Thursday, January 5, 2006

Toll Roads

In Today's Los Angeles Times, there is an article that says that "The Governator" wants to expand toll road use in California. So far so good right? Well, a little further into the article it says that Californians have always been very turned off by the idea of toll roads. I could only shake my head in disappointment.

Californians are generally very turned off by the idea of toll roads. Californians don't want to feel like they are paying money every time they drive on a road. The problem here is that Californians have a perception problem. To a Californian, if they aren't paying for the road directly, then they aren't paying for the road at all. Of course, this is totally untrue. Californians pay for all their roads 100% of the time. The difference is that Californians usually pay for their roads indirectly through taxes, so they don't notice that they are actually paying for the roads.

At this point I want to let out a little disclaimer: The toll roads that the Governator is proposing would not be privately owned roads, but publicly owned toll roads. So he isn't really being that libertarian, but merely having a toll road is still a step in the right direction. And for the sake of argument, in this article I am going to discuss the Governator's toll road concept as if it were a private toll road idea.

Imagine a toll road only world, where no roads were public and every road you drove on you had to pay for using it. Cringing, are you? Before you jump to conclusions, consider this: There are no public gas stations; all gas stations are private "toll" stations. There are no public auto repair shops (at least none that the private citizen can use); all auto repair shops are private "toll" repair shops.

Would you rather have gasoline and auto repair that you didn’t have to pay for when you received it, but instead paid for it in advance through taxation? Because that is what we are doing right now with our public roads. We pay for public roads indirectly through taxes, rather than pay for them directly through tolls. And as any Californian knows, public roads are a major issue. Roads in California are in a state of disrepair, with a huge backlog of work and repaving that needs to be done. The State can't keep up with road deterioration, nor with congestion.

Californians cringe every time they hear the word "toll." This is a shame, because if you think about it, "toll" is just another way of saying "free market." And the free market has been so thoroughly embraced by Californians that we have managed to get our mere state to be ranked as the 6th largest economy in the world! That's right folks: my home state competes as if it were one of the top ten actual countries of the world.

Undoubtedly, the free market has been very, very good to California. So why do Californians not embrace a toll road system? Ignorance, that's why.

Think about it: When gas prices went soaring, Californians started talking about price caps. Ignorance. When health insurance prices went soaring, Californians started talking about increasing government health programs. Ignorance. When energy prices soared, Californians blamed deregulation instead of legislation. Ignorance.

Californians know far too little about the free market system that has transformed their precious state into a global economic powerhouse. Californians also know far too little about taxes, and about the differences between public and private resources. The fact that most Californians think that public roads are "free" while toll roads are not, exposes the depth of their ignorance. Systems of indirect payment, like public health care and public roadways, have an advantage in that the user of these systems feels like the services are free when they are used. It feels to me like using the freeway is truly free every time I drive on it, because I don't pay any money when I drive up the on-ramp. But of course, I am paying for those roads and I am paying for that healthcare. It's just that I pay for it indirectly through the taxes out of my paycheck.

Awareness of this misconception is key, I think, to correcting people's aversion to private economic systems such as toll roads. People have to be made aware that they are usually paying more for services through an indirect public system than they would if they paid directly through a private system.

Imagine if Californians were given a bill to vote on where, if passed, the bill would make every Californian split the cost of all gasoline consumed in the state through a public gasoline tax system. The bill would say that all gasoline consumed in California would be tallied up, and then the cost would be split through the taxing of every Californian's paycheck. Californians would howl in rage at the bill and it would be shot down quicker than the Governator's propositions in his recent special election! So if it's obvious that Californians wouldn't support a public gas-tax payment system, then why do they want to stick to the one already in place for the roadways? Again, ignorance. Californians have a free market perception problem, and it needs to be addressed.


Francois Tremblay said...

Yuo also didn't mention how government is not accountable and has no incentive, unlike private individuals. The government has no incentive to provide service (except if their negligeance is so great that it hampers their chance of getting re-elected) and is not accountable for its waste.

In a private system there would be no "white elephants" that cost billions of dollars, bridges wouldn't be built near a street because a politician lives there, and there would be an adaptation of prices to traffic, to make it less of a problem than it is today.

Francois Tremblay said...

Also, is the government going to reduce taxes after they install those tolls ? Of course not. It's just another way to sap resources from society. Governments are parasites and will always be parasites.

Aaron Kinney said...

This is true. There were some things I left unsaid because I wanted to keep the article from getting too large. I think the transportation system with its private automobiles, private gasoline companies, and tax-funded public roads serves as an excellent case study, as well as a compare-and-contrast, in free markets vs. government projects.

Delta said...

How would you make private companies accountable in an all-toll road system? Don't want to use their road? Fine, but good luck getting to San Francisco. They could sit on the land if they wanted to. There isn't going to be competition because there's only so much land. So they jack up prices up to the point that it's only slightly better for you to pay it then not pay it.

Plus tolls are annoying to stop at, unless you get a speedpass or something.

Francois Tremblay said...

Actually, there are electronic cards that let you pass and charge you automatically.

Delta said...

Actually, there are electronic cards that let you pass and charge you automatically

Yeah, they called that a speedpass where I used to live. For some reason I thought that term would be understood, but I guess it had a fairly local range.

Aaron Kinney said...

Wel Delta, how do you make public gov't transportation infrastructure "accountable" in the first place?

With a free market system, you would have competition rather than a monopoly of routes to San Francisco. You could plan the trip on a variety of different roads based on toll, quality, and traffic/safety rankings. I live in Los Angeles, and even with the public roads, there are at least 2 ways to drive to San Francisco, not to mention flying or a train or even a boat. With private toll roads, there would be more efficient and safer routes to SF at lower prices and most likely a larger variety of routes to take.

In a public road/government system, the Gov. doesnt have to compete with any other entity to offer the most attractive/fastest/safest roads at the lowest prices. Therefore, roadways can be expected to be more attractive/faster/safer if they were privately managed in a competitive free market.

More efficient roads has other benefits too, like less gas consumption and therefore lower gas prices. It just goes on and on...

Francois Tremblay said...

Someone on Spittle's rag said that my comments proved that libertarianism demands speedpasses. When the fuck did I say that ? And how retarded do you have to be to think that this is an argument against libertarianism ?

Anonymous said...

I am not a stateist far from it but I do not think that privatizing of that which is already paid for by everyone should become private and enrich the elite.