The Truth About Cars » Taxes The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Taxes Auto Sales In Turkey Fall 8 Percent In January Thu, 06 Feb 2014 15:39:02 +0000 2014 Renault Fluence

Vehicle sales in Turkey fell 8 percent in January to 32,670 vehicles from the previous high of 35,523 units in January 2013 according to national industry group Otomotiv Distribütörleri Derneği and Automotive News.

Sales for the outgoing year rose 10 percent to 856,378 units from 777,761 in 2012.

ODD predicts sales of 800,000 to 860,000 units moved from the showroom to the road in 2014, but warns a tax hike on passenger vehicles and banking regulations meant to curb the growth of Turkey’s current account deficit would put a dent on the forecast.

Turkey’s market could be in for more losses as a wave of bearishness on the health of emerging markets has become the predominant model of thinking among financial observers. Turkey in particular was expected to be a bright spot in the automotive world once the BRIC markets had matured.


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Foreigners May Pay Toll to Storm the Autobahn Tue, 10 Dec 2013 12:00:10 +0000 autobahn

If you happen to live outside of Germany, you may soon find yourself paying a toll to do your best Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise impressions on the Autobahn.

The reason? While residents living in the nine countries surrounding Germany make extensive use of the Autobahn in their travels, the Germans are left footing the bill for maintenance on the famous infrastructure. Since foreigners don’t pay taxes to Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government has opted to enact a toll aimed at non-German citizens in order to share responsibilities.

The plan has detractors, of course, ranging from Austria’s transport minister Dores Bures threatening to take Germany to the European Court of Justice over the toll, to German auto club ADAC stating that even the potential revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all the Autobahn’s maintenance costs.

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House Democrat Introduces Bill to Raise Federal Gasoline Tax by 15 Cents Per Gallon Fri, 06 Dec 2013 11:00:48 +0000 htf

Federal taxes on highway fuels haven’t been raised in 20 years. Because of inflation and better fuel economy, the Highway Trust Fund, into which those taxes flow and out of which transportation funding is dispersed, faces a shortfall. Standing next to labor, construction and business leaders, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) announced that he has introduced legislation that would raise the federal tax on gas to 33.4 cents per gallon and on diesel to 42.8 cents.

“Every credible independent report indicates that we are not meeting the demands of our stressed and decaying infrastructure system — roads, bridges and transit,” Blumenauer said. “Congress hasn’t dealt seriously with the funding issue for 20 years,” the congressman continued. “With inflation and increased fuel efficiency, especially for some types of vehicles, there is no longer a good relationship between what road users pay and how much they benefit. The average motorist is paying about half as much per mile as they did in 1993.”

The American Automobile Association supports the proposal. “Though it would be easier to simply kick the can down the road, today’s proposed legislation takes a necessary step forward in fostering debate on an important issue that many policymakers have been reluctant to address,” said Kathleen Bower, vice president of public affairs for AAA. “The country desperately needs additional funding for infrastructure and, for the moment, there is no better means than the fuel tax. The proposed increase is well overdue and in line with what most experts suggest would be appropriate.”

While states levy their own fuel taxes, about half of transportation funding in the U.S. comes from the federal government. The trust fund no longer brings in enough money to cover its obligations so to fund the federal transportation bill currently in effect, which expires in 2014, Congress had to move more than $50 billion in general tax revenue into the fund. Estimates cited by Rep. Blumenauer say that the trust fund will need $15 billion more each year if Congress decides to keep funding at current levels in the next transportation bill. He said that implementing a $0.15/gal tax over three years would raise approximately $170 billion in the next decade.

If the fuel taxes are not increased, Congress will have to choose between cutting transportation funding at the federal level and moving that tax burden to the states, or funding the Highway Trust Fund with general tax revenue.

The American Society of Civil Engineers said last month that the U.S. needs a $2.7 trillion investment in transportation and other infrastructure by 2020 to keep the United States competitive in the global economy. The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that just to keep our current infrastructure safe, highways and bridges will need more than $70.9 billion worth of repairs.

In the Senate, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has proposed changing the way taxes are levied on fuel, moving the tax to the wholesale level rather than at the pump.

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The bell tolls over Seattle, but not for most commuters Thu, 17 Oct 2013 10:30:48 +0000 520_sunset510

It would appear as though the price of admission to traverse the longest floating bridge in the world on a daily basis has had quite the impact on commuting patterns in Seattle. A study to be issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation this week – barring another tragicomic display by the powers that be, of course – has uncovered that use of the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge – Evergreen Point (colloquially known as the 520 floating bridge) has gone down by half since tolling began near the end of 2011.

The tolls, ranging from $0 for late-night and early morning travelers, to $5.25 for those rush-hour commuters who prefer to pay the man by mail, have caused 9 out of 10 drivers to find another path to work and play across Lake Washington. The majority of those avoiding the toll have annual incomes of $50,000 and under, while those making $200,000 and above (and are no doubt enjoying the more open road) pay little if any mind to being tolled.

On the upside, more commuters are using mass transit due to the tolls – which were enacted as one of the five DOT demonstration projects under their $1 billion Urban Partnerships Congestion Initiative – with around 45 percent preferring to “ride the wave” than drown in a congestion pricing tsunami.

The information provided by the study will be considered by Olympia, Wash.’s best and brightest this week as they debate on whether to set tolls upon the other two floating bridges (both carrying east- and westbound traffic on I-90) over Lake Washington to help fund the construction of the 520’s replacement, set to open in 2014.

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The Mileage Tax Cometh: The State Giveth, The State Taketh Away Mon, 10 Jun 2013 12:50:57 +0000  


“Hybrid and electric cars are sparing the environment. Critics say they’re hurting the roads,” writes Bloomberg. “The popularity of these fuel-efficient vehicles is being blamed for a drop in gasoline taxes that pay for local highway and bridge maintenance, with three states enacting rules to make up the losses with added fees on the cars and at least five others weighing similar legislation.”

According to Arizona state Senator Steve Farley, a Democrat who wrote a bill to tax electric cars, “the intent is that people who use the roads pay for them. Just because we have somebody who is getting out of doing it because they have an alternative form of fuel, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay for the roads.

State and local gas-tax revenue has declined every year since 2004, falling 7 percent to $37.9 billion in 2010, this according to inflation-adjusted data from the allegedly nonpartisan research group. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

That, however, is not the fault of hybrids and EVs. The market share of hybrids is pretty much stuck at around 3 percent, Hybridcars says. The market share of electric vehicles, which generate no gas tax at all, is close to unobservable, pure EVs and plug-ins together hold half a percent of the American pie.

What is true is that sales-weighted MPG of all new automobiles bought and sold in the U.S. os steadily going up. In October 2007, the index stood at 24.7 MPG. In May, all cars sold had an average CAFE rating of 30 MPG.

This is declared national policy, and automakers are working hard to meet the policy. State tax revenue becomes collateral damage.

