capitalist economy, however, if the demand for a good outstrips its supply, the market solves this problem by raising the price of the good until supply matches demand (usually by demand dropping; sometimes by supply increasing as additional production becomes more profitable). The trick here is that the capitalist solution (higher prices) is unquestionably more efficient in the long-run since it allows people to make rational decisions based on cost. (Maybe they buy a cheaper kind of TV; maybe they use their old TVs longer; whatever).

Note that both of these equations hold even if 1/4 of the cost of producing TVs is borne by the government through taxes, even when they’re specific taxes on people who watch TV. This means that the double-taxation argument is not welcome here, in other words.

Now, apply this to road space, which is a “good” provided in this area for which demand drastically exceeds supply at certain times of day.

In Communist Texas, everybody pays for highways in one way or another. Some of the funding comes from the gas tax (which you pay even if you’re driving on a big city street like Braker Lane which doesn’t get any money from this tax – I’ll start indignantly calling this Triple Taxation someday). Some more funding comes from property and sales taxes (much more than people think). None of it comes from tolls.

How is the demand-supply imbalance handled in Communist Texas? By long lines (congestion).

How is it handled with the new toll plan? By requiring people to pay if they want to use facilities for which demand exceeds supply. While there are no initial plans to change the amount of the toll by the time of day, that could be done fairly easily (it’s already done on a couple of HOT facilities in other parts of the country). This also means that there’s at least a small economic benefit to carpooling (finally).

What this also means is that instead of letting people be stuck in line on existing “free” highways until we gather the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to double and triple-deck everything so we can temporarily handle the demand for free roadway space, it would be a lot more efficient (again, from the capitalist perspective) to price even existing roadway space. And don’t cry double-taxation to me as I fail to get a dime back on my property or sales taxes being used for roadway and highway construction and maintenance on the days I ride my bike or walk.

So it ought to be very clear by now that if you support the current “free” highway regime over the far more capitalist “toll” highway plan, you have more in common with Communists than you do with free-marketers. Cognitive dissonance is alive and well in modern suburbia.



6 thoughts on “Anti-toll people are communists

  1. Though we have no income tax in Austin, there are constantly government and other entities asking for a part of your paycheck. In this year, we’ve had the health coalition, the police and fire department vote for collective bargaining and higher pay, the recent school bond (which only seven percent of voters voted on) and now the CAMPO vote to begin tolling every roadway in the area except I-35, under the threat by the Legislature of losing funds that we are already taxed on (and there was only a few short months to look into all the ramifications of citywide tolling of highways). Now there wasn’t a light rail commission that decided to start light rail–we had to vote on it.

  2. Since the new capacity being provided here is not the critical spine of the transportation network (i.e. it doesn’t serve the basic function of property access but rather is a premium service intended to speed suburban commuting), I think the argument that this is “basic infrastructure” doesn’t hold.
    Lamar Blvd? Basic infrastructure. Freeways for commuters? No.
    In the ‘burbs, of course, you’d build ten times as much arterial pavement to serve the same number of properties, which is sort-of the problem since those types of roads are paid for out of property taxes (not gas taxes); and the fact that suburbanites will now pay more than center-city residents in this one way is one small part of the solution.

  3. First off Mike, your portrayal of opponents to CAMPO’s toll-road plan as “suburban conservatives” is simply incorrect. People of all political stripes have either signed the recall petition, signed AustinAction’s open letter or have become active in the fight in other ways. Austin Toll Party is comprised of liberals, conservatives, environmentalists, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and maybe even a real ‘communist’ or two. They don’t agree on potential solutions to transportation issues, but one thing they are unanimous on is that this toll plan STINKS.
    Second, opponents to this plan are not necessarily opposed to toll roads in general. In fact, many of us have said many times that toll roads, when properly conceived with public input and support, can be effective and fair. This plan is neither. It will do little to relieve congestion in Austin because IT ISN’T MEANT TO – it is a revenue-generation plan designed to shake-down Austinites to provide funds to build roads in other areas.
    This plan encourages sprawl, siphons money out of Austin’s economy and makes more progressive solutions even less likely. Someone as active and concerned about transportation issues such as you should be dead-set against it.

