49 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Libertarian Think Tank For Tolls”

  1. The most common cars in the toll lanes are the most common cars. Thanks Dr. Obvious. Maybe something like median car value in toll vs. not toll, or contrasting the percentage of luxury cars in the two lane types. Why is it that all these so called think tanks seem absent of thought?

    1. They know the answer to your question, they just don’t want to publish that answer because it would undermine their case.

      1. Right. I used to be pro gun. Then I tried to write a paper arguing in favor. The more I researched, the weaker my arguments got. I realized I couldn’t finish the paper, so I ended up rushing out a paper on procrastination instead. Didn’t get the best grade, but at least I wrote in good conscious.

      2. @Ben P
        You could have written an opposition paper instead and attached an explaination that the research changed your mind.

        I’m almost certain your instructor would have been impressed.

    2. Did anybody really count the number of BMW’s, Mecedes Benzes, Rolls Royces (do they even make those anymore?) or even Tesla’s stuck in the regular lanes? I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that nobody who owns any of those has any reason at all to go into LA anymore. Let alone in a car.

      But these guys sure straightened me out about one thing. The world never saw philanthropists like those guys giving away all their money to live packed like stuffed cabbage into South Lake Union, so the rest of us could escape to Kent! Gentrify must be a better word for “Mensch!”

      Yiddish for, as these three Libertarians’ grandfathers would have put it, “What A Guy!” Though back in the kitchen that night:

      “Liber-tehh-rian?! In the Stet-choo you gunna go live?!? ‘Eyyyyyyy…around Rosenbaum’s meshugginer (like Ayn Rand) daughter Alyssa you been hengin’ eggin? Louie Mayer from Minsk should in Hollow-wood both of you a job give! He’ll be so heppy he’ll be densing a jigsaw!” (Sort of a Russian Yogi Berra, Louie.)

      Speaking of which, here’s some Libertarians who in those days often called themselves Socialists. Which to them was another word for “Americans.”


      But: At least now we know where Ed Murray got the idea for Deep Bore Tunnel. And as soon as we get the Good-To-Go system set up, we can relax about the Waterfront. Though I don’t think SDOT will dare give these kids any crap about those sexy-bus-and-truck lanes. 1971 video of Ed proves proximity to the crime.



  2. The headline seems a bit misleading. They’re not proposing to toll existing lanes. They’re advocating building ETL’s as on I-405. We all know how that’s going. Such lanes provide reliable rights of way only in their studies, not in real life.

    Buses are not people, my friend. Cars are people, and they vote!

    1. Look no further than the Westpark Tollway and the Katy Freeway Managed Lanes. Both are tolled alternates for people west of Houston going into downtown. Compared to I-10 and I-69 (AKA US-59), they are slightly faster, but they are still extremely congested.

      But the gist of Libertarians wanting toll roads is not so much to speed up traffic (anyone with 1/10 a brain knows that won’t work), but to allow private companies to own, toll and profit off of roadways, built with taxpayer money. It’s a Libertarian’s wet dream and is slowly gaining traction.

      1. Er, built with private investment. The purpose of privately-owned roads is so that taxpayers don’t have to pay for building them. The tolling company doesn’t own 520 or 405, it just manages the tolls, so they’re not privately-owned roads.

      2. The Chicago Skyway (99 year lease, built with public money) and the Indiana Toll Road (75 year lease, built with public money) are two of the first examples of private companies effectively assuming ownership of public roads. They are expected to maintain and improve the roadways with tolls collection, but as can be seen with private utility companies, stockholders come first, maintenance is done at point of failure and improvements are usually done with taxpayer money, rather than collected fees.

        This is the transportation plan that our incoming president has proposed for all federally funded highways in the country. 99 year leases will be hard or impossible to get out of in four or eight years. One plus is that it might cause more support for mass transit, rather than pay for tolls on deteriorating, privately maintained roads.

  3. WSDOT has been on a ‘slow-acceptance’ trajectory on widespread tolling since the Tacoma Narrows bridge was built. SR167, I-405 followed and soon the AWV project. How soon they can expand to all the freeways depends a lot on how fed up the public gets with sitting in traffic every day. I suspect I-5 will be one of the last to go tolls.
    Having just returned from a month long experience in Portugal, where the EU aid built a massive tollway operation, the locals mostly still clog up the single lane roads, while the tourists breeze along sparsely used tollways. Our toll bill for the 3 weeks we drove around was over $200 which is well beyond the needs of most locals. The flat rate toll didn’t work very well to balance supply and demand, as the Private Partnerships that built the roads set the policy.