Farley’s proposed anti-EV tax is a mileage tax. His bill wants one cent per mile driven on Arizona highways by “a vehicle that is propelled by a motor that is powered by electrical energy from rechargeable batteries or another source on the vehicle or from an external source in, on or above the street and that is not capable of being powered by motor vehicle fuel or use fuel.”

Of course, it is highly unfair to levy a mileage tax on a plug-in only. When the systems are in place to track the handful of plug-in in Arizona, and which most likely will cost more than the tax it generates, a mileage tax for all cars is sure to follow.

In New Jersey, Democratic State Senator Jim Whelan proposed a similar bill to tax cars by mile driven. The cars would be tracked by GPS. Facing criticism, he now proposes that “owners of alternative-fuel vehicles would be charged an annual fee – about $50 per year, though that is not final” as The Atlantic City Press says.

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How To Avoid Brazilian Car Taxes: Build A Factory. Or A Few Sat, 12 Nov 2011 15:19:31 +0000

The Brazilian government must have borrowed several chapters from Vladimir Putin’s playbook on industrial policy. Reuters has it that the Brazilians are using the same strong-arm tactic as Russia: Invest heavily in-country and steep taxes on imported cars will go away. Don’t invest in Brazil and kiss your bunda adeus.

Brazil’s government had hiked the sales  tax on motor vehicles from 7 percent to 25 percent (depending on horsepower)  to between 37 percent and 55 percent. This does not apply to cars with at least 65 percent domestic content. The law, originally planned to go into effect in October, was delayed by the supreme court until December, ruling that a law needs 90 days to take effect.

Now Brazilian media reports that foreign automakers committed to installing factories in Brazil can also get around the tax, even on cars that are imported.

Many carmakers, from China’s JAC Motors to luxury brands BMW and Land Rover have discussed or announced new factories in Brazil.  Analysts see Brazil to become the world’s third largest car  market by 2015, kicking Japan off the podium. Speaking of Japan, its government plans to report Brazil to the WTO, Brazilian press says (via Bloomberg).



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Washington: More Anti-Camera Initiatives to Come Thu, 10 Nov 2011 15:11:01 +0000

Washington State ballot initiative guru Tim Eyman vowed Wednesday to put even more pressure on municipalities he sees as dependent on automated ticketing revenue. Eyman is feeling good after voters on Tuesday rejected cameras by comfortable margins in three of three contests on Tuesday. Larger jurisdictions are now in his sights.

“For us, it’s full steam ahead,” Eyman told TheNewspaper. “I’m gung-ho to do a couple more cities and keep the ball rolling. I’ve never found a more effective way to lobby the legislature than to say, ‘You either do it, or we’re just going to pick you off one city at a time.’”

Last year, 71 percent of voters in Mukilteo approved a measure outlawing cameras. On Tuesday, 65 percent of the voters in Bellingham, 65 percent in Monroe and 59 percent in Longview felt the same way. Local politicians in some jurisdictions are starting to realize the public is not on their side. Last week, Redmond’s city council voted 7-0 to allow its red light camera contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to expire on January 31, 2012.

“Collision data indicate that the impact of traffic safety cameras on collisions in Redmond is inconclusive,” Police Chief Ron Gibson wrote in a memo to the city council.

Voters in Redmond had submitted a valid petition to order the issue placed on the ballot earlier this year, but ATS convinced a judge to block citizens from petitioning their government, even in an advisory-only vote. Lawsuits on the issue remain pending from the county court level all the way up to the state supreme court. The ongoing litigation is racking up substantial legal bills for the municipalities that decided to fight the citizens’ initiatives in court. In Longview, legal costs have nearly exhausted the city’s share of the profit generated by cameras.

“If I don’t get a Christmas card from Stoel Rives law firm, which is representing several of the cities, I’m going to be hurt,” Eyman said.

In most cases, efforts to block initiatives have backfired showing an unseemly coordination between the private vendors and municipalities. Groups like Campaign for Liberty, which co-sponsored the anti-camera initiatives, are using the votes to convince lawmakers in Olympia to repeal the authorization they gave to photo enforcement.

“There’s just no other way to uncover how sleazy the companies are and how unpopular the cameras are than doing these citizens’ initiatives,” Eyman said.

An ATS executive lost his job after he was caught acting as a “sock puppet” posting pro-camera comments on online forums as if he were a local resident. In Lynnwood, emails were released showing police officials sought to do favors for ATS in hopes of landing a lucrative job with the firm. City councilmen like Ted Heikel, the primary defender of cameras in Lynnwood, lost his seat Tuesday.

“If you’re a politician in bed with the red light camera companies, it’s bad for your political career,” Eyman said. “It’s making all the pro-camera politicians look bad.”


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Chicago, Illinois Speed Camera Plan Could Dwarf Red Light Revenue Tue, 08 Nov 2011 15:18:21 +0000

Sixty-one million dollars a year is a lot of money. That is the revenue Chicago’s red light camera program program generated in 2010. Based on reports from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), a proposed speed camera enforcement program being pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) would make the city’s red light camera program look penny ante in comparison.

The Expired Meter obtained the results of three studies conducted by CDOT over the past few years which shed light on how lucrative the speed camera business could be for Chicago. Data from these reports seem to indicate that revenue from speed cameras could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for a desperate, cash-strapped city.

Emanuel is pushing legislation through the Illinois General Assembly at breakneck speed, which, if passed, would allow Chicago to utilize its red light cameras to also issue $100 speeding ticket to vehicle owners accused of exceeding the speed limit by more than 5 MPH in designated “safety zones” within an eighth of a mile of schools, parks and colleges.

As the basis for the automated speed camera program, the mayor along with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard all pointed to a study which claimed over 25 percent of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit at seven intersections.

Mayor Emanuel says “I hope I get no revenue from this.” CDOT chief Gabe Klein claims the goal is just to get drivers to slow down. Whether or not pedestrian safety is improved and the lives of children are saved may be unanswerable questions. However, if the data from these speed enforcement studies are to be believed, one thing that can be determined is that speed cameras will generate significant revenue for the City of Chicago.

CDOT’s Spring Speed Enforcement Study

CDOT conducted a study of seven approaches at intersections with red light cameras to document the number of cars speeding through those locations over a two month period this past spring from April 1 through May 31st.

An approach by definition is just one leg of an intersection. Most intersections have four approaches, one for each direction. Although as Chicago drivers know, the city has a handful of six-approach intersections. Typically, intersections with red light camera enforcement have at least two approaches with cameras and in rare occasions three.

The study monitored the speed of vehicles only during weekdays from 6am to 11am and then from noon until 4pm. During the nine hours per day over the course of 43 days, cameras recorded 1,418,797 vehicles passing through the seven approaches.

While the city’s report said nearly 26 percent of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit, only 9 percent — or 131,034 vehicles — exceeded it by the 5 MPH threshold. In other words, if speed cameras were enforcing during this two-month period, 131,034 drivers would have been issued tickets totaling $13.1 million in fines.

