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Breakfast links: Tough talk

Photo by sagesnow on Flickr.
Privatize the ICC? Huh?: One Maryland delegate wants to study "privatizing" the ICC. It's not clear what that means, since the tolls are already supposed to be market rate. Maybe he just thinks "privatize" is a magic word that creates more money? (Gazette)

New rules for big buses: DDOT is proposing new rules regulating intercity curbside bus services as well as chartered tour buses, that will require companies to register pick-up and drop-off points. The proposal is open for public comment. (Post)

Parking priorities: John Kelly spends a day in parking ticket court. Some people got some unfair tickets, while others feel quite entitled about parking. "It's not about the money" might as well be the new "with liberty and justice, for all." (Post)

Education center & more for Ward 7: A new early childhood education center, DC's equivalent of the Harlem Children's Zone, will be part of a mixed-use complex that will include a bridge to the Minnesota Avenue Metro. (Housing Complex)

Gray pushes to keep solar promises: Mayor Gray introduced a bill to follow through on promised payments to the people who installed solar panels but then were told the might not get their rebates. (Michael Neibauer)

Transit demand will rise with gas prices: APTA estimates between 600 million and 1.5 billion new transit trips next year, depending how high gas prices rise. Of course, APTA's not exactly an unbiased party, but we saw the same trend in 2008. (WTOP)

I'm an environmentalist but... around the nation: What do Park Slope, Cape Cod and Berkeley have in common? Some of their generally very liberal residents nonetheless oppose green policies. DC's closest analogue is probably Klingle Valley. (NYT)

BART, a derailment and transparency: A BART train suffered a minor derailment yesterday, but rather than downplay the incident, the agency posted continuous updates, thoroughly explained and filmed the re-railing process. (BART, Matt')

And...: MARC's Penn Line starts a new schedule today with more, slightly shorter trains. (Post) ... Dull though it may seem, more open government data begets useful tools for public. (NYT via Transit Wire) ... Washingtonians celebrated St. Patrick's Day on the Mall this weekend. (City Paper)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 


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One Maryland delegate wants to study "privatizing" the ICC.

Translation: sell it to our new Spanish overlords. :)

Actually, I like this new trend. Sell our infrastructure resources to a foreign company--that way they can manage them without being affected by day-to-day politics. It's clear we can't govern ourselves in a mature fashion. Why not bring in corporate overlords to do it for us?

As an added bonus, it's the easiest way to staunch the massive subsidy from urban to rural areas in this country.

by oboe on Mar 14, 2011 9:14 am • linkreport

I don't know if I'd call those people "entitled" in that parking ticket piece. Irrational, maybe, but not entitled. None appears to say they had a right to park there without a ticket, they just all have their own excuses for why they had to let the meter run out or whatever. They're irrational because even if they get the ticket thrown out, they're still paying $22.50 for court costs.

The biggest message I get from that WaPo piece is that MoCo throws out tickets really easily. If I were a MoCo resident, that would kind of piss me off. The law should be consistently applied and if the county needs the revenue from parking tickets, they should get it from every scofflaw, not just those that make the rational decision not to waste a day at court.

by TM on Mar 14, 2011 9:18 am • linkreport

Any chance, we will be able to use E-Zpass for parking (like they do at the Pittsburgh airport - see link below). Some of the frustration is wanting to pay for what you use, but the difficulty of doing so when you don't know how long your errands will be.

by MW on Mar 14, 2011 9:19 am • linkreport

I vaguely remember DDOT coming up with some intercity bus proposals a few years back; not sure what happened to them. And with the awful bus crash in NYC this weekend, perhaps it's time for much more careful oversight of the "Chinatown" buses and their drivers.

Re: the parking court story - It's not an issue of entitlement, as much as it's the annoyance of the - literal - nickle and diming people for money via meters without making meters more useful to people who aren't lugging around several pounds of coins in their pockets. And sure people will try to get out of paying their ticket by trying to explain away the circumstances; just like we see people on here explaining away why cyclists/pedestrians/drivers can ignore laws they don't like or that aren't practical.That's not "entitlement"; that's human nature.