    1. I think they should make the minimum toll for Seattle freeway the same as a bus fare. Then increase it at peak to manage demand. I also think we should just do bus lanes and forget HOV.

      1. True, and the Transportation Commission plays their role in deciding how fast and how much too. WSDOT provides the technical stuff to decision makers, and eventually carries out the policy, but they play a huge role in setting the stage for what happens.

  4. 1. Granted, passengers appreciate wide doors and low floors. Though right now, a lot of us would also like seats that don’t put the window line above our ears. Being long and narrow, buses already meet the laws of aerodynamics. So have we got ridership stats for 1955 GMC’s? First bus I ever drove in training. Handled better with manual steering than successors do with power.

    2. Let’s see honest contrast between the rusty railroad track and that red pavement after same number of years under both heavy vehicles and BART-quality deferred maintenance. Though reality is, pic of those tracks really do look like BART and DC Metro. Good shot, guys. Put it in Flickr.

    3. What’s going to happen when everybody in the crowded lanes wises up and starts paying tolls? My call is pickup trucks replaced with those cast-iron Chinese bicycles with truck beds. From footage of Beijing, finally assuring that everybody on two wheels knows how to not run people over on the Ballard-Fremont trail.

    4. Would some Libertarian please explain to me what particular liberty I don’t value because I don’t call myself one? And, considering recently proven effects of Social Media, what you and every lying psychopathic moron outside of politics as well as inside don’t already have the Liberty to do? I can’t even suggest that people voluntarily read history so they know what an Abolitionist is!

    Which in Texas is still even more illegal than what that State’s government is closing women’s clinics over lies about.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “Would some Libertarian please explain to me what particular liberty I don’t value because I don’t call myself one?”

      Excellent question. As an ex-Libtertarian from a family partly of libertarians, I can give a vague answer; somebody else may be able to give a more robust one. The purpose of government is to protect citizens from force and fraud. Taxation is theft (a force), so only a minimum tax is justified to support a minarchist state (for national defense, and for courts and police to enforce contracts). Any taxation beyond this deprives you of liberty; the ability to keep or spend your assets as you see fit.

    2. I’m a Libertarian. A good example of a law that constrains liberty is the mandate that we wear seat belts. The argument for that is that you don’t want the expense of my medical care if I’m in an accident. But Libertarians don’t want socialized medicine.

      It’s an example of the government creating a problem that it then constrains our liberties and inflates its own power in order to fix.

      In general if you believe that individuals are dangerous and governments are benevolent, then you are an idiot. Er, I mean socialist. If you believe that governments are responsible for more human death through genocide and persecution than the sum total of all individual gun-toting nut cases, then you are both accurate and a Libertarian.

      Always check the power of government (and I’d add corporations). You never know when your government could fall into the hands of a madman.

      1. But who pays for your medical bills if you are unable to pay them? Instead of seat belts, can you make a libertarian argument against the requirement that hospitals must treat people, even if they do not have the means to pay for it?

      2. Of course. Maybe a private charity will emerge. Otherwise, you are allowed to die. The state will pay for your cremation and disposal.

        In some fire districts you could opt not to pay for coverage. The private fire dept would arrive at your blazing house and collect immediate payment, or else would protect your paying neighbors while your house burned to the ground.

        On the other extreme, the government could pay all your health care costs. You would be forbidden from driving without a seat belt, smoking, mountain climbing, or eating sugar. For the common good.

        Freedom includes accepting the consequences. You are just starting from a different moral code.

      3. Thanks for the reply. You mention starting from a different moral code. Would you really be ok with letting someone die for being at the wrong place at the wrong time simply because they are unable to pay for health care? Does your individual freedom matter so much to you that not being required to wear a seat belt is better than having a system that protects the vulnerable? I think there are trade-offs, not absolutes, and balancing those trade offs to maximize freedom and the common good is what we should strive for.

