Toll roads

25 November 2010
Observations from a week spent driving on autoroutes, toll autoroutes and autobahns
Patrick Crozier

Lane discipline is much better even on French non-toll roads

There are an awful lot of lorries on the continent.  Seriously, much more than in the UK.

And they all seem to come from Slovenia.

Yes, that is an exaggeration.  But only just.

They are much hillier.  Michael tells me that this is because they are so old.  One of them even split as it went round a mountain.  One carriageway one side, one the other.

Most are only two lanes.

Autobahns and toll autoroutes are in good condition.  Ordinary toll-less autoroutes less so.

I much prefer driving on the toll autoroutes.  It was the only place I could set the cruise control.

Which is really nice.

Contrary to popular belief you can’t drive at any speed you like on the autobahn.  Sometimes you can but as often as not there are limits and these vary frequently.

Sat nav is both a god-send and a menace.

Driving as fast as you like is great until the car starts to vibrate in an alarming way.

I think one of the reasons lane discipline is so much better is because there are usually only two lanes.  These become a normal lane and an overtaking lane.  The flaw in this argument is Australia (isn’t it always?) There, according to Michael, they also have mostly two-lane highways and poor lane discipline.

Driving in a right-hand drive vehicle in a right-hand side of the road country is not nearly as difficult as you might think.  And it makes parking a whole lot easier.

Some Germans don’t half bomb along in the outside lane. 130-140 mph easily.  This is quite scary when they are coming up behind you.

Surfaces are not quite as good as in Britain.  Not even in Germany.  But some German surfaces are really quiet.  I think it may be some kind of experiment.

Slip roads and off ramps tend to be much tighter than in the UK.

Oh, by the way, whenever and wherever I hit an on-ramp, I floor it.  It’s the only way to get yourself up to the right speed.  I think that’s the right thing to do.

Autobahns are really busy.  So are France’s non-toll autoroutes.

Roadworks are everywhere on the autobahns.  And lanes alarmingly narrow.

The French have (how shall we put this?) a much more “relaxed” attitude to roadworks.  A sign, a few cones and that’s it.

18 October 2007
Drew Carey explains road pricing
Brian Micklethwait

I did a “view source” at Garnerblog and just shovelled it all into here, so maybe Patrick will want to edit.

Anyway, here it all is, Drew Carey on how the magic of the market might unblock LA:





09 July 2007
Electronic tolls lead to higher tolls
Patrick Crozier
ERP in Singapore

The idea is abroad (via Marginal Revolution) that electronic road pricing (ERP) leads to higher tolls.  Bearing in mind London’s experience it would appear that you don’t the electronic bit.

Marginal Revolution suggests greedy government.  Mark Thoma suggests that, hey, with ERP roads are a better product so people are prepared to pay more for them.  A commenter on the post suggests that it’s actually all to do with our inadequacies as human beings - because with ERP you pay later you tend not to notice so much. 

I’m a bit worried about that last one.  If true it suggests that prices are not all that good as signals.  Which kind of undermines free market theory - or, at least, that bit of the theory that explains why markets work.

09 May 2007
The Kings Road really was the king’s road
Brian Micklethwait

Apparently so:

Little bit of London trivia. Up until 1830 the Kings Road was just that - a private road owned by the king for nipping down to Hampton Court.

I wonder what His Majesty’s views were on road pricing.

07 March 2007
Against state roads
Patrick Crozier

This is a follow-on from my posting on the government’s pricing scheme.

I am against state roads (and in favour of private roads) because:

  • I am against state ownership in general
  • I don’t think they are very good

What’s wrong with them?

Jams, Potholes, Pettifogging rules

So, how would private roads solve jams?

Partly by charging.  In the UK we already see this with our one toll motorway, the M6 toll.  As I understand it, the M6 toll is free flowing all day long while the original M6, which runs parallel to it and is free is jammed for most of the day. Partly by building more.

Well, if charging is the solution maybe state roads should charge.

