Are Tolls Fair?
Make no mistake, this is by all means a question of fair. Toll advocates like to say that tolls are a fair way to pay for roads - a "user fee". This concept is actively propagated by the Highway Authority and most politicians:
From the Garden State Parkway's website (Jan. 2003):
Q: Is it true that if I never ride on the Parkway I never have to pay for it?
A: Absolutely true. Unlike state roads, which are financed through taxes collected from everyone, the Parkway operates as a "user-fee" roadway --- relying on tolls collected only from the people who use it. At no time during its history has it ever received a penny of state tax money.
On the surface it sounds logical. ...If it wasn't for one thing: Parkway users are taxpayers too. And here's a question every Parkway user should ask:
A question every Parkway user should ask:
Q: Is it true that if I never ride on Route 80 I never have to pay for it?
A: Absolutely false. Parkway drivers pay the same taxes as everyone else, and both state and federal gas taxes are collected on toll roads. But at no time during its history has it ever received a penny of state tax money. So your tax dollars are paying for roads you don't use. And the more you use the Parkway, the more you are cheated!
Tolls might be a fair (but still wasteful) user-fee if it wasn't for the fact that its users are already paying for that specific service with their taxes. It's NOT fair to charge just a select few when EVERYONE is taxed the same for roads. The least they could do is stop collecting gas tax on toll roads. Plus, since tolls pay for state troopers (a service everyone pays taxes for), Parkway users are paying twice for their police too. And don't forget, Route 80 drivers don't have to pay for a ridiculously expensive toll-collection system either.
Essentially the "user-fee" argument is trying to convince the majority that it's OK to selectively tax a minority for the same service they are giving to the majority toll-free. But if tolls are so fair, then why is such a small percentage of roads paid for by them? Anyone who calls tolls fair is calling 98% of our roads unfair.
Simply put, a toll-free Parkway would be every bit as fair as a toll-free Route 78, 80, 280, 287, or any other free road. Of course, adding tolls to the other 35,000 miles of NJ's roads would be equally as fair as tolls on the Parkway. But it would also be equally as expensive (see toll costs), wasteful, dangerous (see safety), and of course aggravating.
Does ANYONE think this is fair?
State taps Turnpike's pot of gold (Star Ledger, 1/2/03) - When the Garden State Parkway needed money for the Driscoll Bridge, the Turnpike shelled out $135 million. When NJ Transit needed funding for a massive rail project, the Turnpike forked over $84 million. When NJ's E-ZPass contractor was going broke, the Turnpike kicked in $30 million. And even after that, the Turnpike is sitting on more than $600 million in reserve accounts.
Motorists face new Turnpike toll hike (Star Ledger, 12/30/02) - For the second time in three years, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is raising tolls.
Not only are Turnpike drivers paying for three roads while driving just one (tolls for the Turnpike, tolls for the Parkway, and gas tax for all the other roads), but they're also paying for trains! And don't forget, they're also paying for that expensive collection system, and they're paying for their state troopers twice too (through taxes, like everyone, and tolls).
Which is the fairest road of all?
From the Garden State Parkway's web site (Jan. 2003): It costs 2.2 cents per mile to ride the Parkway. This is one of the lowest per mile costs in the country. By comparison, the New York State Thruway costs 3.1 cents per mile, the Massachusetts Turnpike costs 4.3 per mile and the Florida Turnpike costs 5.4 cents per mile
First, to be accurate, the vast majority of the roads have a far lower cost per mile than the Parkway - they're called toll-free roads. Second, their 2.2 cents per mile figure is deceiving because nobody really pays that (...it's like someone having the "average" 2.4 kids). There are three sections of the Parkway (totaling over 20 miles) which you can drive toll-free. Yet drive the 20 miles from Union to Paramus and you go through three plazas, averaging about the same 5+ cents per mile that they're bashing the Florida Turnpike for.
Or does anyone really think the $4 toll to cross into NYC actually pays for the bridges and tunnels they're using? A fraction of it maybe, but otherwise it's nothing more than a blatant commuter tax which is siphoned off for other things.
No, tolls have nothing to do with being fair.
They are nothing more than cookie jars that politicians can't keep their hands out of. Or maybe a more appropriate metaphor would be:
And the only way to stop the unfair double taxation on a minority who doesn't have a loud enough political voice to be heard would be:
Remove ALL tolls and pay for ALL roads the same way - with a dedicated gas tax. That way everyone is paying equally for the roads they drive on.
Of course, that probably won't stop politicians from trying to misuse our money, but at least they'll be abusing everyone equally, which will make it harder for them to keep their jobs at the polls. ...And THAT'S fair.