Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Motoring Migranes

If you're feeling sharp, stabbing pains in your wallet each time you plunge that gas nozzle into the family sedan, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Get ready for more motoring migranes.

The Metropolitan Tranportation Authority, those downtown bureaucrats whose stewardship of public transportation equates the Titanic's safety record, is developing plans for toll roads within the next three years.

The concept is called "congestion pricing" and what it means is that if you don't want to feel your life ebbing away on some gridlocked freeway, you'll fork over extra bucks to use less crowded lanes. And the toll will rise based on the amount of traffic.

In Orange County, the plan is already at work. The 91 Express Lane, a 10-mile stretch, will nick you for anywhere from $1.15 to $9.50, depending on the hour.
Let' see, 10 bucks a day during rush hour, five days a week...that could add up to a hefty piece of change over a few months time.

Of course, you could take a bus. But the MTA just approved a hefty boost in bus rates over the loud objections of its most loyal customers, working class citizens who depend on public transportation. Those who can afford to drive will get priced out of life in the fast lane.

If all of this strikes you as fundamentally unfair, since the gas taxes you pay build the roads on which you travel, you may have a very good point.
The Automobile Club, for one, agrees.

"We feel it will be a form of double taxation to charge people for the roads they have already paid for by gas taxes," Hamid Bahadori, principal transportation engineer for the Automobile Club of Southern California, said in a published interview. "Rather than trying to restrict access, they had better start delivering on the projects."

And if you have trouble understaning how charging extra will reduce congestion, try to connect these dots.

"At some point, we have to reduce the number of single-passenger automobiles if we want to reduce gridlock in L.A. County," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a master of understatement.

How do we do it? Try to get people to drive less during peak hours by making it expensive. Or behavior modification through taxation, something to mull as we celebrate the Fourth of July.

But wait, there's more.

Up in Sacramento, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is floating a plan that would cost California motorists, farmers and boaters an estimated $130 million per year to fund alternative-fuel research and other clean air programs.

The bill comes less than one year after lawmakers passed legislation to aggressively cut the state's greenhouse gases in an attempt to curb global warming. That effort will fail if "we as government don't do something to help jump-start the alternative fuels market," said Nunez, D-Los Angeles.

Jump start the alternative fuels market?

The University of California was selected earlier this year for a $500-million grant meant for funding research and development of alternatives to petroleum-based fuel, sponsored by global energy conglomerate British Petroleum.

University of California at Davis researchers recently received up to $25 million in funding from Chevron Corp. to spend the next five years developing clean and affordable, renewable transportation fuels from farm and forest residues, urban wastes and crops grown specifically for energy.

A $125-million grant for California's research effort for bioenergy was awarded last month by the U.S. Department of Energy to fund a collaborative effort in California to develop alternative energy sources from plant materials.

Against this backdrop, Fabian has decided to pass the hat.

But, hey, what the heck, as long as were tapping our 401ks for gas and toll roads, let's get into the change jar and bankroll alternative fuels.

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