Sunday, December 11, 2005

Incentives Matter

by Tom Bozzo

Roundtrip toll to Chicago (via the Northwest Tollway), time immemorial to sometime last year: $4.

Subsequent roundtrip toll to Chicago (ditto), with additional Wisconsin border-crossing tax: $4.20.

New roundtrip cash toll to Chicago, soak the out-of-staters (*) and other casual users without I-Pass edition: $8.40. (I-Pass users pay $4.20.)

Can we, as Lyric Opera subscribers who also occasionally head to the Windy Apple for other reasons, take the hint? Yes.

Also, the tollways will take a big step into the RFID future as I-Pass users will be subjected to "open-road tolling" — the center sections of the toll plazas will be removed and sensors above the roadway will permit I-Pass users to pay their 40-50 cents without slowing down — as part of a tollway congestion relief plan. (I am curious about the mechanism used to enforce the tolls against non-I-Pass-using cheats.)

This will be great... next fall. Until then, it's a big flunkin' mess.

(*) While many local conservatarians are so upset about Wisconsin taxes that they want to take the TABOR (sic) plunge even after a majority of tax-loving citizens of the People's Republic of Colorado tried it and decided they'd had enough, hitherto one of Wisconsin's nicer features has been much lower than average reliance on user fees and other tax-like charges.
What I truly don't get is why one toll booth is a buck (easy, four quarters) and all the others are 80 cents. I mean, if you're gonna jack it up, why not just hit as for a dollar at each place? What a pain.
I assume that the state line toll went up because it had greater incidence on Wisconsin drivers vs. regular tollway users from Illinois. Otherwise, it's perhaps a bit like a possibly related pricing question I hear, why the Postal Service doesn't round the stamp price to the nearest nickel.
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