Friday, November 1, 2013

Debunking IBTTA’s ‘Toll Every Interstate Campaign’

In my email a few days ago was a press release from the IBTTA, the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association. They represent the folks who operate toll roads and who are very vocal in support of all things tolling and public-private partnerships for roadways.

IBTTA is running a public relations campaign to soften the concept of tolling among lawmakers and in the public eye. They recently set out to “debunk the myths” about tolling, and are making claims such as “tolling is not a tax; it’s a user fee.”

And while we can split hairs over definitions and ways around them, the fact remains that tolls hit the user square in the bottom line.

OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley says that IBTTA’s “debunking” of toll myths need to be debunked. He put his thoughts in writing, and we’ll share them here for the sake of conversation. Thanks to Ryan for debunking the debunkers.

Recently, the pro-tolling community, largely represented by the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), has moved forward with a broad public relations campaign in an attempt to convince policymakers that the solution to our nation’s highway funding challenges is to slap tolls on as many roads as possible, especially our Interstate Highway System. 

Part of their campaign is to put out what they state is factual information to “debunk” myths of highway tolling. As the national trade association representation the interests of independent owner-operators and professional truck drivers on all issues that affect small business truckers, OOIDA wants to take this opportunity to debunk some of the myths about tolling that IBTTA is putting out there as part of its campaign, a campaign whose clear end-goal is to place a toll on every mile of the Interstate Highway System. Further, OOIDA is providing important facts about how tolls affect truckers, especially the small-business truckers who make up more than 90 percent of our nation’s trucking industry.

Fact 1: Truckers generally pay tolls directly out-of-pocket.  Unlike the arrangements most companies have for business travel, for example, truckers do not see direct reimbursement for tolls, as the majority of trucking is based on a pay by-the-mile system. For instance, the $165 toll for a truck to drive from Philadelphia to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border must be paid out of the trucker’s per-mile rate, and there is no guarantee that the trucker will be paid a rate high enough to cover the cost of that toll without further affecting his or her $40,000/year take home pay. This is especially true as most toll roads see overcharging truckers as a way to keep tolls low for local commuters.

Fact 2: Tolling Interstates discourages truckers from using our safest and most efficient highway network.  The Interstate is clearly our nation’s most efficient highway system and its safest.  Adding tolls to current toll-free Interstate lane miles would be disincentives to truckers using this system as they make the rational decision to avoid the toll road and travel on toll-free roads that are not as safe and are not as efficient.

Fact 3: While MAP-21 made significant reforms to ensure that more Highway Trust Fund dollars are dedicated to improving our highway system, there is no guarantee that tolls are reinvested in the highways truckers and other motorists are paying to use. Time and time again, IBTTA members are discovered diverting toll revenues away from the roads and bridges that toll payers assume the tolls they pay are going to maintain and improve. Hundreds of millions of dollars of toll dollars collected by the PA Turnpike Commission are paid to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to fund state-wide transit and road improvements.  The Port Authority of NY/NJ has enacted multiple rounds of toll increases despite the fact that the agency will not show toll payers where these toll increases will go, which is especially concerning given reports that toll dollars are being diverted to the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site.

Fact 4: Truckers recognize the need to maintain our roads and bridges, but tolls are a step backwards in this effort. OOIDA members and other truckers are out on our nation’s highways every day and see the costs of congestion and poor conditions through time and fuel spent in traffic and repair costs to their trucks.  Instead of enacting new taxes on mobility through tolls, policymakers should address the short and long-term challenges of the Federal Highway Trust Fund through modernizing the current fuel tax system and structure.

Fact 5: The collection system for the fuel tax maximizes dollars going into the Highway Trust Fund. The current system used by the IRS for collecting the fuel tax ensures that only a handful of entities actually directly pay the IRS, ensuring that administrative costs are low and that the maximum amount of tax dollars collected go into the Trust Fund for investment in roads and bridges. Even under an electronic tolling system, the tolling authority must track every individual vehicle and ensure they pay the toll, meaning significant back office and collection costs that would only increase if there was an expansion of toll roads.

Looking beyond tolling to the argument that some have made in favor of an mileage-based user fee where road fees would be paid at the fuel pump, such a proposal would make every single truck stop and gas station into an agent of the IRS or state tax authority and require a huge collection bureaucracy to track and collect funds from the more than 250 million vehicles across the country.