On occasion, Tim Eyman inadvertently does us all a service by deviating from his well-rehearsed talking points and revealing just how little he knows about the subject matter of his own initiatives. This happened again last week, when Eyman sent out a missive attacking variable tolling, which is currently permitted by state law, but would be banned under Initiative 1125.
Variable tolling is the practice of charging drivers different rates depending on demand, or what time of day they use a facility (or both). At times of higher demand, the toll is higher; conversely, at times of lower demand, the toll is lower.
To demonstrate this, here is the variable tolling schedule that the state has drawn up for for the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, set to go into effect this December.
|Toll Rate (Weekdays)||Good To Go! Pass||Pay By Mail|
|Midnight to 5 AM||0||0|
|5 AM to 6 AM||$1.60||$3.10|
|6 AM to 7 AM||$2.80||$4.30|
|7 AM to 9 AM (peak)||$3.50||$5.00|
|9 AM to 10 AM||$2.80||$4.30|
|10 AM to 2 PM||$2.25||$3.75|
|2 PM to 3 PM||$2.80||$4.30|
|3 PM to 6 PM (peak)||$3.50||$5.00|
|6 PM to 7 PM||$2.80||$4.30|
|7 PM to 9 PM||$2.25||$3.75|
|9 PM to 11 PM||$1.60||$3.10|
|11 PM to 11:59 PM||0||0|
As we can see, during late night and early morning hours, there is no toll at all, and during the shoulder hours, the toll is less than what it is at peak hours.
This makes sense because demand to use the bridge varies greatly depending on the time of day. In the dead of night, crossing Lake Washington is easy; there’s not much traffic. At rush hour, getting across can be difficult, because traffic is terrible.
Variable tolling rewards commuters who time their trips to occur before or after rush hour, when demand is at its highest.
This benefits everybody — drivers who adjust their commute get to pay less, and drivers who don’t get to enjoy a smoother, more predictable commute because there are fewer cars on the road during those peak hours.
The advantages of this approach seem totally lost on Tim Eyman.
For nearly 100 years, when there was a toll, everyone paid the same. But now the politicians have a new scheme: social engineering variable tolls — charging different people different prices — that is completely unfair because it hits poor and working class taxpayers the hardest. We’ve all paid for our roads with our state’s sky-high gas tax — so all of us, not just rich people, deserve access to our transportation system.
This is nonsense. Eyman obviously doesn’t even have a basic comprehension of the concept. Variable tolling does not mean “charging different people different prices.” It means charging everyone different prices based on the time of the trip.
Anyone who crosses the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge at any particular time of day will pay the same toll, no matter how much money they make or how fancy their car is. The driver of a 2011 Lexus making $400,000 a year will be charged the same for a trip at 2:05 PM as the driver of a 1996 Hyundai making $30,000 a year.
As with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge today, there will obviously be a penalty for not having a Good to Go! transponder (this is because pay by mail tolls cost more to collect), but the penalty is also uniform — everyone without a transponder will be charged the same. Those wishing to take advantage of the Good to Go! rate can open an account and get a transponder at a low cost.
(The state allows prepaid Good to Go! payments to be made using a credit card, a debit card, an auto-draft account, by check, or by cash at a service center).
Many low and middle income families stand to save quite a bit of money under variable tolling. That’s because, at most times of the day, tolls will be lower than what they otherwise would be if the state simply collected the same flat rate 24⁄7.
Of course, any toll at all is an added expense that has a bigger impact on the budgets of low income families than other families. The state knows this, and has been laying the groundwork to help such families.
We are sensitive to the economic circumstances of all users of tolled roads. For the SR 520 Bridge, WSDOT looked at how tolling would affect drivers with limited incomes and learned that it was critical for people to have multiple choices for traveling across the bridge. Since October 2010, King County Metro and Sound Transit have added nearly 130 new bus trips to the existing 600 trips occurring daily on the SR 520 Bridge. Low income customers may also use Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to establish and replenish a Good To Go! account.
Eyman and his sympathizers have a warped sense of what’s fair. Why should the cost to get across Lake Washington at 4 AM be the same as the cost to cross at 8 AM, when the traffic is so much heavier?
Contrary to what Eyman claims, variable tolling isn’t something that was cooked up by politicians in some back room in our statehouse. It is a promising method of reducing congestion that was developed by transportation planners.
Furthermore, all transportation planning is “social engineering”. Not charging drivers to use our region’s highways and roads at all is social engineering. So is charging everyone a toll at the same flat rate, regardless of the time of day, or the demand. The right wing loves to use the phrase “social engineering” to scorn policies they don’t like, but it is meaningless.
Because the variable tolling rates for the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge have already been set, they will not be affected by Initiative 1125. But I‑1125 will prevent the use of variable tolling on other projects in other corridors. The state Office of Financial Management says that I‑1125 may also result in the loss of a variable tolling grant from the federal government that the state has already accepted.
Every single time that Tim Eyman has tried to play transportation planner, he has failed. The people of Washington have repeatedly voted down his attempts to micromanage WSDOT. But he’s not listening.
We can’t afford to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges without a robust, fair, and well-thought out tolling system.
As time goes on, the gas tax will only bring in less revenue as vehicles become more fuel efficient and Washingtonians get smarter about combining trips. I‑1125 threatens vital projects that our state needs — it is imperative that we reject it.
Please join us in voting NO on I‑1125 starting later this month. Keep our roads safe, and keep Washington rolling.