"Tolls Are Fair"!
...And other pro-toll myths.
"If you believe that tolls are a fair way to pay for roads, then you have to admit that 98% of our roads are paid for in an unfair way".
Believe it or not, there are people who ignore the obvious congestion, pollution, aggravation, and waste caused by tolls and actually try to argue for them. They usually fall into one of two categories - politicians who want to keep their hands in our pockets, and people who don't use toll roads and either don't care, or were brainwashed by politicians into thinking tolls are fair (...for other people, of course). It's the same arguments over and over. Here are the most common ones we hear:
1 - The "Free Ride": People who don't use the road would pay.
2 - The obligation to pay bonds.
3 - We'd have to replace $200 million in lost revenue.
4 - Tolls bring in out of state money.
5 - You don't have to use the toll roads.
6 - The roads are never really paid for.
7 - It's only 35¢ - stop wasting your time on a trivial issue.
8 - Toll collectors need jobs too.
9 - E-ZPass is the solution.
10 - It would cost $50 million to remove tolls.
11 - Parkway bond should be put on referendum.
12 - You get what you pay for.
13 - You'll never get rid of tolls.
C.A.T. believes that removing the tolls is the only alternative that makes sense. Even if you don't use toll roads and think you're not affected, think again. Needless stopping millions of cars adds pollution to everyone's air, and tollbooth accidents can't help our insurance rates. So click on your favorite argument to read our rebuttal, or read them all. If you don't see your argument on the list, don't hesitate to email it to us or post it on our Tolls Forum.
One of the most common arguments used to keep tolls is that people who do not use the road would somehow have to pay. The best way I've seen it phrased was in a letter to the editor:
No free ride (Star Ledger, 12/12/99). I've had it with the dumb clucks whining about having to pay tolls. You use the roads, you pay for them. I rarely ride NJ's toll roads.... Why should I subsidize them? Nobody ever gave me a free ride.
Not only is this a misconception, the exact opposite is true! A portion of everyone's taxes subsidize the "free" roads. And since Parkway drivers pay the same taxes as everyone else, and none of it goes to the road they use, then that portion of their taxes must subsidize other roads. And if that isn't bad enough, millions of toll dollars even goes toward the upkeep of tax supported roads. The government is doing exactly what they say they do not want to do - using people's money for roads they don't use! The author of the letter certainly is getting a free ride, and I have but one wish for these people - that tolls be placed on every single road they use! Don't think it can't happen. Check out these headlines:
Clinton proposes tolls on interstates (Star Ledger, 313/97).
Towns look at fee to get big rigs off the road (Star Ledger, 12/16/98). Towns to study ways to reduce traffic, including tolls to make truckers think twice about using Rt. 287.
So be careful what you wish for, toll-lovers, because your arguments apply to all roads, including the ones you need. Maybe we're going about it the wrong way. Instead of fighting to remove tolls, we should be trying to put them everywhere so everyone can enjoy all the benefits of tolls. We think if everyone had to pay for their roads in the same "fair" way as Parkway drivers do, then everyone would hate tolls.
The best way to pay for roads is with the gas tax. It charges exactly the right people and there's virtually no overhead. Don't look at it as paying for someone else's road, think of it as paying for the road directly beneath your car. Of course, adding tolls to every road would be just as fair, but congestion, pollution, and aggravation would sky rocket, and everyone would be paying twice as much for their roads.
How is it that the only roads in NJ which collect tolls are the ones that are constantly in the greatest debt? And how can they afford to give away millions per year to other roads? It seems like they have no intention of paying off the bonds.
In 1999, NJ voters approved a $500 million transportation bond issue - money that will just appear from general taxation. But the Parkway won't see a penny of this money even though its users helped pass the issue and their taxes will be used to pay for it. When their road needs repair, all they get is toll increases. Parkway drivers end up using one road, but paying for two bonds. Aren't Parkway drivers entitled to a fair share of their own tax dollars? Why can't Parkway bonds disappear like all the other transportation bonds do? At the very least NJ should make tolls tax deductible (...which should be E-Z with an E-ZPass statement). Otherwise, to be fair, the other transportation bonds shouldn't be paid off with taxes either. Tollbooths should be placed everywhere the money is used and tolls should pay them off - just like we make Parkway drivers do. Or would that offend too many voters?
