Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Correcting the Record and how you can avoid a 91 Express Lanes Toll Violation

Avoid this violation notice! Don't forget to mount a valid FasTrak to your car and pre-register your license plate to your California toll agency; otherwise you may see a toll evasion notice like this one in the mail.
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com
 
Those of you who have been following our campaigns know that we have been putting together a long-range solution to improve traffic flow along the 91 Freeway corridor and improving transit options. That includes high occupancy toll lane infrastructure that includes free non-transponder 3+ carpooling for the 91 Express Lanes. In order for our local agencies to afford such a policy change, the bond debt for the entire corridor must be paid off and the CHP would need to be tasked to conduct the carpool and toll payment enforcement. In addition, state law would need to support the changes as well. Because state and federal gas tax receipts are at records levels and the fact that the 91 is one of the most used transportation systems in the country, state and federal officials should have what it takes to pay off the entire debt immediately. But where has all those tax receipts gone?

In the mean time, we have the 91 Express Lanes. It currently requires all users including 3+ HOV's to have a FasTrak transponder. 50% off tolls are charged during the afternoon rush hour from 4-6pm. The HOT lanes are free to 3+ HOV's at all other times. According to OCTA, Express Lanes motorists save at least 20 minutes each way during rush hour. The 91 Express Lanes serves as robust facility for 3+ HOV's and those willing to toll their way out of traffic congestion. We often use it for field studies which help form our campaigns to improve the HOT lane corridor in the long range.

Example 91 Express Lanes toll evasion violation notice
For now, all motorists must have a FasTrak toll transponder including carpools. Otherwise, unless your vehicle's plate is pre-registered with either the 91 Express Lanes or another participating California FasTrak tolling agency. you'll get one of these little notices in the mail.

In addition, do make sure that your vehicle's license plate number is registered with the 91 Express Lanes or the toll agency that issued your transponder.

Here's some tips of how you can avoid being a toll violator as a FasTrak motorist:
  1. If you plan on using the 91 Express Lanes, mount the FasTrak as instructed by the agency. All vehicles must have one. The same rule applies for I-110 and I-10 Metro ExpressLanes. For the HOT Lanes in the Bay Area (excluding the toll bridges) and the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County, only solo drivers need the toll transponder; HOV's from there don't as they can get on for free and go.
  2. Make sure to register your vehicle's license plate number. There will be unlikely events that the overhead toll antennas won't read it. The license plate will help OCTA identify the proper account to deduct the tolls or identify the registered 3+ HOV. That is known as Pay-by-Plate. The rule is in place to avoid the issuance of toll violation notices to holders of valid accounts.

Believe us, the overhead toll antennas on some cases have not picked up the transponder. There have been select times when our TCA-issued FasTrak transponder in our vehicle does not beep when passing under the toll antennas. In addition, the Coalition was tipped off from a Temecula-area motorist who organized a 3-person varpool to a one-time business function in Orange County outside of rush hour. He received a violation notice even after mounting a properly functioning and valid FasTrak transponder to the windshield of his van that was used to travel for free in the 3+ HOV Lane within the Express Lanes. The motorist never registered the van with his FasTrak toll agency. That was clearly wrong, and he was faced with a toll violation notice.

That lead us to conclude that OCTA was up to something suspicious which includes deliberately shutting off the toll antennas in a way to drive up toll violation notice but the thesis turned out to be faux. So, we must correct the record, so here it is:

Media Relations staff from OCTA inquired, told us, and confirmed with us that the agency does not deliberately shut off its toll antennas to enforce plate pre-registration.

Whenever we get factual data, we will confirm the full context of it. We want to make it very clear that is never our intention to mislead our readers. When such a rare occurrence does like this story about the 91 Express Lanes, we will correct the record and make it clear on this blog and will make sure the correction is broadcasted clearly. That's why we need you to participate in the debate and engage in the conversation!

We'll talk to you again tomorrow.

5 comments:

  1. What record gas tax? The federal gas tax hasn't been raised since Bill Clinton raised it in 1993. California's gas tax hasn't kept up with inflation, and the 2013 "fuel tax swap"-- which did raise the excise tax-- also lowered the sales tax, meaning you pay the same price.