Revenue Could Reach Hundreds Of Millions

While a hefty amount of cash, the revenue picture gets even brighter for Chicago when you apply the currently proposed hours and days of enforcement to the city’s study. The current version of the speed enforcement bill would allow Chicago to have speed camera enforcement seven days a week from 6am until midnight — 18 hours a day — not the paltry nine hours during weekdays the study covered.

Extrapolating the numbers provided in CDOT’s study, based on 48 violations per hour per approach, each camera would produce 864 violations a day or 25,920 citations and potential fines of $2.6 million for the first month. All seven cameras would produce an estimated 181,440 speeding citations or $18 million for that month.

Projecting future revenues is slightly more challenging, as estimates must take into consideration the effect of camera enforcement on driver behavior. The assumption is motorists would alter behavior with the knowledge that enforcement is occurring. Of course, after a few $100 tickets in the mail, people will learn the camera locations, brake before passing them, and violations will decrease over time — but never completely disappear.

Using CDOT’s red light camera violations in 2010 as a model, monthly totals for red light running can be seen to be dropping by an average of 5.3 percent per month for the last seven months of that year after CDOT stopped adding more cameras to the program.

Applying a regression to the mean to the projected initial numbers, the first twelve months of enforcement where fines would be issued, from just these seven locations would still produce 1,503,311 speed violations or $150 million in fines — a dollar amount that far exceeds the total revenue generated by the all 382 red light cameras every year. The numbers were discounted by 6 percent every month as violations will fall over time.

As further context, the city issued 767,603 total red light camera citations in 2010, close to half of what these the seven cameras in CDOT’s study are estimated to produce. In even broader terms, CDOT confirms 79 intersections or 158 cameras would fall within a school or park “safety zone” to qualify for speed enforcement under the current bill.

Without more traffic data at the 79 intersections in question, it would be difficult to produce an accurate estimate of what kind of revenue speed cameras could produce. But based on Chicago’s own numbers, it is safe to say hundreds of millions of dollars could be generated per year by a speed enforcement program of this magnitude.

“It’s blatantly about revenue,” said camera opponent Brian Costin. “They’re using kids to generate revenue.”

Costin, who works for the Illinois Policy Institute, helped bring down suburban Schaumburg’s red light camera program a few years ago. He believes Chicago has a questionable record when it comes to traffic safety and is worried how far the program would expand.

“I am gravely concerned when the city of Chicago says they’re doing something to improve traffic safety,” says Costin. “Their track record it horrible. You can tell it’s not really about safety when you look at the hours of operation (proposed hours of enforcement) are not during just school hours but when most people drive to maximize revenue.”

2006 Study Shows Speeding Violations Would Far Outpace red light camera Tickets

CDOT did two previous studies back in 2006 and 2008 where they found that speeding violations documented by red light cameras far exceeded red light violations. In 2006, one red light camera at the intersection of Kedzie and 79th documented speeding seven days a week, 24 hours a day for a three month period from January 10th through April 9th. Over that three month period, the camera issued 398 red light camera violations, but caught 13,995 drivers exceeding the speed limit according to the report from CDOT. That breaks down to 35 speeding violations for every one red light camera violation. This report did not break down speeding incidents by how fast the vehicle exceeded the speed limit, so it is impossible to tell how many vehicles exceeded the 5 MPH threshold to earn a $100 fine.

Another study done in 2008 monitored two Southside intersections on Western Ave. with speed cameras between September 30th and October 25, documenting speeding from 6am to 6pm. This study paints an even uglier picture as 23 percent of the 85,231 vehicles detected over the course of the study, or 19,660 of drivers were driving 5 MPH over the speed limit.

While the debate on whether a speed enforcement program will improve pedestrian safety will continue, it’s safe to say Mayor Emanuel could tap a revenue stream that could speed the city out of debt. Multiple calls and emails to CDOT for comment over the past week by The Expired Meter were not returned.

Detailed coverage of Chicago motoring issues can be found at The Expired Meter.


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Argentina: Want To Sell Porsches? Export Our Wine And Olives Fri, 04 Nov 2011 15:20:36 +0000

With a 35% import tax on new cars, Argentina is already a touch market for foreign brands seeking to bring cars into the country. But the Argentinean government has just made it  little bit harder by demanding that importers export an equal amount of Argentina-made goods for every car imported. As a result, Bloomberg reports that Porsche’s importer is exporting Malbec wines and olives, Mitsubishi’s importer is getting into the peanut export game, and Subaru’s representative is shipping chicken feed to Chile. BMW, which has had recent difficulties importing into Argentina, is focusing on its core business, exporting auto parts and upholstery… and a little processed rice to make up the difference. But why are these major manufacturers getting into all kinds of strange side businesses just because Argentina wants to improve its trade balance and foreign currency reserves? Simple: Argentina is South America’s second-largest economy, and it’s been growing at over 5% per year since 2007 (i.e. when other markets were shrinking). So if the government wants imports balanced with exports, well, Porsche’s importer is just going to have to get into the wine business, isn’t he?

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Georgia HOT Lanes Create Congestion, Disappointment Wed, 19 Oct 2011 14:03:39 +0000

Georgia’s introduction of high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Interstate 85 at the beginning of the month has already turned into a public relations disaster. During rush hour, motorists found themselves stranded in the general purpose lanes as the adjacent HOT lane — constructed and maintained with their tax dollars — were essentially unused. Drivers balked at paying the stiff $5.40 entrance tax for permission to enter, leaving the existing lane space to go to waste. Governor Nathan Deal (R) intervened swiftly on October 6 to order the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) to lower the cost of using the toll lane.

“Looking at what we’ve learned from our first four work days with the HOT lanes, I’ve asked SRTA to improve utilization of the express lanes,” Deal said in a statement. “In the short term, the toll rate will lower — starting with Thursday afternoon’s commute — but the effective rate will continue to change to regulate speed and volume.”

The HOT lanes idea was hailed from the start as an important advance in the region’s transportation network. Using $110 million in federal gas tax dollars, a system of gantries was set up requiring drivers to install an electronic transponder, called the Peach Pass, if they wished to pay to use a 15-mile stretch of the freeway that previously had been set aside as a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV), free for the use of anyone carrying an extra passenger in his vehicle. The change to the HOT format was hailed as a proven concept.

“The opening of the I-85 Express Lanes will represent a new era in transportation innovation,” SRTA Executive Director Gena L. Evans, said on September 16.

After the project actually opened for business, motorist Howard Rodgers quickly racked up more than 1500 electronic and hardcopy signatures on a petition calling for a halt to the HOT lanes.

“By removing the existing HOV lane for use as a toll lane the state has created daily traffic jams and backlogs causing greater pollution, increased travel times, and an extra tax on the citizens of Gwinnett County and points north during times of economic decline,” the petition states. “The adjustable toll system amounts to a monopoly on the travel lane requiring customer to pay a higher surcharge (price gouging) for the ability to arrive to or from work in a timely manner.”

