Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Because They Can

When a business struggles, it has to find a way to keep up with the competition--for example, retail stores vs. Amazon---else it fails. When a monopolist struggles--for example, electric utilities vs. homeowners' solar panels--it makes some effort to change, then petitions for rate increases that are usually granted. When a government monopolist struggles, it always raises rates.

Four years ago the Golden Gate Bridge District, which at $6 charged the highest toll in the Bay Area, eliminated human toll takers under the guise of cost reduction. We griped:
I'm all for government operating more efficiently, even if that means some jobs will be lost. In this case, however, efficiency means a significantly degraded service, a service which everyone must use because there are no feasible alternatives. Drivers who don't wish to open an account, prepay a toll, or mail in a check have no choice. It's the bureaucrats' bridge, not ours.
We threw in the towel and obtained a FasTrak reader though we cross a toll bridge about once a month. (There's a surcharge if the District takes a picture of your license plate and bills you; there's also a chance you could be caught in red-tape hell.) We keep a $25-$50 credit on FasTrak, which means the authorities have a permanent, interest-free loan from us and hundreds of thousands of drivers.

Of course, none of these actions stopped toll increases: [bold added]
Starting Monday [July 3, 2017], the majority of bridge traffic — two-axle cars — will be charged the increased rate to cross one of the world’s most famous bridges, according to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

A discount will remain on FasTrak electronic passes as an incentive for Bay Area motorists to use them. Under the new rates, FasTrak users will pay $6.75 per crossing.

For those without FasTrak, the bridge’s automatic license plate scanner — which snaps a photo of license plates and mails an invoice, even to out-of-state motorists — will go from $7.50 to $7.75. The toll gates are cashless. The toll hikes were initially approved in February 2014 by the bridge agency’s directors, who said they needed the additional funding to recover from a budget deficit.

Bridge overseers have enacted regular, similarly sized toll increases since then, with annual rate rises scheduled through 2018.
They do it because they can.

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