An idea that is currently up for discussion.  The problem is that the state is incompetent.  If it is incompetent when building and running roads there is no particular reason to think it would be any better at charging for them.

But if all roads were private wouldn’t you end up with the chaos of having to pay a toll at every road?

First of all, not all roads will charge.  Some road owners and I am particularly thinking of the owners of roads with shopping malls and other attractions at the end of them will want people to drive down them and so won’t charge.
I think a lot will depend on how roads are privatised.  Ideally, local roads would be assigned to local councils and then the councils would be privatised, hence creating ready-made super-landlords.

But how will people get to work?

Ah, well this is where pricing really helps.  Pricing will lead to fewer vehicles and faster roads.  At this point buses and coaches will enter the market although you’d probably need private buses for this to work properly.  Given that buses can move far more people than cars can there is every reason to think that with private roads more people rather than less will use them.

But I don’t want to travel on some smelly bus.

Buses can be very nice these days.  Who’s to say that in a free market suppliers won’t leap in to provide luxury bus services?

But should we be encouraging roads what with global warming and all?

The assumption being that roads means vehicles, vehicles means CO2 and other pollution.  Pollution meaning global warming.  That may well be true.  In which case the solution is to charge the polluters.  There are ways of doing this.

But if someone owns the road outside your house he could, in theory deny you access.

A good reason to make sure that you have at least some kind of interest in whatever body owns your road.  Again, I think most urban roads will end up being owned by some form of super-landlord.

But how would private roads get built? you are against compulsory purchase after all.

I think there are ways of doing this.
28 February 2007
Turnpike Trusts
Andy Wood

Last week, the Adam Smith Institute blogged about the national road pricing proposals. In the midst of his post, Eamonn Butler makes this interesting aside:

All that of course strongly suggests that the roads should be taken out of the politicians’ hands and put into local trusts who could ensure that the money raised was ring-fenced and spent on transport and roads, instead of leaching away into other pet political projects.

In essence, this looks like a suggestion to return to the system that existed in Britain for over two centuries, from the seventeenth century until Victorian times, in which up to a fifth of Britain’s roads were managed by Turnpike Trusts. In his article, “The Rise and Fall of Non-Government Roads in the United Kingdom”, Bruce Benson describes how the Turnpike Trusts worked:

A long series of Acts were passed beginning in 1663 that enabled the establishment of local ad hoc bodies known as “Turnpike Trusts.”  It must be emphasized that these turnpike trusts were not government innovations, however.  The initiative was at the local level. Members of local parishes who were burdened by the high costs of road maintenance under the parish system began to petition parliament for the right to charge a tax on heavy loads.  Indeed, the earliest Trusts were run by local JPs, although later Trusts had independent bodies of trustees.

After about 1700 the process became increasingly standardized.  A group of local landowners and/or merchants would accumulate the money necessary to fund a Turnpike Act in parliament and to carry the cost of the trust through its start-up period.  Most Turnpike Acts gave legal standing to a Turnpike Trust made up of a number of local landowners, and/or other important parishioners.  The Trustees were, by law, unpaid and forbidden to make personal profit from the trust.  They were responsible for erecting gates to collect tolls, and for appointing collectors, a surveyor to supervise repairs, and a Clerk and Treasurer to administer the affairs of the trust.  The funds collected could only be applied to the road named in the Act.  These roads were usually existing highways, although new roads were also built, particularly after 1740, and the extent of roads that were “usable” for heavy traffic expanded significantly once the trusts began to innovate and improve the roads they controlled, as noted below.  The Trusts were granted a monopoly power over the road (generally for a period of 21 years), so that the customary right of passage was fundamentally altered: the roads were no longer common pool resources.  Most trusts used the money collected to repair and improve roads, but if the tolls were insufficient to cover the up-front costs, the trusts were allowed to borrow money at a rate of interest fixed by the Act.