How about a link to Jerry O'Connell's story in today's Post on Jack Evans wanting food trucks to pay sales tax? I imagine the folks selling the soggy Eisenhower-administration era hot dogs aren't going to be too keen on that idea. Not to mention how the heck DC's Tax Office will keep track of who's paid the taxes and who's cheating; in a mostly all-cash business, cheating is pretty easy. And with the Harriet Walters decade-long scam, it's pretty clear our tax officials aren't exactly on top of their game.

by Fritz on Mar 14, 2011 9:20 am • linkreport

@ Fritz,

I saw that article and think it is high time for it. I've always thought DC was "giving away the farm" with that ridiculous $1,500 fee in lieu of sales tax, but it has only been made more evident by the arrival of high priced street vendors and food trucks selling ~$18 dollar lunches.

Basically, the District currently has 1130 permitted street vendors, and only takes in an embarrasing 1.7 million a year in permit fees from them. That would work if the combined yearly gross revenue from the 1,130 permitted street vendors was only $17 million, but we all know that is far off the mark.

I think it will be easier to track then you give credit for. Every food truck I've seen accepts credit, many of the teeshirt/knicknack vendors as well. I've only seen a few hot dog carts that did so there will likely be some shenanigans there.

And lastly...condsidering the bulk of these vendors aren't DC residents or incorporated in the District anyway and take their profits home to VA, MD and NY, I think making them pay regular sales tax is only the first step. A BID tax to support the neighborhoods that they thrive in and trash is only fair as well.

by freely on Mar 14, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

I'm not sure Klingle Valley is the best example because the issue there is whether the road should be solely for bikes/peds or also for vehicles, plus there are plenty of environmentalists on the other side who want a hike/bike trail, and finally the folks with Klingle in their back yard *want* a bike/hike trail--it's people further away who want it as a auto road.

If you want a recent example, look at the ANC3D vote against a bike lane on New Mexico Avenue.

by ah on Mar 14, 2011 9:51 am • linkreport

Privatization has always been about getting a short term splash of cash at the expense of longer term revenues.

We warned them that the ICC was too expensive, over borrowed and would adversely effect transportation projects for a long time. But to sell the ICC at a huge loss (assumption) and let someone else profit it from it seems to be a worse decision then building the ICC itself.

by Barry Childress on Mar 14, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

Another great example of the green NIMBYism are the folks who live in Tenleytown and Friendship Heights who are all for compact transit oriented development and density around Metro stations, as long as they are around someone else's Metro stations.

by William on Mar 14, 2011 10:15 am • linkreport

to sell the ICC at a huge loss (assumption) and let someone else profit it from it seems to be a worse decision then building the ICC itself.

I think that depends. The question is whether MD is going to sell it at a loss, and let someone else profit from it, or lease(?) it after spending a massive amount of money, and let someone else hemorrhage money managing it.

It's not clear whether MD *can* make a profit by managing the ICC. And if it's being managed by a third-party, they can make all the difficult decisions that the state government can't or won't.

by oboe on Mar 14, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

The coverage of the BART train derailment on their own website certainly is potentially interesting. I'd like to see a side-by-side comparison, however. Also, I think you'd also want to compare media coverage of the two incidents to get a more complete picture of how BART and its resident society compare to Metro and its society. I wonder if BART can get away with more transparency because people complain less in the Bay Area than they would around here.

by Josh S on Mar 14, 2011 10:29 am • linkreport

I've lately been very supportive of the concept of privatizing highways: I don't believe that my tax dollars should be spent building them, and unlike, say, healthcare or education, I do think that highways could benefit from the so-called 'invisible hand' of a free market. Since highways would only be built where it's possible to recover the costs of buying the land (almost certainly impossible in the urban core), building them, and maintaining them.
I do think that there are some obvious and strict regulations necessary, for example that the highways be of a high enough maintenance level that an ambulance could drive on one unimpeded, and that emergency vehicles be given free reign, but the state could easily enforce these by refusing access to normal roads.
Basically, I think that if they were to sell the ICC, especially if they sell it for enough money, it might very well be reverted to other, more productive, land use, like crackhouses or a minefield or something.

by Shahar Goldin on Mar 14, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

Selling or "privatizing" a multibillion dollar road a month after the first phase of it opened and before the billions it cost have been paid back is just asinine.

