The technology of revenue enhancement.

In Summer 2007, the New York Times published a story detailing one effect of modern scanning or signaling technology.  In places where the EZPass system had been introduced, tolls went up thirty percent more than they did in places where the old-fashioned wait-in-line-to-pay-cash system still existed.  The explanation for this was that policymakers knew that people were much less aware of the real costs they were paying when using EZPass.  So they wouldn’t get bent out of shape.[1]  At the same time, the use of EZPass systems allows State Departments of Transportation to steadily cut down on the number of toll-takers they employ.  Is there any evidence that the number of toll-takers has fallen with the introduction of EZPass?  Or were they re-directed to other work for the department?  Or do departments just keep as many toll-takers on duty, while raising everyone’s pay out of the additional revenue?

Between 2010 and 2015, the State of Maryland issued 2.35 million citations for speeding in highway construction work zones.  The citations were based on traffic cameras.[2]

The use of the traffic cameras seems to have had some effect on work zone safety.  Work zone collisions and worker deaths are both down compared to the pre-camera period.  Although state officials argue that the cameras are meant to serve an educational purposes as much as an enforcement purpose, there are some curiosities about the law that feed the belief that it is really just a revenue enhancer.  For one thing, the car must be traveling at least 12 miles per hour over the posted limit to be ticketed.  The fine is set at a standard $40, regardless of how fast the vehicle was traveling or how many prior citations have been issued to the vehicle.  Repeat violators can’t lose their license.  Apparently some drivers see the fines as buying a personal license to speed.

With a standard fine of $40 per citation, the state should have accrued $94 million in gross revenue.  Out-of-state violators pay up at a rate of 85 percent.  Maryland violators pay up at a rate of 94 percent.  All in all, the net revenue amounted to $45 million.  This has gone to the Maryland State Police to pay for salaries, vehicles, and equipment.

Is there any pattern in the citations issued?  Scarcely any are issued between 3:00 AM and 5:00 AM, or between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM.  In the former case, there just aren’t many people on the road.  In the latter case, there are too many people on the road, traffic jams keep anyone from speeding.  The numbers rise sharply from 6:00 to 9:00 AM and from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.  So, the morning rush hour as people try to get to work, and the aftermath of the evening ruish hour as the traffic jams start to break up and drivers attempt to make up lost time.  The numbers stay high from 8:00 PM to mid-night, then they drop off sharply.  The really high numbers of tickets issued, however, come between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM.  Who are these people?  Why are they speeding through work zones?  Maybe they’re driving on business, trying to cram in as many appointments as possible.  Maybe they’re travelers trying to get as far as possible in the day by passing through the next city on their route before the traffic jams starts.  Maybe they’ve been driving this speed long before they got to the work zone, the road looks manageable, and they don’t see any reason to slow down.

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 20 July, 2007, p. 18.

[2] Scott Calvert, “Traffic Cameras: Safety Tools or Cash Grabs?” WSJ, 11-12 June 2016.

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