Deal forced state officials to ask the Federal Highway Administration for permission to allow vehicles with two, as opposed to three, people on board to use the express lanes for free. I-85 is not the only HOT lane to fail. In Washington State, the State Route 167 HOT lanes are on their third year in operation. According to the third-quarter financial results, it cost $173,939 more in toll collection expenses to operate the lanes than was generated in revenue in fiscal 2011.


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Report Knocks “Big Battery” Plug-In Subsidies, Will The DOE Notice? Wed, 28 Sep 2011 16:42:11 +0000

The main tool for the government’s crusade to get one million plug-in cars on the road by 2015 is the “Qualified Plug-In Electric Vehicle Tax Credit,” a credit that returns between $2,500 and $7,500 to purchasers of a qualifying vehicle. To qualify for the minimum $2,500 credit, a vehicle must have a traction battery with a minimum of four kW/h, and the credit adds an additional $417 in credits for every kW/h above the minimum. Why? Well, you might think that it’s because the DOE has done its research and determined that larger battery packs deliver more social benefits… at least until the 16kW/h limit (the exact size of the Chevy Volt’s battery), where the credit tops out at $7,500. But according to new research by Carnegie Mellon’s Jeremy Michalek, that basic assumption doesn’t appear to be true at all. In fact, his latest paper argues that the government would actually be better off subsidizing smaller, not larger, battery packs.

In an in-depth evaluation [PDF] of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), large-battery EVs, smaller-battery EVs, Hybrids and conventional cars, Michalek and his colleagues found that

Current subsidies intended to encourage sales of plug-in vehicles with large capacity battery packs exceed our externality estimates considerably, and taxes that optimally correct for externality damages would not close the gap in ownership cost. In contrast, HEVs and PHEVs with small battery packs reduce externality damages at low (or no) additional cost over their lifetime. Although large battery packs allow vehicles to travel longer distances using electricity instead of gasoline, large packs are more expensive, heavier, and more emissions intensive to produce, with lower utilization factors, greater charging infrastructure requirements, and life-cycle implications that are more sensitive to uncertain, time-sensitive, and location-specific factors. To reduce air emission and oil dependency impacts from passenger vehicles, strategies to promote adoption of HEVs and PHEVs with small battery packs offer more social benefits per dollar spent.

Back in 2009, Michalek made the core of this argument in an interview with Spectrum Magazine

Spectrum: So if you have to make a choice—big or small batteries for plug-in hybrids—which is best?

JM: From what we’ve found, if you have a higher-capacity plug-in, something like the Volt, it could lower greenhouse-gas emissions for some drivers, but that comes at a cost that wouldn’t be paid back by fuel savings. A $100-a-ton carbon tax doesn’t even do it.

On the other hand, a driver who is able to charge frequently would do well to buy a small-capacity plug-in. This person might not care at all about the environment or about the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, yet he or she would still benefit from buying such a vehicle.

Places where the economic, environmental, and national-security objectives are all well aligned—that’s where you’d want to break in a new technology. I would say to carmakers, go after those people. And to consumers: Buy small, charge often.

The Volt would be the poster-boy for Michalek’s critique: it has the minimum battery size needed to claim the full $7,500 tax credit, and yet its creators admit that it was developed for a consumer use profile rather than ultimate efficiency. Whether the Volt was developed to exactly hit the government’s kW/h credit limit, or if the limit was tailored to the Volt isn’t clear… but what is clear is that incentivizing smaller batteries will do more per dollar spent to displace oil. As Michalek tells Bloomberg

It’s not that large battery packs are bad, it’s that they are not providing as many benefits per dollar. Ordinary hybrids increase fuel economy substantially, and the incremental cost of those systems is getting relatively small.

Meanwhile, the timing of this report is very interesting: Reuters reports that the DOE is about to reveal its own research into EV incentives, and will be pushing to spend more money on Obama’s goal of putting a million EVs on the road.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is due to unveil the results of a major review of research spending on Tuesday, one that could shift research dollars away from clean electricity and biofuels toward electric vehicles and modernizing the power grid.

The first-ever “Quadrennial Technology Review” prioritizes research that can be commercialized within 10 years, and research that could make a substantial dent in oil use and greenhouse gas production in the next two decades.

But will the DOE’s renewed push for EV proliferation reflect the sober analysis of scientists like Michelak, or will they be more wink-nudge games, in which the industry sets the policy agenda? After all, there are already plenty of reasons for the industry to keep electrified automobiles in a high-price ghetto, and the government has thus far been more than happy to play along with that game. But if this country is serious about reducing oil dependence, plug-in technology needs to be proliferated in the most efficient way possible. That means fewer handouts to luxury EV firms like Fisker and Tesla, and a more rational approach to consumer subsidies, as outlined by Michelak.

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Massachusetts: Supreme Court Approves Charging Innocent Ticket Recipients Thu, 22 Sep 2011 14:31:25 +0000

Motorists issued a traffic ticket in Massachusetts will have to pay money to the state whether or not they committed the alleged crime. According to a state supreme court ruling handed down yesterday, fees are to be imposed even on those found completely innocent. The high court saw no injustice in collecting $70 from Ralph C. Sullivan after he successfully fought a $100 ticket for failure to stay within a marked lane.

Bay State drivers given speeding tickets and other moving violations have twenty days either to pay up or make a non-refundable $20 payment to appeal to a clerk-magistrate. After that, further challenge to a district court judge can be had for a non-refundable payment of $50. Sullivan argued that motorists were being forced to pay “fees” not assessed on other types of violations, including drug possession. He argued this was a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause, but the high court justices found this to be reasonable.

“We conclude that there is a rational basis for requiring those cited for a noncriminal motor vehicle infraction alone to pay a filing fee and not requiring a filing fee for those contesting other types of civil violations,” Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote for the court. “Where the legislature provides greater process that imposes greater demands on the resources of the District Court, it is rational for the legislature to impose filing fees, waivable where a litigant is indigent, to offset part of the additional cost of these judicial proceedings.”

The court insisted that allowing a hearing before a clerk-magistrate instead of an assistant clerk, as well as allowing a de novo hearing before a judge constituted benefits that justified the cost. Last year, the fees for the clerk-magistrate hearings generated $3,678,620 in revenue for the courts. Although Sullivan raised the issue of due process during oral argument, the court would not rule on the merits of that issue.

“I am disappointed that the SJC did not consider my due process argument,” Sullivan told TheNewspaper. “I suppose that some other driver who gets charged with a moving violation will need to consider doing that. At least this decision will give them a blueprint for a focused due process argument.”

Sullivan, an attorney, is not planning on further appeal to the US Supreme Court.

“While the decision did not go my way, I am safe in the knowledge that I gave it my best shot,” Sullivan said. “I took on this case because I felt that it was the right thing to do.”