      4. I would not engage the power of the state to compel people to treat those that behaved irresponsibly (nor compel people to work to reimburse those that do). Forcing people to work for the benefit of others is known as slavery.

        I recognize that there is a lot of gray between the absolutes. You are looking for a sweet spot as to how much slavery is the right amount. Slavery is a highly inefficient means of production, on top of whatever social objections we should have about it. But indeed it can be used to create a public insurance system that has moral benefits, can ease general anxiety, and can encourage risk-taking. So I get why people want slaves and how they rationalize that it’s ok. I accept that I have a minority opinion and that my only real recourse is to minimize the amount of slavery that I’m subject to.

        Where I draw the line is when we are not allowed to opt out of the system and it’s supposed benefits, and therefore we have to accept a loss of freedom over and above the slavery. I should have the ability to opt out of this system and accept the risk of death, poverty, etc. as a consequence. And drive without a seat belt without being fined. We just have to be ok that for people that make that choice we respect it rather than fall to a dangerous and stifling compassion trap. Also see: right to die.

  5. Tolls really do make sense, but they should be generalized tolls placed on the GP lanes and not boutique tolls used just for the wealthy to by their way out of congestion.

    In particular, it is past time for tolls to go on the GP lanes on the I-90 floating bridge. Rolling just those lanes would reduce congestion on I-90 and on I-405/I-5 due to reduced anti-toll diversion. Cut the toll on SR-520 in half and set the I-90 toll to match.

    It is time.

    1. I’m all for tolling every closed-access highway, it’s a much better way to fund highway maintenance than gas taxes. However, I’m a big fan of express tolling – if people are willing to pay a premium for faster lanes, I’d say take the money. I understand there is an equity issue, but if the express tolling is being used to improve bus flow, I think it evens out.

    2. Can’t do it. The new bridges on I-90 were mostly — well, almost entirely — paid for by Federal funds. Therefore they fall under the national tolling rules which prohibit tolling except in three instances:

      1) grandfathered tollways included in; the Interstate system (think Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Florida and Oklahoma);

      2) “facilities” (e.g. bridges and tunnels) which replace or increase capacity on existing Interstate routes; and

      3) a specifically created tolling project exempted by statute. Currently there are twenty such projects. Supposedly Washington State holds one of these test permits but has never used it. Perhaps they will apply it to I-90. More likely the new Congress will revoke Washington’s permit and give it to a more favored state.

      1. Not entirely true. The Feds have been moving towards a policy of expanded tolling for years, and they have already signaled that they are willing to treat the two bridges as a set – therefore allowing tolling of I-90 under the expanded capacity arguement.

        All that is needed is the will to do it, and so far that will has been lacking. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it

    1. Your call, Joe. Though I hope they at least buy you lunch. The low end of the donation scale is out of my price range right now. But the nostalgia of this morning’s material has got me digging through my closet for my white on white shirt, engine-turned cuff links, and cordovan wingtip shoes.

      In the days when cars were sold for paper, either money or checks, Equifaz, Transunion, and Experian hadn’t been invented yet, cars were priced (I think the term was “marked up”) accordingly You might offer the presenters a cigar each, just to see how deeply primordial car-salesman instincts go. Though you might not get out the Meydenbauer door without the keys to an automatic 1952 Plymouth, driverless when you’re in the house. At least if you lock the car.

      But tell us about the digitally-advanced video of a driverless I-5 between Everett and Olympia at 7am, as opposed to WSDOT footage any present day Friday rush. With a single one-car crash, and spilled fish-truck, and a blown tire added to both. Also, with BART and DC Metro in mind, ideas on maintenance compliance and enforcement.

      Also, pass around the word that I’ll bet a cigar (not Cuban!) against a decaf Nescafe (that I’ll drink in front of them!) that an honest view of I-5 or I-90 out my LINK window at 70 miles an hour will look exactly the same on each video. What do I owe you if you stand up and tell them so?


  6. Today, I got to see the new off-wire trolley buses in action. The #70 trolley bus disconnected from the wire and lowered its polls to take a two-block detour around the Seattle Marathon, then re-connected its poles upon resuming the regular route.

    I’m amazed Metro was actually willing to try it on in-service buses, rather than chickening out and using diesel buses to operate the route.