If we eliminate tolls, we wouldn't have to replace the entire $200 million in lost revenue, we would only have to replace the amount the road actually needs, and NOT the amount wasted on collecting tolls - that would be our SAVED revenue. By C.A.T. calculations, that's over $65 million per year. NJ puts that number under $40 million, but they tend to think of the savings only as the salaries of toll collectors and don't acknowledge so many of the other costs wasted on tolls (...see Toll Costs page, and you decide what we wouldn't need).
Stop looking at what we'd lose from removing the tolls and think of what we'd save. Don't look at tolls bringing in $200 million, think of it as needlessly stopping millions of cars to collect 35¢ each. How many tons of pollution does this add to our air? Or what is the value of the thousands of man-hours wasted collecting tolls? The money wasted by toll collectors is easy to calculate - about $37 million/year. But what is OUR time worth? How much is wasted every year simply by waiting in toll lines? It's amazing how little Trenton thinks of our time, as long as they get their 35¢.
Come on, Trenton, put some effort into figuring out how to replace this revenue instead of the time you spend fighting to keep it. You can consider the CAT Plan which suggests one way to do it. Or it can be as easy as adding 3¢ to the gas tax (or as little as 1½¢ if you stop skimming off of the existing gas tax for the general fund). But be creative. Has anyone looked into applying for federal funds if we remove tolls? If the FHWA is willing to throw millions at worthless pollution projects like HOV lanes, why wouldn't they give money for logical pollution projects like toll removal? And isn't NJ on the bottom of the list of states on how much we pay in vs. how much we get out of the federal gas tax? Come on, senators, go after some of our own money! As for the costs of tearing down the tolls, I've gotten emails volunteering to bulldoze them for free. Heck, we could even sell billboards saying "this tollbooth removed courtesy of (your company name here)" - do you know how much that would be worth? Or we could even sell little pieces of the tollbooths as souvenirs, just like the Berlin wall. Please, work with us - not against us!
...And so does the gas tax. Or why aren't tolls only on the state line? Or why aren't there tolls on Rt. 78 or 80? They are more of an Interstate than the Parkway. Or maybe we could give everyone in NJ a free E-ZPass, or better yet, just let cars with NJ license plates pass through for free. Then we could say tolls bring in out of state money.
Count the license plates at any given tollbooth to see who's paying (...and paying, and paying) - NJ DRIVERS ARE! The Parkway takes people to the shore (...where they need to buy beach badges) and Atlantic City (...where they gamble even more money into the government trough). And even if you believe the "20% revenue from out of state drivers" number, that's still less than the 30% of the money that tolls waste.
Then there was this Star Ledger article:
$488 million (E-ZPass) contract awarded to MFS Technologies of Omaha (Star Ledger, 11/27/96).
I have nothing against Omaha, but now it looks like tolls are taking money out of NJ. Personally, I'd like my money spent on roads, NOT ON NEW TOLLS.
This is the argument toll-lovers fall back on when all their other arguments fail. Great choice they're giving us - either increasing pollution from waiting in lines at tollbooths, or increasing pollution more by taking the long way. Shame on them. There is another choice that they always seem to overlook, and the ONLY choice that reduces pollution AND saves billions of dollars - remove the tolls and pay for the road in a better way. No tolls = Cheaper AND better.
The toll authorities would like us to believe that the Parkway is a "luxury" service that we should pay a premium for. Hogwash! Do Parkway drivers need their road any less than Rt. 80 drivers? Does this mean we should put tolls on Rt. 80 because people can use Rt. 46 or Rt. 10 instead? No way! Secondary roads can not handle today's volume without these roads. The Parkway might have been a luxury in the 50's, but today it's as essential as any other major highway. We all need roads, we all pay taxes, and it's time we start treating all taxpayers the same. The roads are NOT a luxury.