Tolled roads are like printing machines.

To sacrifice 3 or 4 billion dollars of revenue over 50 years so the state can get a one time payment of a billion dollars which would just be used to fill a budget hole for the year, while simultaneously losing control of the road is beyond dumb.

by freely on Mar 14, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

BTW, what is a "market rate" for a toll road? There's not a well developed market for roads, since most are free. Does it mean "whatever the market will bear"? The ICC has a monopoly over that stretch of road, although on the other hand it faces subsidized competition from all the free roads that run a similar route.

by ah on Mar 14, 2011 11:12 am • linkreport

@ah: similar to parking, there's an optimum capacity for roads, it occurs when the traffic is moving at about 45 MPH. If you allow more cars to drive, then the speed quickly deteriorates and the amount of vehicles per hour decreases.

Theoretically, you could adjust your prices to keep the road flowing just a bit more freely than this critical point.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 14, 2011 11:31 am • linkreport

oboe & freely - It's very clear that Maryland will NOT make a profit on the ICC. As initially planned, the tolls were to repay about a third of the construction cost. The plan (which was endorsed by all the rural legislators who are sure to complain when it happens) is that the rest of the cost will be paid by raising tolls on I-95, the Bay Bridge, and other Maryland toll facilities.

The tolls are being set to maximize revenue rather than, as promised, to carry as many cars as possible without becoming congested. Yet the revenue projections have not changed.

Given the low traffic reported since the road opened, the revenue projections may even turn out to be overoptimistic. If gas prices stay high, people will drive less than assumed in the projections. (The COG traffic model used when the road was approved was calibrated to measurements made when the price of gas was a dollar and change.) This will disproportionately reduce driving on toll roads like the ICC for which there are free alternatives - people will switch from the toll road to the free road if the free road becomes less congested.

by Ben Ross on Mar 14, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

@Michael - That may be an optimum rate from a traffic flow perspective but that's not necessarily a "market" rate or even a monopoly rate.

by ah on Mar 14, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport


Again with this "short term" mentality. It all depends on the length of time. I saw the WaPo article from late last year outlining the toll structure and that said they wouldn't "pay" for the costs.

Well, won't pay the entire cost of the road back during the duration of the 25 year bonds, but assuming that the toll revenue stays static from their proposed ~60 million a year in revenue and doesn't ever increase or adjust for inflation, the road will be completely paid for in just under 42 years.

Of course, we know that the tolls will be, at a minimum indexed with inflation and that the toll you pay today will not be the unadjusted toll you will pay in 2053.

Realistically, the road will be paid for in ~30-35 years and every dollar after that will be gravy.

EVERY toll road I know of makes money, hand over fist. Sure, they may not break even during our short attention spans, but they do eventually. Dulles Greenway, Toll Road machines.

by freely on Mar 14, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

freely - Are you assuming zero interest rate? That's not a realistic assumption.

by Ben Ross on Mar 14, 2011 12:40 pm • linkreport

@Ben, to be fair, it's too early to be making conclusions about ICC usage. In no small part because there's only one segment open and said segment does not connect to I-95 yet.

by Froggie on Mar 14, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

Froggie - I agree it's too early to draw conclusions about ICC usage. The real issue is the price of gas. Suppose gas goes to $5 or $6. It seems to me that the free alternatives would become significantly less congested and there would be a real hit to the ICC's revenues. It's possible that there would be a lesser but significant effect at $3.50 or $4 too.