Source: Salem Police Department v. Sullivan (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 9/21/2011)


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Arizona: Federal Judge Overrules Legislature on Transit Subsidies Thu, 08 Sep 2011 14:32:18 +0000

Arizona must subsidize those who ride on buses, vans and light rail, regardless of the desire of state lawmakers or voters to do otherwise. US District Court Judge David G. Campbell on Friday overturned a state law enacted in March last year to curtail excessive spending by slashing such subsidies. The legislature canceled the Local Transportation Assistance Fund, which had doled out $127 million in taxpayer cash since 1998 to various mass transit programs using funds from the Powerball lottery.

A group of left-wing activists in Maricopa County filed a “citizens’ lawsuit” under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to get that money back. The federal law allowing such suits also requires certain areas of the country file “state implementation plans” (SIP) outlining what steps they would take to meet stringent air quality standards. These plans must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which allows a narrow set of mitigation strategies that give a high priority to so-called “mass transit” programs, even when these programs do not actually move a large number of people.

For example, Arizona funnels public money into privately run van service companies, counties, municipalities and Indian tribes under the federally authorized Section 5310 mass transit program. The grants provide capital funds for the purchase of vehicles that are used mostly to provide subsidized transport for people over the age of sixty. The University of Arizona received one of these grants through Pima County to buy three golf carts in 2008. Bullhead City offers complimentary paratransit service with 15 percent of its senior citizen passengers boarding at the Laughlin Casino Resort.

“Defendants assert that this lawsuit has no significance to air quality or transit services in the Phoenix area,” Judge Campbell wrote. “But the advisability of requiring lottery funding for transit, or other policy considerations that went into the SIP, are not for this court to decide.”

Campbell’s order effectively nullified House Bill 2012, which had repealed the Local Transportation Assistance Fund. He also ordered the state to provide up to $18 million in funding each year to such programs.

“This circuit has made clear that provisions of an EPA-approved SIP are federally enforceable in district court through the CAA’s citizen suit provision,” Campbell ruled. “Absent prior approval from the EPA, the Arizona legislature lacked authority to repeal the portions of A.R.S. Section 5-522(A) that are included in the SIP, and that the legislature’s attempt to do so therefore is null and void and the lottery funding requirement included in the SIP remains in full force and effect.”

A copy of the ruling is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below. Pictured: a van purchased by the Apache Junction Parks and Recreation department using LTAF funding.

Source: PDF File Paisley v. Darwin (US District Court, Arizona, 9/2/2011)


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Desperate Photo Enforcement Firms Sue Cities Fri, 05 Aug 2011 14:01:14 +0000

Companies that operate red light cameras and speed cameras are facing increasing opposition across the country. In response, the firms have adopted a strategy of suing cities that have second thoughts about continuing to use cameras in their community. They have also been going after their own customers to collect as much revenue as possible.

On December 1, Redflex filed suit against Tempe, Arizona in Maricopa county Superior Court claiming the city owed $1.3 million in per-ticket fees for each driver mailed a photo ticket who decided to go to traffic school. The city claims it only collected $1.8 million in revenue from the program, mostly because last year’s payment rate was just 31 percent. Drivers realize in increasing numbers that tickets in the state can be ignored unless they are properly served.

City officials reacted angrily to the Redflex move. On July 19, the photo ticketing operation was shutdown after a 4-3 city council vote earlier that month refused to renew the contract with Redflex. The company explained its hardball tactics in a February 25 report to shareholders on the Australian Securities Exchange.

“As a result of the macro economic challenges facing the US market throughout 2010, and the current politically challenging times, new contract executions have declined,” the Redflex report stated. “This financial year, Redflex has focused its efforts on strengthening its business model through tighter contract language, (and) more aggressive collection efforts in key markets.”

The main competitor to Redflex, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), has likewise been feeling the marketplace squeeze. Most recently, Los Angeles, California just terminated its red light camera program, costing the company millions. ATS lashed out at San Bernardino after its city council voted unanimously in March to cancel its photo ticketing contract with ATS before the 2014 expiration date. In an April letter, Police Chief Keith L. Kilmer offered to pay ATS CEO James Tuton $175,000 in accordance with Section 4.4 of the contract governing cancellation fees. ATS insisted that it will not allow San Bernardino to get out of the contract.

“The termination/cancellation fee is inapplicable here because Section 4.4 specifically provides for a termination and cancellation fee only ‘in the event of termination due to a breach by the municipality,’” ATS attorney Vanessa Soriano Power wrote in a May 4 letter to the city. “Thus, Section 4.4 applies only where ATS elects to terminate the agreement.”

ATS insists that San Bernardino must pay $1,896,202.05 to end photo ticketing.


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California Cuts Green Car Incentive In Half Sat, 23 Jul 2011 17:31:39 +0000

California has backed up its strict emissions standards for years now with a $5,000 tax credit for electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, which when combined with a $7,000 federal tax credit can often make those vehicles nearly as affordable as “regular” cars. But, reports Automotive News [sub], that state credit has fallen victim to California’s budget woes and oversubscription, and has been cut in half from $5,000 to $2,500. According to the report:

high demand exhausted the program’s funding last month. The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that about 500 consumers who bought electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Roadster are on a waiting list and will collect the $2,500 rebate.

To deal with growing demand, the pool of money to fund the rebates was increased to between $15 million and $21 million for CARB’s current fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, according to CARB’s announcement. A total of $11.1 million was allocated in the program’s first two years, according to CARB spokeswoman Mary Fricke.

The increased cash pool and lowered rebate amount are aimed at making the incentive available to more consumers, according to CARB’s Web site. The changes are projected to fund about 6,000 rebates for consumers who apply for the program on a first-come basis, Fricke said.

Now California “green car” intenders not only get a reduced tax credit, but they also don’t get free access to the HOV lane anymore. It’s almost as if California wants “green” vehicles to succeed or fail on their own terms…

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Pennsylvania Court Hides Free Rides for Toll Collectors Thu, 21 Jul 2011 13:40:42 +0000

Public employees can take rides on toll roads at taxpayer expense, but these trips are not subject to disclosure according to a ruling Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. A three-judge panel denied the freedom of information request of the Harrisburg Patriot-News for E-ZPass transponder usage information data by for employees of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. On October 21 the paper sought details on the 2000 toll collectors who do not pay for use of the road, regardless of whether the travel was job related.

“I am requesting information in Excel format that details employee usage of Pennsylvania Turnpike since Jan. 3, 2010,” bureau chief Jan Murphy wrote to the commission. “I would like to know how many employees there are and how many have E-ZPass transponders assigned to them. Of those employees with commission-approved transponders, I am requesting their names, their positions with the commission, and a record of their usage of the turnpike including identifying the interchanges where they enter and exit the turnpike and the times and dates of travel. If this would cost more than $100, please notify me in advance.”

