Toll tyranny and social engineering in local transportation policy

San Antonio’s proposal smacks of the European-style congestion tax imposed on downtown London, Stockholm and Milan, which carries serious implications for environmentally targeted cities all across America.

By Terri Hall | December 7, 2013

Some call it social engineering, others call it by its real name, Agenda 21, the United Nations program designed to implement sustainable development or environmental protectionism directly with local governments like San Antonio, where the goal is to eliminate the use of all petroleum-based vehicles. Period. But no matter what you call it, it’s bad news for freedom of mobility and for taxpayers. Consultants hired by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to conduct studies on how to address traffic in downtown San Antonio are considering adding toll lanes not only to Interstate 35 itself, but also to every major freeway into and out of the downtown area.

The proposal, which smacks of the European-style congestion tax imposed on downtown London, Stockholm, and Milan, carries serious implications for environmentally targeted cities all across America. Milan has instituted the Ecopass – which is not a great leap from the popular U.S. toll pass called EZ-Pass. The policy proved wildly unpopular. In London, a mayor was thrown out of office over it. He tried to run for re-election on raising the congestion tax even higher. Naturally, imposing a tax for gaining access to downtown areas subsequently KILLED businesses and jobs. People eventually decide to do business elsewhere so as not to be charged a premium simply to drive downtown.

Most downtown areas in America have enough disincentives for drivers with expensive, hard to find parking and few businesses open after 5 PM. Many have implemented anti-car Agenda 21 initiatives like complete streets policies that try to force people out of their cars and into mass transit – hence social engineering. Complete streets often reduce auto capacity and re-configure streets to remove vehicle parking.

While advocates claim complete streets are about sharing the road with bicycles and making them more pedestrian-friendly with curbs and sidewalks, the ultimate aim is to reduce auto capacity using tactics like removing auto lanes to make way for light rail, trolley cars and/or buffered bike-only or bus-only lanes and capturing excessive space for medians and sidewalks. It’s all about elevating certain politically correct modes of travel over fossil fuel-based transportation.

Add tolls to the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster

The flavor of the month with tolling is ‘managed’ lanes. Most often those ‘managed’ lanes are dubbed HOT lanes or High Occupancy Toll lanes. HOT lanes are typically added in the median or in the center of an existing freeway and cars with an acceptable number of occupants (anywhere from 2 or more) can access the lanes for free or a discount toll and single occupancy vehicles pay a toll.

In San Antonio, the toll authority has already stated carpools will have to be registered and approved by the agency to be qualified to use the lanes toll-free. Who knows what hoops motorists will have to jump through to be deemed a ‘registered’ carpool. It will surely involve having a Toll Tag. To get one of those, you have to pay a monthly fee (around $10) to keep a Toll Tag account open. So it’s not a free ride no matter how you slice it.

It’s the ultimate in government control over your morning commute. Often the price of the toll is variable – known as congestion tolling or a congestion tax because the toll rate changes in real time based on the level of congestion in the lanes. If the lane is deemed too congested, the toll entity jacks up the price to purposely knock people out of the ‘managed’ lanes to maintain certain speeds in those lanes. Meanwhile, modes of travel that are considered more acceptable by government, like buses and carpools, get a free ride.

The published toll rate range by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority is 17 cents a mile up to 50 cents a mile. If the toll projects are privatized using public-private partnerships, those toll rates start at 75-80 cents a mile and go up precipitously from there.

No American should accept such a direct assault on one’s freedom to travel, much less Texans, who pride themselves on limited government and who prize liberty. San Antonians have to put the cabosh on any such proposal to toll every highway into and out of downtown before it’s too late.

Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of nine turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.