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The Illinois Tollway Rate Hike: Ripping the Band-Aid Off Hurts

An 88 percent hike in tollway fares opens up the inevitable frustration. If these sorts of fares rose with inflation like most other things we pay for, politicians could rest a little easier.

Illinois Tollway

 

You’ve no doubt heard about the tollway price hike. It’s a lot of money, an 87.5 percent increase on basic EZ-Pass tolls.

Or maybe it’s not a lot of money: “At 6 cents per mile, the Illinois tollway system would rank in the bottom third among other tollway systems in the country.” (Granted, the different structures of state tollway systems combined with the complexity of how people commute make comparisons difficult.)

Or maybe it’s a reasonable amount of money and wasn’t previously: fees were the equivalent of $1.95 (plus $0.78 at exit ramps) in 1958, $1.10 in 1980 ($0.41 at exit ramps).

Or maybe it is a lot of money: “The 35-cent toll increase would cost an extra $150 to $200 a year for the average user, he said.”

It’s inarguable, though, that it will inevitably be a lot of money when you adjust for nearly two decades’ worth of inflation all at once. It reminds me of what happened with the parking meter debacle:

For much of the past decade the meters have brought in about $20 million a year, costing $3 million to $4 million a year to maintain. But as the economy began to cool in fall 2007, the administration proposed a series of fee and tax hikes for the next year’s budget. Among them was a doubling of parking meter rates: in documents released publicly in October 2007, city officials predicted the hike would boost meter revenues from about $22 million in 2007 to $56 million in 2008. Aldermen protested that the increase would be bad for business.

The administration eventually pulled it off the table, but it wasn’t the victory for the common man that it might have seemed at the time. The proposal now looks a lot like a maneuver by the city to boost the value of the meters while persuading aldermen it would be better to let a private company raise the rates and take the heat.

What’s heat? The Trib article on the rate hike is pushing 500 comments, almost all angry, and their non-scientific online poll is 87 percent against.

If pols would be willing to accept minor political pain on a more frequent basis, they could save themselves a lot more pain in the future.

Related: Richard Wronski has a good primer on the tolls; Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog makes a good argument about why massive increases in driving-related fees are a bad idea. Yes, it would be good if people drove less; yes, taxes can be used to stop people from doing things when they don’t need to; but then the people who end up shouldering the burden are the people who have to drive.

 

Photograph: The Two Dimension Collection (CC by 2.0)

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