    1. Much experience and technology since last time Metro bought a fleet of trolleybuses. But I’m still looking for information about ability to raise poles to the wire from the driver’s seat.

      Anywhere on the line, without having to pull under guide-panels- called “pans”- like DSTT staging lanes used to have. Looked like little greenhouse roofs.

      For some years, the mining world has had giant trucks fitted with “pantographs”, the mechanism all of our present railcars, LINK and, SLU, and FHS, use to collect power. Easy to raise and lower.

      Because rubber tired vehicles need a negative wire, they need two pantographs, one for each wire. You’ll notice that pantographs let vehicles travel at high speed.

      The “interurbans” of the 1920’s and 1930’s did that with single poles, each with a small grooved wheel contacting the wire. But but nowadays, every machine that can uses the pantograph. For anything high speed, 100%.

      Reason trolleybuses need poles is that pantographs don’t swivel freely enough to enable pulling into stops. Mining trucks have no passenger stops. But for highway vehicles, Sweden is developing fast electric semi-trucks able to do the kind of passing common on highways.

      Without dropping speed, the driver can switch the pantographs down, which starts a diesel engine to power a generator to keep the truck moving until passing is complete, upon which driver raises the pantographs and resumes power from the overhead.

      Neoplan bus we considered for DSTT accomplished dual-power like this, with an electric motor always pushing the wheels, drawing power from engine or wire. A trillion times better than the complicated overweight mechanism Breda used.

      I wish we’d had the Swedes’ new mode of power collection for the DSTT. Would have been perfect for the Tunnel, and might have let us wire I-90. Metro also looked seriously at wire from IDS to a new ramp from I-90 to Rainier and Dearborn.

      For expresses on the “7”, could have used “bus bulbs” to permit bus staying on wire whole trip. Though pantographs could have been dropped for unscheduled stops, and the bus just steered close to wire center to re-wire.

      I’m still keeping this choice in mind for interim service as we build out LINK over ST-3 time frame. Joe, if you see John Niles at Meydenbauer, you can give him the links, on condition mechanism only be installed on lanes intended for trains. With nothing wheeled in its way, whether it has a driver or not.

      In BRT, “Rapid” is more important than “Buses”, John.



      Mark Dublin

    2. Last year (very late in the year) I rode a 43 running on battery power through the mess at the Montlake Triangle. It wasn’t nessarty but the driver wanted to do it to avoid the chance of dewiring. Later that day the bus I took to get to King Street Station dropped its poles for part of the trip on 3rd.

      So, there are definitely operators that were given an opportunity to run off wire fairly early on.

      1. I’ve ridden both a 49 and a 10 up the Hill from downtown on batteries. Works as advertised, seemingly: pick-up and speed seem little if any different.

  7. Probably an newbee question, but does anyone know why the 7 doesn’t run on trolley wires on the weekends?

      1. They do, but they make it sound like running diesels on trolley routes is some rare occurance. My experience, from when I lived in Capitol Hill, is that it was *every* weekend.

      2. It often occurs every weekend for several months, but that’s because construction projected take that long.

      3. I believe it’s vehicle maintenance related. It’s more convenient to do routine maintenance, vehicle checks on all trolleys at once, rather than rotate 1/7th of the fleet at a time. I don’t know the exact specifics but I’m about 80% confident in this explanation.

      4. Alex, yes, I think this is right. It seems that weekends are the times used to maintain the trolleys and wires because it’s when they have the spare diesel capacity. Which is fine; I’m just not sure why metro wouldn’t say so, given that they’ve bothered to put up a page about it.

        Mike’s hypothesis is not adequate, since it wasn’t every weekend for months at a time, but every weekend period. And on routes with no construction.

  8. Is it definite that the end of the line in Tacoma for Central Link will be the Tacoma Dome/Freighthouse Square or might they upgrade Tacoma Link track into Downtown Tacoma and terminate Central Link trains around the convention center and Commerce street?

    1. They don’t need to upgrade the track. Link cars are a little wider, so some poles and all platforms would have to change. The overhead wire voltage is higher, but Skoda’s cars are designed to see at least 950 volts, so there may be a compromise voltage. The Link cars are heavier, but have more axles, and you wind up with the same weight class in terms of pounds per axle.