The commission immediately denied the request, citing Pennsylvania’s motorist privacy statute which offers substantially more protection than other states for tolling information. The data is specifically exempt from the right-to-know law and is not even “discoverable by court order.” States like California allow lawyers to obtain toll road usage records for use in divorce proceedings.

The Patriot-News appealed the commission’s refusal to the state Office of Open Records, arguing the privacy law was meant to protect the general public, not to shield government employees from disclosure of their employment benefits. The Office of Open Records on December 1 decided that the turnpike must turn over the job titles of those with free transponders and toll road usage records by those transponders so long as the names of the employees involved were redacted. The commission appealed the decision and the Commonwealth Court sided with the toll road.

“All of the information specified in section 8117(d) of the Transportation Act is exempt from disclosure, and the exemption includes vehicle movement records,” Judge Patricia A. McCullough ruled. “While requester did not use the term ‘vehicle movement records’ in her request, she did seek a record of the employees’ usage of the turnpike, including identifying the interchanges where they enter and exit the turnpike and the times and dates of travel. The term ‘vehicle movement records’ is not defined by the Transportation Act. Nevertheless, we can perceive of no other types of records which would fit within a definition of this term other than the type sought by requester herein.”

The request for the job titles of free account holders was denied because the commission insisted it maintained no documents containing that information. A copy of the ruling is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission v. Murphy (Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, 7/19/2011)


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Washington: Initiative Measure Targets Toll Roads Wed, 20 Jul 2011 14:01:21 +0000

Voters in Washington state will decide in November whether to slow down the state’s push toward tolling. Initiative 1125 prohibits lawmakers from diverting toll road revenue and other levies on motorists toward non-transportation purposes. It also forces politicians to vote directly on any toll hikes.

“If there’s going to be tolls, there has to be accountability and transparency,” initiative co-sponsor Tim Eyman of Voters Want More Choices wrote in an email. “It’s simply not too much to ask for taxpayers who are being forced to pay twice for their roadway infrastructure (the highest gas tax in the nation and tolls) that the legislature be required to follow the law and abide by the Constitution.”

The 18th Amendment to the state Constitution requires all gas tax and other highway fees to be “used exclusively for highway purposes.” State officials are currently planning to divert the revenue from tolling Interstate 90 to underwrite the Highway 520 bridge project.

“When tolls lose their connection to the project they’re paying for, they stop being tolls and they become just another tax,” Eyman said.

Voters have already endorsed limitations on the use of toll revenue. Last year, 64 percent approved Initiative 1053, which required elected legislators to take a recorded vote before raising taxes and fees. The state legislature, however, decided to undermine the vote by punting responsibility for the hikes to an unelected transportation commission.

“Special interest groups and politicians don’t want an open debate on this,” Eyman explained. “They prefer cutting backroom deals and keeping the voters in the dark about what they’re doing. With I-1125, the public will learn about what’s going on and get the chance to weigh in in a meaningful way.”

Under the proposal, no revenue in the motor vehicle fund or toll fund could be used for non-transportation purposes. Road lanes paid for with tolls or gas taxes could not be taken away from motorists and used for bicycle lanes or mass transit. Tolls on a given road may only fund improvements to that road, and the tolls must end once the cost of construction is paid in full.

A total of 327,043 voters signed a petition turned in earlier this month to qualify the measure for the ballot. The text of I-1125 is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Initiative Measure Number 1125 (Washington State Voters, 1/20/2011)


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Massachusetts Court Denies Meaningful Right to Contest Parking Tickets Fri, 15 Jul 2011 14:03:28 +0000

The highest court in Massachusetts believes there is no due process problem with charging motorists $300 to challenge a $5 or $15 parking ticket. On Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the appeal procedures in the city of Northampton satisfied constitutional requirements even though motorists were denied an in-person hearing to contest the legitimacy of a citation. The city only allowed people either to pay the fine in full or send “a signed statement explaining his objections.”

Motorists Vincent Gillespie and Edward Hamel became two of the first people ever to go to the great expense of challenging tickets received in 2005. The non-refundable fee to appeal is $300, which the court keeps even if the driver is found innocent. Gillespie and Hamel lined up the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Motorists Association (NMA) to help argue that having a city parking clerk make the final determination on ticket challenges violates their right to an impartial hearing.

“Parking ticket receipts play an important part in a municipality’s budget,” ACLU attorney William C. Newman argued. “A parking clerk therefore has a responsibility to raise through parking tickets the money budgeted for him or her to collect.”

Attorney General Martha Coakley defended Northampton, arguing that fees for access to courts were reasonable. The NMA disagreed.

“There is no such thing as a ‘reasonable non-refundable fee’ to exercise the right to defend one’s self in a legitimate court of law,” NMA attorney John Holevoet wrote in an amicus brief. “The right to defend one’s self is fundamental to due process and must be unfettered, or as stated in the Massachusetts Constitution, ‘freely’ provided.”

The high court dismissed the ACLU and NMA arguments, insisting the concern about the lack of impartiality of the parking clerk was entirely speculative. With the usual parking fine topping out at about $100, the court found an accused motorist has plenty of protection for a very small property interest because mistakes are rare.

“The risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest is rather low,” Justice Robert J. Cordy wrote for the court. “Where the citation of illegally parked vehicles is susceptible to human error (i.e., a marked sign fell down or a meter was misread), [the city's appeal process] provides ample procedural rights to minimize the risk…. Municipalities issue millions of parking citations annually, and the fiscal and administrative burdens of additional or substitute procedural requirements would be overwhelming.”

The high court also has a case pending on the high fees charged for drivers wishing to appeal speeding tickets. The court described a comparison of parking and moving violation tickets as “apples-to-oranges” suggesting a ruling in the next case could have a different outcome.

Source: Gillespie v. City of Northampton (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 7/14/2011)


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Washington: Anti-Camera Group to Shame City Council Thu, 30 Jun 2011 12:43:10 +0000

Opponents of automated ticketing machines in Monroe, Washington have turned to a new tactic in battling a city council that refuses to give up the use of red light cameras and speed cameras. Instead of engaging the city and a wealthy traffic camera company in a costly legal battle, the group decided Wednesday to shame the council at every election until officials follow the public will.

Nearly two out of every three active voters in the city signed a petition calling for a vote on ending the use of photo enforcement. Earlier this month the Snohomish County auditor determined this measure qualified for the ballot, but the city council on Tuesday unanimously voted to ignore the petition despite a state law requiring the council either to adopt the proposal as written or submit it to voters.

The level of voter support for the petition is similar to that found in Mukilteo last year where 71 percent ultimately voted to ban cameras. Traffic camera companies American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia realize the only way to save their programs is to file lawsuits to block the vote from happening — a practice that the state supreme court is currently reviewing. Monroe officials decided to side with the Redflex/ATS strategy.