    I think that this blog often plays fast and loose with the facts, especially when you can indulge in the ever-popular American pastime of bashing the government.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Federal gas tax receipts are way up since the early 90s even with the recession and the decline of the American driver.
      http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/pubs/hf/pl11028/chapter6.cfm
      http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=401

      Delete
    2. Here are the hard facts that back up record gas tax receipts on top of what Marven provided:
      http://ttcinlandempire.blogspot.com/2014/03/why-inland-empire-transit-system-is-not.html

      While the gas tax rate has not risen as you've pointed, according to the Census Bureau, the feds are taking in an average of $10-$11 billion in gas taxes per quarter since 2011 nationwide--a record. Federal car tax receipts were $7-8 billion per quarter--another record. That adds up to $68 billion in transportation-related taxes collected per year by the federal government. Record taxes collected.

      At the state level, according to the California Board of Equalization, the state received just under $7 billion in transportation taxes, a vast majority from the gas pump and just under $1 billion from commercial vehicle weight fees--records.

      Our "ever-popular American pastime of bashing the government" involves holding those in power accountable of spending such record transportation tax receipts in ways that actually improve our transit systems and infrastructure during a soft market economy. Right now, even with all that money flowing into Washington and Sacramento and the fact that the Inland Empire job market is still flooded in experienced construction workers and engineers who need work are willing to take a smaller salary, our infrastructure is still not where it needs to be. Public works costs are priced much higher than the market rates which obstructs progress. Thus, some built infrastructure is still mired in debt due to inflated costs which forces OCTA into imposing ill-advised and money-centric policies for the Express Lanes, and likewise forces RTA into having a very small budget.

      Delete
    3. Measuring tax receipts in total real numbers, rather than inflation-adjusted per-capita numbers, is just bad statistics. Because of both inflation and population growth, if you look at real spending, every single type of government spending and every single type of tax revenue will constantly be setting records so long as the population keeps growing.

      You're right that we have really high construction costs for public works projects-- costs that I'd argue are mostly related to the procurement and bidding process-- but to say that the government is just flush with transport money, and it's only mismanagement that keeps us from having amazing bus service, is inaccurate and dishonest. By any reasonable measure, both DC and Sacramento have been taking in an increasingly small share of gas tax revenue (per-capita, per lane-mile, or per-vehicle-mile-travelled, in real terms), and making that transport dollar go further isn't just a case of eliminating pork and waste. There really aren't enough dollars to go around. I know it's a less rosy headline than yours, but we need to make choices about where we spend increasingly scarce transport dollars (and those choices, I think we'd both agree, should favor transit and active transport over ever more highways).

      Delete
    4. Marven: Thank you for the extra fact sheets. Will take a look.

      JN: Even with inflation factored in, the feds are still taking in record receipts. The inflation point was addressed here in April:
      http://ttcinlandempire.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-truth-about-highway-trust-fund.html
      The dollar lost about 43% of its value between 1992 and today. In 1992, the federal government collected $23.6 billion in fuel taxes, worth $39.8 billion in 2014 dollars. In 2012, the feds collected $42.5 billion from the pump, still a record with inflation. During the 90's, there was plenty of public and private money going around to build up and pay for transportation infrastructure all over Southern California which included LA's return to rail and the introduction of Metro Rapid buses, the Harbor Transitway and its hard lesson not build transit stations within a freeway median, the successful birth of Metrolink, and Orange County's massive freeway and toll road expansions with very limited transit infrastructure other than 2+ HOV lanes. OCTA also phased in late night bus services and owl runs going into 2000. The economy was also very robust back then. Today, we have a similar situation with a big kitty, except the economy is soft.

      We certainly disagree on a number of topics; the way current government money is spent and HOT lane policies may be a few these. But we both have public blog forums and agree on core matters such as improving the area's mass transit system efficiently and ensuring that RTA is adequately funded. We have to tell Riverside what is happening. The market economy is ticking back up in some areas of the county and we need to hold RCTC and the state accountable to ensure RTA is getting its fair share of the increased generated tax funds so that transit can be improved in the growing areas combined with maximizing bus services in Riverside which includes true RapidLink service with a early morning to late night span. We'll give you the last word.

      Delete