NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 17, 2005

To alleviate traffic delays, the city of Houston enacted a mandatory towing policy for disabled vehicles, says the Wall Street Journal, but many Houston drivers are outraged that the city is profiting off of simple road mishaps, such as a flat tire or empty gas tank.

The program, known as Safe Clear, was based on the mayor's pledge to deal with traffic gridlock in a metro area of more than 4 million people:

  • The number of vehicle-miles traveled in Houston increased 36 percent between 1990 and 2000, and is expected to rise an additional 46 percent by 2022.
  • The Houston area added 465 lane-miles between 1990 and 1995, but additional lane miles are expected to decline to 265 between 2000 and 2022.
  • Furthermore, every minute a disabled car is on the road increases traffic delay times up to five minutes.
  • In fact, 60 percent of vehicle mishaps are a result of secondary accidents, which is what the Safe Clear program is trying to target.

But motorists who are changing a tire or who leave their car for several minutes to buy a gallon of gas are incensed at the idea of watching their cars being towed off while they're attempting to fix the problem. Moreover, critics say the program discriminates against the poor, since the towing charge is $75 for up to five miles (although the first mile is free).

Houston is not alone in its Draconian measures to curb congestion. In Mexico City, cars that fail emissions tests must stay off the road one day out of the week. In Holland, officials are considering doing away with signs, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings in an effort to encourage drivers to be more aware of potential dangers.

Source: Thaddeus Herrick, "Effort to Curb Traffic on Houston Freeways Has Mayor in a Jam," Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2005.


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