“You made a huge mistake suing your own citizens rather than listening to them,” initiative sponsors Brian Kohn, Nick Sherwood, Alex Rion and Tim Eyman wrote to the city council yesterday. “The people of Monroe deserve a public vote now, not later. And their decision should be implemented. You are elected to represent the people, not rule over them. We will continue to fight for the rights of the two-thirds of active voters who signed on to a public vote and we will not stop until they get it.”

The new initiative sets up a non-binding advisory vote to be held at every primary and general election scheduled between 2012 and 2013. If approved, the language presented on the ballot would take a dig at the council each time.

“We, the citizens of Monroe, advise the mayor and city council to immediately remove the automatic ticketing cameras in Monroe city limits and immediately repeal any ordinance authorizing the cameras,” Monroe Initiative Number Two states. “The passage of this advisory vote proposition means the people reject the cameras and want them removed right away. The voters want the mayor and city council to employ the same zeal and determination they displayed when they sued their own citizens and utilize their lawyers to find every way possible to get out of the contract with the red-light camera company and if necessary, to pay off the company now so the cameras can be removed immediately. Shall this advisory measure be approved or rejected?”

The advisory votes would be discontinued once the cameras were removed from the city limits. The back page of each petition includes photos of each city councilman and the mayor with the caption: “Refused to let the people vote / Representing red light camera companies, not Monroe’s citizens.”


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Decision Overturning Houston Anti-Camera Referendum Appealed Wed, 29 Jun 2011 12:52:57 +0000

The battle over the Houston, Texas red light camera program returned to the legal spotlight Monday. A majority of voters agreed with Francis M. Kubosh and Randall Kubosh in November that the automated ticketing machines should be removed, but a federal judge intervened earlier this month and overturned the election (view ruling). The Kuboshes filed a reply brief with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Monday seeking to restore the result of the public vote.

“The issues are important to the electorate of the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston, where a 52.8 percent majority voted ‘No’ to a ballot proposition hand-crafted by the city attorney, approved by the mayor, and ratified by all but one member of the city council,” wrote David Allen Furlow, attorney for the Kuboshes. “The outcome of this case will affect the complex web of relationships among municipal governments, their citizens, and private contractors throughout Texas and the nation.”

The Kuboshes argue that US District Judge Lynn N. Hughes erred as a matter of law by agreeing to the pretense of having the city of Houston, which supports cameras, sue American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which operates cameras, as if there were an actual dispute between the two. Hughes, who has served on the bench for 25 years with Judge David Hittner, agreed within 48 hours to hear a request for a restraining order to keep the ATS cameras up filed on behalf of Judge Hittner’s son, ATS General Counsel George Hittner. Hughes set a hearing on the matter for the day after Thanksgiving in a lightning move designed to exclude the initiative sponsors, who were never notified. During the proceedings, Hughes did not hide his true feelings.

“So, the essence of the popular revolt was people in Houston want to run red lights,” Judge Hughes said on November 26, according to the record. “I mean, the highway department has cameras up and down the freeways and on some side streets.”

Hughes accordingly denied a motion by the Kuboshes requesting to intervene in the case, the order which the Kuboshes now appeal. Hughes only allowed the Kuboshes to file amicus briefs in the case, denying them the right to object to evidence and make arguments and motions without the leave of the court. Under Texas law, courts must permit the intervention of a qualified voter to defend a measure election in an election contest.

“Here, the city has lost a case it purports, falsely, to ‘zealously defend,’ enabling it to continue pocketing $10 million in annual red light camera revenues its mayor does not want to lose,” Furlow wrote. “Because the city waived the statutory and constitutional defenses appellants preserved, no one but appellants can defend the Proposition 3 election they petitioned for, organized, funded with $200,000 of their family’s money, and won at the polls. Only appellants can protect their and their fellow citizens’ constitutional and statutory right to reform city government through charter amendment elections.”

ATS and Houston’s city attorney are now arguing together that the case that invalidated the election was merely a contract dispute to which the Kuboshes were not a party.


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AB 529: California’s Red Light Revenue Raid Tue, 21 Jun 2011 13:27:04 +0000

Not satisfied with impoverishing residents and unwary visitors with $500 automated tickets for being a tenth of a second late at a light, California’s legislators are moving a new bill allowing cities to reduce many posted speed limits by 5 mph. The lower limits will, in turn, allow them to shorten yellow lights, which will produce more red light camera tickets (four of the sponsoring cities have red light cameras).

And how many more tickets you ask? The shortening permitted by a 5 mph decrease in the posted limit will increase the number of tickets by an estimated 50% at least. Worse, the shortening will increase severe accidents, by an estimated 30%. (If you are wondering why the accident rate increases less than does the number of violations, it is because most of the severe intersection accidents occur multiple seconds after the light has gone red, involving a driver who has failed to see the red light, at all, because he is impaired by a medical condition, liquor, or drugs.)

Assembly Bill 529, by Assemblymember Michael Gatto (Glendale), is moving through Sacramento fast, with a critical hearing scheduled soon [latest version and tracking here].

If this bill passes in California, other states will likely follow suit. If you are concerned, phone your state legislators, as soon as you see this. It takes no more than a couple minutes per call. And then if you have more time, phone your auto club and ask them to oppose this bill – or anything like it in your state.

The bill in detail:

Every seven to ten years the city traffic engineer goes out to the street and uses a radar gun to measure the speed of 100 cars. Then he discards the 15 fastest cars. The speed of the fastest car remaining is the “85th percentile speed.” (AB 529 does not change this part of the survey process.)

Under present law, the engineer then rounds the 85th percentile speed to the nearest 5 mph increment, which can be up or down depending upon what the 85th percentile was found to be. That 5 mph increment becomes the posted speed limit, unless the engineer is able to cite a dangerous road condition that would not be visible to a driver (Cal. Vehicle Code Sec. 627 uses the phrase “conditions not readily apparent to the driver”), such as a higher-than-average accident rate or a hidden driveway. If the street is a dangerous one, the engineer can lower the posted limit to the next-lower 5 mph increment. Thus, an 85th of 33 or 34, normally posted as 35, can be lowered to 30 if there is a hidden danger or a high accident rate.

If AB 529 passes, no longer will the engineer be required to round to the nearest 5 mph increment. He will be allowed to round down, anytime he wishes, even if the street is a safe one; He will not need to cite a dangerous condition as justification. Thus, the speed limit on any (and potentially every) street having an 85th of 33 or 34 could be lowered from 35 down to 30 – even where there is a very low incidence of accidents. The same would apply to every street having an 85th of 38 or 39; The speed limit could be lowered from 40 down to 35.

[Courtesy: An editor of]

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Senate Proposal Would Suspend Federal Gas Tax Fri, 20 May 2011 13:47:59 +0000

The average price of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.96 this week, an increase of 38 percent over the same time last year. US Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) on Tuesday proposed to temporarily reduce that cost by 18.4 cent cents by suspending the federal gas tax. Under the freshman lawmaker’s plan, the highway trust fund would be replenished by reducing payments made to foreign governments.