The system did not last, however. From 1864 onwards, the trusts were shut down, with the last road passing into public hands in 1895. At Transport Blog, we like to think that goods and services, including transport, are produced in better quality and lower cost when in private hands motivated by profit and free from political interference. If a private road system is superior to a public one, then why did the Victorians nationalise it? What went wrong? In a lengthy discussion, Benson proposes a number of reasons:

[T]he structure and characteristics of the trusts created significant principal-agent problems.  The Trustees were not allowed to earn a profit.  Therefore, even though the trustees had sufficient incentives to invest in the formation of a trust, they generally were not interested in the day to day operation of the road.  The toll gates were farmed out, and while trustees were suppose to monitor the gate-keepers and surveyors, their incentives to do so were very weak. After all, their primary income generating activities were elsewhere (their farms or businesses) and these enterprises commanded most of their attention…

[T]he political limitations on trusts also led to significant complaints by shippers and travelers.  ... A serious complaint about the turnpike system as it evolved was that there were too many toll booths, requiring too many stops, thereby slowing transportation services unnecessarily.  Gregory (1932: 193) suggests, in fact, that this was the most important complaint against the turnpikes: “Road users declared that they would rather pay twice the amount if they could be saved the annoyance of the delay.“This problem resulted from the fact that most of the turnpike trusts controlled only short sections of roadway within a parish, so travelers had to pay new tolls each time they left one trust’s road and entered another.  While consolidation of small trusts was desirable in order to avoid the problems with excessive stopping and delays (as well as in order to capture various scale economies in management and maintenance), the trusts operated at the prerogative of parliament, and any formal consolidation required parliamentary approval.  Political resistance to consolidation (e.g., by local trustees who did not want to lose control of their roads, and probably by competitive modes that did not want competition from more efficient turnpikes, as explained below) was strong, so even though efforts were made to obtain parliamentary approval to combine small trusts into larger organizations ..., parliament did not respond with necessary enabling legislation that might have led to widespread consolidation…

[T]here was significant political opposition to the trusts themselves.  Opposition came from those involved in competitive transportation modes such as the river and canal barges and railroads ..., from the trade centers that already had effective transportation connections and feared competition from other centers if their road connections were improved, from some landowners and farmers who feared that better roads would make it easier for their low-wage laborers to be attracted away, from farmers who supplied local markets and feared that improved roads would bring in competition from distant suppliers, from heavy road users who did not want to pay tolls for access even though they wanted the roads to be maintained, and so on.  Therefore, in order to gain sufficient support for passage, Turnpike Acts always had to reflect significant political compromise, including long lists of toll-exemptions for some of the powerful individuals and groups who opposed each Act.

So, although we think that applying free-market principles would result in a better road network, the experience of the Turnpike Trusts (not to mention Railtrack) makes me wonder whether it really is possible to remove political interference, at least while governments continue to exist.

Benson’s article also includes some discussion of the economics of roads as well as a history of the provision of roads in Britain from medieval times onwards. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

(By the way, this was written and posted from the 16:16 GNER service from Leuchars to Kings Cross, which has Wi-Fi onboard. The delights of modern travel, eh?)

16 November 2006
I just wrote a posting for Transport Blog about road pricing, which today got a plug in the Queen's Speech, and how the latest version of it might involve good news on the Total Surveillance State front. But Samizdata looked like it was having a rather thin day, by its admittedly rather busy standards, so I stuck it there.

It was a good excuse to link, yet again, to link to this.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)RoadCongestion ChargingToll roadsUK pricing scheme
07 October 2006
Tories to introduce toll lanes. Well, it's a start.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Toll roads
07 August 2006
"Road tolls move closer". Where to stand on this one? Yes, I am in favour of tolling. Probably, because I am (generally speaking) in favour of the price mechanism but (because I believe freer is better) what I really want is private ownership of the road which might mean tolling but in many cases probably wouldn't. And do I want a scheme, such as this, imposed on every driver at great expense simply because the EU has a solution (Gallileo) in search of a problem and which looks awfully like a stealth tax? Probably not.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Toll roads