Why is it that they can never find enough money to remove the tolls, but they can find $488 million to put in new ones? And the proposed Interchange 1 plaza on the Turnpike will cost over $40 million all by itself. Actually, it seems like it's the TOLLS that are never really paid for. All roads need construction and maintenance, so this is not an argument specific to tolls. As far as where the money would come from if we removed tolls, why not look to the 98% of the roads in NJ that are free for the answer.
It burns me up when toll sympathizers say "It's only 35¢ - why bother fighting it"? And these are the same people that go through the roof when you suggest a nickel gas tax increase. My reply to them is "Hey, it's only a nickel, which is less than 35¢". And very little of that nickel is wasted collecting it.
But it isn't "just 35¢", it's billions of dollars - wasted! They ask "why don't you spend your time fighting for worthy causes, like prescription drugs for seniors, freeing the beaches, or fighting cancer. Well, I'm sorry, but it isn't "just 35¢". Removing the tolls would simply save NJ billions of dollars, countless man-hours, and tons of pollution. This is NOT a trivial cause. Citizens Against Tolls would LOVE to see the money wasted on tolls go to better causes. Do you know how many prescription drugs we could buy with the $488 million that E-ZPass alone cost? Or at the very least, it could have paid for everyone's beach badges for the next 100 years. When are people going to get tired of this criminal waste of money???
People point out that removing the tolls would cost people their jobs. But that argument just defines toll collecting as a social welfare job. We're sorry, but that's not what tolls are supposed to be.
Citizens Against Tolls does not want to see people lose their jobs, we just want them to get better jobs. ...Jobs that don't entail tying up traffic, polluting the air, and wasting our time. The roads are the service, and tolls are a disservice. We would even support increasing the gas tax another penny to cover toll collectors salaries (...but not the high salaried political appointees, of course). Then give them real jobs - road or school maintenance, DOT roadside emergency service, librarians, ...ANYTHING but toll collectors. Net result: out of pocket expenses still go down (...we wouldn't need E-ZPass or half the things on the Toll Costs list), services increase, and congestion, pollution, and aggravation on our roads decrease. Win, win, win!
Email from a toll collector:
"It would take a long time for me to explain to you how my health deteriorated while working for tolls. I was an athlete, healthy, without any allergies. After working there for seven years I gradually developed a chemical sensitivity to vehicle exhausts as well as sinus problems. Any solution to the toll problem must include an adequate transition and compensation for toll workers."
CAT couldn't agree more - we don't want to put people out of work, we want to get them better jobs!
We hear this one a lot. It seems that people are used to getting so little for their tax dollars, that they actually think spending $488 million to speed them up to 5 mph is worth it. My question to them is: What would be better, E-ZPass or No Tolls? Which do you think would speed you faster? And which would cost less?
E-ZPass is an attempt to solve some of the problems associated with tolls. Yes, it speeds tollbooth traffic to 5 MPH (...about the same as a token lane), but at what cost? C.A.T. has already heard complaints that E-ZPass lanes create confusion and hazardous situations as drivers approach tollbooths. And we've heard of innocent people being sent bills for cheating tolls, including one of the early members of C.A.T. and people that actually have E-ZPass (...it seems that NJ doesn't bother to check the E-ZPass accounts to see if it was their equipment that didn't work. They just send a bill and make the people prove they have E-ZPass). And when you get a bill, the entire system is set up to find you guilty. Most people just pay the $25 fine and walk away furious, but what can they do? And of course, E-ZPass adds to the cost of toll collection.
