NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 6, 2007

One of the least pleasant experiences on toll roads is the toll booth.  But it doesn't have to be.  We can, if we want, get rid of every toll booth and toll plaza in the country, says Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation.

There are a number of benefits associated with removing toll booths, says Poole, including:

  • A reduction in delays, accidents and pollution caused by long lines of waiting cars.
  • A decrease in the need for large swathes of land for toll plazas, making it possible to fit toll roads into tight corridors where congestion relief is needed.
  • Lower payroll costs, no buildings and no cash "shrinkage" (i.e., theft) by collectors.

But for more public-sector toll agencies to move into cashless tolling they will need to become more businesslike and entrepreneurial.  However, there are legitimate concerns, says Poole:

  • Unless the toll road already has high transponder market share, some fraction of cash customers may simply stop using the toll road if the cash option is eliminated.
  • There are also real costs (staffing and technology) involved in video license-plate recognition and billing.
  • Then there is the problem of what to do with all the now-redundant toll collectors, especially if they are unionized.

Fortunately, the growing number of private-sector toll companies can be counted on to put their customers' interest first, by eliminating cash tolling, says Poole.  But since most U.S. toll roads are still operated by public-sector agencies, however, voters should demand that they phase out toll booths and toll plazas by a date certain -- a decade from now should be plenty of time.

Source: Robert W. Poole Jr. "Life in the Slow Lane," Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2007.

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