“Let’s have a gas tax holiday,” Paul said in a floor speech. “Let’s take the money from foreign aid and let’s give it back to the American people who worked hard to earn it…. That would help people, that would lower the price of gasoline and that would be a stimulus to the economy.”

A four-month suspension would cost about $10 billion, about as much as the US spends on monetary assistance overseas. Paul blasted Senate Democrats for attempting to impose financial penalties on the five largest petroleum firms, which earned record profits last year, as a means of reducing the price at the pump.

“Their solution is to raise taxes on oil companies,” Paul said. “Do you know what taxes are? Taxes are simply a cost. If you run a business and I raise your costs, you’ll raise your prices. So let’s see, prices are too high, so we’re going to raise the costs which will raise the prices further. It makes absolutely no sense.”

Last year, ExxonMobil’s net income of $30.5 billion was just 8.2 percent of its $370 billion in sales, including all of the firms business ventures beyond oil. Many other industries enjoy much higher profit margins, such as beverage companies, computer equipment suppliers, pharmaceutical companies and the manufacturing sector.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) argued that members of Congress shared the bulk of the blame for the high price of gasoline by running deficits of $1.5 trillion a year. He suggested fiscal restraint as a cost reduction measure.

“Do my colleagues know why oil is expensive today?” Coburn said. “It is because the dollar is on its back and oil is priced in dollars. If we want the price of oil to go down, as it has this week and the tail end of last week, we want the value of the dollar to go up, because the world trades oil in dollars. Why is the dollar down? The dollar is down because an incompetent Congress continues to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t absolutely need. If we want the dollar to improve in value, what we have to do is hold the Congress accountable for doing what they were elected to do, which is live within our means.”


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Feds Moving EV Tax Credits To “Cash For Clunkers” Model Thu, 19 May 2011 17:50:27 +0000

Speaking at Nissan’s Smyrna, TN electric car factory, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood noted that his staff is working with Congress to make federal tax credits for plug-in car purchases available as a rebate on the dealer level, saying

We’d like for people to get a $7,500 rebate on the day they buy the Leaf. We’re doing a lot of talking about it. When you give people that incentive to buy a battery-powered car, they’ll do it. We know these incentives help.

Speaking to Automotive News [sub], LaHood even went as far as to argue that the new direction for the tax credits, which were previously only claimable when filing taxes, would be successful for the reason that it would make the credits more like the Cash For Clunkers program. Apparently LaHood has completely forgotten how riddled with waste, inefficiency, fraud, confusion, delays, unintended consequences and all-purpose madness that program was. And that’s just scraping the surface. Foolish as it is to subsidize vehicles during the “fleecing the early adopters” phase of a new technology rollout (perhaps we should be saving stimulus for the inevitable “trough of disappointment”?), making those credits available at the dealer level is even worse, increasing the hype and incurring C4C-like downsides along the way.


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Missouri Legislature Considers Speed Camera Expansion Thu, 12 May 2011 14:25:51 +0000

Backroom dealing will determine whether speed camera use will become common in Missouri. The General Assembly yesterday agreed to convene a conference committee to iron out differences between House and Senate-passed versions of an omnibus transportation bill that cleared the state Senate on Tuesday. Among the the items up for debate is language that would allow any governmental jurisdiction to set up as many photo radar units as it pleases without any meaningful limitations on use.

“A county, city, town, village, municipality, state agency, or other political subdivision shall only employ the use of automated speed enforcement systems to enforce speeding violations in a school zone, construction zone, work zone, or a MoDOT-Designated Travel Safe Zone,” Senate Amendment No. 11 to House Bill 430 stated.

State Senator Tim Green (D-St. Louis) snuck the legislation through the process by dressing up authorization language in the guise of a “limitation” on photo enforcement. Yet the effect of the language is to give a green light to municipalities to install an unlimited number of speed cameras on any road so long as it has a sign designating it as a “work zone” or a “school zone.” In Maryland, the definition of a school zone is so loose that nearly every road in the state is swept into a school zone, even if the road does not actually connect to a school.

It is no accident that Green’s language would favor the operations of companies like American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the Show Me state’s primary speed camera vendor. In fact, ATS cut Green a $1000 campaign check on October 7. In addition, registered ATS lobbyist William A. Gamble took Green out for free meals on January 12, February 7, February 10, March 10, March 15 and March 17. ATS lobbyist Terry Schlemeier did the same on January 26, February 8, February 15, March 29, according to state ethics records. Lobbyists stand to gain handsomely for encouraging expansion for ATS. As first reported by the Riverfront Times, ATS lobbyists in 2005 were promised a cut of every ticket issued as a reward for establishing cameras in the state. Jay Morris Specter, later imprisoned for fraud, was promised a six percent cut of the ATS proceeds. Super-lobbyist Joyce Aboussie was promised a 3.2 percent share.

Expanding automated ticketing machines in the state is so important to ATS that it has retained a total of eleven lobbyists in Jefferson City in an attempt to convince the legislature to give its approval to the idea of mailing tickets based on photographic evidence. As no such state law exists, systems around the state are highly vulnerable to court challenge. Last year, the state supreme court struck down Springfield’s photo ticketing as illegal, while hinting in footnotes that the justices might look favorably on a broader legal challenge (view opinion).

Once the conference committee reaches an agreement on whether to keep the speed camera provision or not, the entire transportation bill would come up for a final vote under expedited procedures.


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White House Disowns Pay-Per-Mile Tax Plan Fri, 06 May 2011 17:59:35 +0000

Hackles were raised here at TTAC and around the internet this week, when a draft version of the Transportation Opportunity Act circulated, tipping us to the administration’s preference for pay-per-mile road taxation. According to that version of the bill,

section [2218] would establish a Surface Transportation Revenue Alternatives Office within the Federal Highway Administration. The office would analyze the feasibility of implementing a national mileage-based user fee system that would convey prices to users to reflect system use and other travel externalities and serve as a funding source for surface transportation programs.

TTAC has been tracking and criticizing attempts at pay-per-mile taxation (both state and federal) since at least 2007, and because Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had previously come out in support of pay-per-mile road taxes, we weren’t surprised by the TOA’s inclusion of a move towards pay-per-mile. And because the White House smacked LaHood down the last time he praised pay-per-mile, we aren’t all that surprised to find The Hill reporting that the White House is disavowing any interest in pay-per-mile. Spokesfolks explain:

This is not a bill supported by the administration. This was an early working draft proposal that was never formally circulated within the administration, does not take into account the advice of the president’s senior advisers, economic team or Cabinet officials, and does not represent the views of the president

So fear not, Americans opposed to a GPS tracker in every car: the White House has no interest in tracking your every movement. But until such time as a politician finds the cojones to address the highway fund’s shortfall by raising the gas tax, expect pay-per-mile to pop up again and again.

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