The government likes to tell us that E-ZPass will reduce collection costs. But the simple fact is that unless they can show a $488 million reduction in costs, E-ZPass will simply add to the cost of toll collection. Do you know how much $488 million is? It's the base salary of about 1,500 toll collectors over the 8 year contract. How can there be any savings? And if they have to spend $488 million on collection hardware to SAVE money, that admits they are already wasting more than that. And if they try to say that E-ZPass will increase revenue from other sources (toll cheats, fiber optic cable, etc.), this is still revenue that is wasted on nothing more than toll collection hardware. Besides, if they really thought catching toll cheats could bring in that much money, why didn't they go after them years ago and use the money to pay off the bonds and remove the tolls instead of buying new tolls?
And they aren't even finished installing "low speed" E-ZPass and legislators are already talking of replacing it with a new "high speed" E-ZPass. I wonder how much spending a few hundred million more on tolls is supposed to save us? Is there no limit to how much of our money they can waste? And once they get this technology, what's to prevent them from using all the pro-toll arguments to start putting it on ALL roads? To be honest, it would be fair - charging everyone for exactly for the roads they use, but it would add billions to the costs of the roads. And when they finally get it installed on every single road, it will accomplish exactly what the gas tax already does for free! No Tolls = REALLY E-ZPass.
Please! That would still be less than is wasted on collection costs in one year on the Parkway alone. That would be less than the value of time wasted waiting in toll lines or maintaining all those E-ZPass accounts. It will be the best $50 million NJ ever spent.
Plus, they're serious about installing High Speed E-ZPass, which would not only require the tollbooths be removed, but new ones built. I wonder if they figured in the $50 million demolition costs into the $100 million estimate for High Speed E-ZPass?
And I'll bet it wouldn't cost anywhere near that. First, I've received email from people who work or own construction companies who offered to tear the tollbooths down for free. Or better yet, why not fund demolition by selling billboards? Do you know those "Adopt a Highway" signs? I wonder how much someone would pay to have their company name on a sign that says "This tollbooth removed courtesy of (your company name here)". Talk about great publicity!
It has been suggested by pro-toll forces that the Parkway bonds should be placed on the ballot to see if the public would want to pick up the debt. But that's not a fair question. It basically asks if a minority (Parkway drivers) should continue to pay for something that most of us get for "free". But if you think it IS a fair question, then how about this one:
Should NJ reduce taxes by adding tolls to Rt. 80?
Interpretive statement: If passed, everyone will save a few dollars a year in taxes, but Rt. 80 drivers would have to pay $hundreds more and waste countless hours waiting in aggravating tollbooth lines. Hundreds of people will have to be hired to collect, manage, process, and enforce tolls. Plus, pollution will increase a bit, and auto insurance may increase due to tollbooth accidents.
It would be an interesting question since most people don't use Rt. 80. Would people vote to lower their taxes at the expense of a minority? That's exactly what a Parkway referendum question would ask. And if it passes, we could place another road on the ballot each year until EVERYONE is enjoying all the benefits of tolls.
Actually, after subtracting the billions wasted on collecting tolls and E-ZPass, toll road users are only getting about 2/3rds of what they pay for. The rest goes to fund the system that slows their commute. And after subtracting the portion of their taxes and the part of their tolls that directly goes to roads they don't use, it's closer to half (...see argument 1).
Toll-lovers always knock the free roads, calling them an "absolutely a disgrace", while pointing out the Parkway is so well maintained. This is nothing more than a scare tactic to make people think the Parkway will fall into one big pothole without tolls. I use Rt. 80, 287, 24, 10, and 46, and they are just fine without tolls. If they fix the potholes a little faster on the Parkway, it still doesn't justify the waste.
Well, not with that attitude we can't. But imagine if enough people start saying "we CAN get rid of tolls" instead, then we the people can! This is your democracy, people, please don't waste it.
Wake up, New Jersey!
We're not asking for a "free ride"...
...We're simply asking to pay for the Parkway and other toll roads in the same more efficient, less aggravating, cleaner, safer way as Rt. 80, Rt. 78, Rt. 287, and every other non toll road in NJ is. Is that too much to ask?