  4. Keith,
    From an efficiency issue, pricing roads is better than providing free roads. Especially when it’s done to areas which are creating cost for the entire region (i.e. high-sprawl areas).
    These roads don’t encourage sprawl; if anything, they will tend to DISCOURAGE it, since the people who choose to live out there will be paying more to travel in to the center-city.
    “Relieving congestion” is a fools’ errand. It will never succeed. The best thing you can hope for is to bring more people from point A to point B in a more efficient manner than is otherwise possible. (You can, with sufficiently granular road-pricing, keep the toll lanes moving at a good rate of speed; but this is not going to “relieve congestion” in the metro area or even on a given corridor due to induced travel).
    And the likelihood that “more progressive solutions” would have resulted without these tolls is laughable. The most likely scenario is that we would have continued to build and expand these roads as free highways (slowly, but free), which acts as a huge boondoggle to those who choose to live in environmentally sensitive areas. The political will to simply NOT build or expand these roads is not there; and THAT’s the only solution in these corridors which would have been MORE progressive than tolling them.

  5. This toll road plan is simply a tax increase. Our politicians should call them what they are…unsubsubstantiated tax increases. They’re taking publicly funded roads and charging us again to use them.
    If our local government is going to railroad us into paying these tolls for roads we’ve already paid for, then they should provide significant tax reductions to reimburse taxpayers for money they’ve already spent for these roads. I have not seen this discussed anywhere.
    For those of you who are toll road advocates: I don’t have any problem with tolls on privately funded roads. If a private institution wants to build roads and then charge people to use them that’s fine.
    I think that CAMPO and the whole toll process STINKS. This is something that will affect all of us every day and cost us a lot of additional money and time. These politicians and CAMPO members saw fit to totally ignore our (the public’s) opinion and quickly slide this through under our noses. This is disgraceful…we’re the people who have to pay for and use these toll roads. This whole issue should have been presented to voters to decide what to do…even if it means tax increases in leiu of toll roads. That would have been fair. I guess that our politicians think we’re too unintelligent to make this decision.
    Thank god for for combating this. This organization is getting a lot of donations and more and more volunteer involvement. As this anti toll/double tax movement grows, I think and hope these politicians might actually be held accountable in the end for their irresponsible and abusive actions.

  6. In general, the Toll Plan stinks. In general, I would be for a Toll Plan, but I cannot support this particular plan. Still, I can only really speak about the section near where I live as it’s the only place that I have practical knowledge.
    The construction of the fly-over at MoPac (Loop 1) and William Cannon, once complete will give drivers the ability to avoid the light at the intersection. This is where one new toll area is proposed; basically, you are paying a toll to avoid one traffic light. From what I’ve heard, it’s about a $.50 to $.75 toll.
    Yet, the toll is easily avoided by simply staying on the access road and going through the light — much as everyone has to navigate the area now.
    However, if you were to use the newly constructed fly-over, you probably won’t save much time if you are travelling north-bound on MoPac in the morning. The bottleneck isn’t at the William Cannon/MoPac intersection with the traffic light. It’s about seven miles further north where MoPac crosses the river and goes from three lanes to two in the process.
    On the worst days, traffic is backed up from this point back through the intersection at William Cannon. Having a toll bridge (or even free access) at this point is irrelevant in terms of saving time.
    On the best days, usually in the middle of summer when much of the population is out of town and there aren’t as many people on the roads, the light cycles through quickly enough that I don’t even really consider it an issue.
    Therefore, in terms of the north-bound morning commute, there is very little to no incentive to use the new toll bridge.
    On the trip home, when most people are travelling south-bound on MoPac, the fly-over has the most potential benefit, as the traffic light at the intersection with William Cannon does cause a significant bottleneck.
    Yet the benefit here is only to get past this one intersection. Two miles further south is another traffic light, at the intersection of Slaughter Lane and MoPac. There is only one exit between the light at William Cannon and Slaughter, and not a terribly popular exit either, so I would guess that probably 20% or so of the traffic would take that exit.
    Thus, with a still large amount of traffic bypassing one light and heading straight on to the next, there could be the very real possibility of a bottleneck at Slaughter and MoPac, which is probably not designed to handle a massive influx in traffic. And you paid a toll for the privilege of passing one light to get held up at the next.
    Thus, the evening south-bound commute doesn’t take advantage of the new toll bridge either.
    So what was the main purpose of building this bridge in the first place? Who wanted it? What sort of traffic studies were done to warrant its construction? And who the heck thought that adding a toll would make it even more usable?
    Other questions that I do not have answers to but find curious: What would happen if no one used the new fly-over? Why do I keep hearing from some members of CAMPO about how they hate this plan, yet still keep voting for it? What’s wrong with voting this plan down and coming up with an actual, real, good plan? I also hear how gas taxes don’t pay for roads, yet how was Connecticut able to remove toll roads from their mix of tax income and yet still pay for their road system?

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