Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Relieving congestion, but at what cost?

You’re entering a major city – let’s say Atlanta – and traffic is moving slowly.

Just when you think you’re going to be late to pick up or deliver a load, an opportunity greets you in the form of a sign. It says you can pay a toll, hop on an express lane, and bypass the congestion.

That’s the concept behind congestion pricing, offering motorists a choice to pay a toll to travel in a faster-moving lane. Congestion pricing is also used to literally price excess traffic off of the roadway.

Starting in 2007, the federal government began handing out grants to major cities like Atlanta to convert managed commuter lanes into tolled express lanes. (In DOT-speak, it involves the conversion of high-occupancy vehicle lanes into high-occupancy toll lanes).

One batch of grants alone totaled $848 million. You have three guesses as to who’s footing the bill, and the first two don’t count.

You are.

Federal grants come from the Highway Trust Fund – your fuel taxes and other fees including the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax.

You’ve already paid for those commuter lanes the first time around, and now you’re going to pay again to have them converted into tolled express lanes.

If you think that’s bad, how about being charged a third time to use them?

OOIDA remains against the use of federal tax dollars to convert existing lane capacity to the tolled variety.

Truckers make up 7-10 percent of the vehicle population but shoulder 36 percent of the money going into the Highway Trust Fund.

Many truckers are at the mercy of “just in time” delivery, which means someone else dictates when they drive and when they arrive. These rolling warehouses do not always have the leeway of avoiding rush hour. Like anyone, they have deadlines to meet.

So will you take that tolled lane in Atlanta once the conversion is completed in 2011? You will have to decide if the cost of paying for that lane three times over is worth it.

Perhaps if enough cars chose the tolled lane during rush hour, things would move along better in the so-called free lanes. But then again, if the free lanes started moving again, the cars would likely move back.

By David Tanner, staff writer

david_tanner@landlinemag.com

Please see related articles by Land Line:

Congestion pricing coming to Atlanta

Truckers say feds are bribing New York, other cities with toll grants

U.S. DOT grants $153 million to Chicago

Monday, August 31, 2009

Power and influence

As presidential appointments go, the pick didn’t make many national headlines.

On Aug. 20, it was announced that President Obama had selected Christopher Hart to serve a term as vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

“Vice Chairman Hart comes to the Board after a long career in transportation safety, including a previous term as a member of the NTSB during the 1990s,” the official statement read. “He most recently was Deputy Director for Air Traffic Safety Oversight at the Federal Aviation Administration. He is an aerospace engineer, attorney, and a licensed pilot with commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings.”

What the announcement left out, however, may prove to be as influential as Hart’s service with the FAA.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Hart served on its board from 1999 to 2008.

As Land Line has pointed out in a special series titled “Into the Matrix,” the National Sleep Foundation represents many sleep labs, doctors and C-Pap manufacturers, and lobbies Washington players to push sleep products and lab services.

Many truckers are already aware of Dr. Barbara Phillips, past chairman of the National Sleep Foundation and former chair of the FMCSA Medical Review Board – a five-member board charged with recommending proposed medical rules for truckers.

Phillips individually pressed the board to require more truckers to undergo expensive sleep lab exams that can cost between $2,000 and $5,000.

The Medical Review Board already has recommended that truckers with a BMI of 30 or greater undergo additional screenings, and has said it will soon consider an age cap for drivers, as the FAA has regulated.

As Land Line reported in the spring, approximately 4,000 deaths annually involve commercial trucks (though truckers rarely are at fault in collisions involving noncommercial vehicles) while a minimum of 40,000 deaths are caused annually by medical errors.

Yet no one is calling for doctors to log their work time, have required rest periods, or be tested for sleep apnea.

You aren’t likely to see those stats in many headlines either.

The four-part special series “Into the Matrix” can be read here:

Part One: Fitness for duty plan would pull millions from road

Part Two: OOIDA answers – are truckers being singled out?

Part Three: Why more medical rules? Follow the money

Part Four: What you can do to protect yourself from (over)regulation