      So, for many reasons, this should happen. Among them, Link cars are cheaper per unit to maintain as the fleet is larger.

    2. Running full sized Link cars in DT Tacoma is a pretty bad idea on the face of it. The cars are too long for the existing platforms and track alignments and there isn’t enough exclusive ROW to make it worthwhile.

      Try to envision a two to four car link car attempting to reverse anywhere on the existing aligent. Think of how awkward getting off will be when only some of the doors can be used to deboard… or if the train has to stop multiple times at each stop to let people off.

      If Central Link ever extends into Tacoma, it should follow a different, grade separated route… possibly intersecting with the streetcar route but not sharing tracks.

      Running Tacoma Link cars on Central Link tracks might work if we get new cars or upgrade existing ones but I don’t really see the point.

      Build the transfer point between lines right and through runnIng trains shouldn’t matter.

    3. The end of the Spine is Tacoma Mall (bypassing downtown Tacoma). That was written into Sound Transit’s Long Term Plan in 2014 at the behest of the Pierce boardmembers. There was a candidate ST3 project for it but it didn’t make it into the final. While that is shocking that a subway would bypass downtown, it’s justified three ways: (1) downtown Tacoma is at an odd location not on the way to anywhere, (2) Tacoma Link is already established and can go through downtown Tacoma to the neighborhoods, (3) Tacoma Mall is a designated urban center with plans for growth.

      One of my pet names for Link is “The Subway to the Five Malls” (Northgate, Bellevue, Alderwood, Tacoma, and indirectly Southcenter). Although you could also call it “The Train to the Five Colleges” (UW, North, Central, Highline, Bellevue, future Everett [the north end of the Spine], and indirectly Shoreline and Edmonds).

  9. Libertarians are more for free market principles hence making user paid systems and allowing the free market to set the price for giving congestion free options. As has been evidenced with toll lanes, typically it is a mix of people who use them.

    The 405 toll lanes will stay for the two year experiment given the election results and McCleary being the smoldering fire.

    This video shows they do not understand engineering challenges of large diameter tunnels let alone buses getting stuck in traffic. Seattle is able to get through many buses but as SounderBruce could tell you, it can take 25 minutes to get off at Stewart Street from I-5. I would be very interested in getting more bus priority but there are almost 360 buses per hour in the downtown core already.

    If Fall of 2018 comes as projected for kicking buses out of the tunnel without the necessary 3 minute frequency downtown to UW during that time, there will be some serious issues getting in and out of downtown.

    I have been looking at potentially using one lane of Howell from 6-11 am with an HOV ramp at Stewart. If one lane could be HOV 2+ heading off and then buses could use a reversible lane from Howell to Olive to 2nd Ave with a few bus priority signals, that would make them more effective. Likely changing Stewart to HOV only would be easiest but trying to get a specific phase for the bus only lane would be limited by how bunched the buses could get on a phase.

    I would be looking at impacts of surfacing before Northgate Link opens before anything else right now, otherwise we will have 2-3 years of pain potentially.

    1. A quick look at the map suggests that an inbound HOV lane on Howell for buses exiting off the I-5 express lanes would involve a center line, where everyone drives on the left side, British style. This would be very confusing and invite accidents. 2-3 years of pain is at least safe.

      1. Looking at previous Google Maps apparently to get a bus only lane NB during PM peak, what they did was take away the SB lane on Howell even though it was previously two way operation in order to speed up buses. My thinking would be if you have a reversible lane on where that lane originally was on the far left end it would be fine.

    2. “This video shows they do not understand engineering challenges of large diameter tunnels”

      I immediately thought of the Deep-Bore Tunnel and wondered if they really want one of those. Their diagram looks the same size, two lanes each direction stacked.

      1. I’m almost 100% positive that the graphic they used of the tunnel was directly taken from Bertha project, which made me chuckle.

  10. It is not libertarian to charge people to use valuable resources. That’s market capitalism. We have congestion around the world because transportation is a one limited resource without a price, leading to overuse of cars, more car-dependent land use, and higher emissions. If you think it’s unfair to toll people for causing congestion, it should be doubly unfair that the rich can buy up properties wherever they choose and make more economically vulnerable people move to distant car-dependent suburbs (to say nothing of charging transit fares).

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