BTW, this is a much worse problem for the Virginia HOT lanes and the I-95 toll lanes north of Baltimore than it is for the ICC, since the free alternative to those roads is a direct substitute.

by Ben Ross on Mar 14, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

@BenRoss; interesting point about gas prices.

You can argue both ways -- higher gas prices means people will place a much higher value on free and open roads. 30 miles on the street for me means two gallons of gas vs. one on a highway. at $5/g gas that could be worth a lot.

Not sure I see the free alternative to the MD 95 Toll lanes besides the shun-pike on 1.

But excellent point on the Virginia lanes. I suspect Transurban isn't including that. And also on the beltway lanes, which really make almost no sense to me.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

I also see gas prices increasing my likelihood to take the ICC. At some point it will work out that the money saved via better highway gas mileage, will equal the ICC toll cost. At that point I would always take the ICC since its saves time too.

From someone who takes the back way quite often I think people underestimate how much the ICC will be used. Going the back way is a horrible experience. Well worth $4 each way to avoid.

by Matt R on Mar 14, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

Matt - There are plenty of trips (example, Gaithersburg to College Park) where the Beltway is a very good alternative to the ICC if it isn't congested. These are the trips that I'd expect to shift off the ICC if the Beltway becomes more congested (or, more realistically, is congested for fewer hours).

Charlie - I'm talking about the express toll lanes now under construction on I-95 around White Marsh, which will have free lanes next to them. Not the toll road farther north.

by Ben Ross on Mar 14, 2011 2:03 pm • linkreport

Oops - I meant to say "becomes less congested"

by Ben Ross on Mar 14, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

In theory, private oversight of infrastructure like roads would encourage market pricing of a currently underpriced commodity, and more creative management of public space down the line. However, as currently practiced it's just a money grab that actually enshrines existing poor practices. Instead of adopting a long-term, performance-based view of the asset, these contracts are usually just a way to maximize the initial payout to fill today's budget holes, with little regard for the public interest over the long run. As such, losses get socialized and gains get privatized -- the same moral hazard problem of bank bailouts -- since the private party often demands compensation from any government "action" that hurts their revenues. In the case of a toll road, that could conceivably even include increasing parallel bus service or raising gas taxes.

On a state level, such a deal would actually exacerbate the leakage of value from urban to rural areas; I would bet that the initial proceeds from a privatization deal will be spent on statewide budget problems, not targeted to either infrastructure or to the urban/suburban areas that will pay most of the toll revenues. On a prima facie basis, it doesn't make sense to hand over control to a private entity, either: even with muni bond markets kind of stuck right now, governments can borrow cheaper and use lower discount rates than private firms can.

A well structured private management deal -- where a private operator bids against the state agency to manage the asset, and only gets paid out of any cost savings achieved -- could work well in the long run, but I doubt that's what Delegate Fisher has in mind.

Also, I'm with Freely on making food trucks pay BID taxes -- or even a surcharge, since they rarely provide for their own disposal needs. Level playing field, guys. More public markets (called "hawker centres" in Southeast Asia, or food courts here) would provide cheap street food that actually has a vested interest in our neighborhoods.

by Payton on Mar 14, 2011 6:49 pm • linkreport

Re: Well, won't pay the entire cost of the road back during the duration of the 25 year bonds, but assuming that the toll revenue stays static from their proposed ~60 million a year in revenue and doesn't ever increase or adjust for inflation, the road will be completely paid for in just under 42 years.

What's the latest prediction for the end of "cheep" gas? 50 years?

by Barry Childress on Mar 15, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

@Barry Childress:

First it depends on what you mean by "cheap", and secondly, no one really knows.

If Saudi Arabia can't double its output, there's not much hope that worldwide oil production can increase very much either. In the end, it turns out that everything hinges on Saudi Arabia. (

And then there's this:

"Al-Husseini disagrees with this analysis, believing Aramco's reserves are overstated by as much as 300bn barrels. In his view once 50% of original proven reserves has been reached … a steady output in decline will ensue and no amount of effort will be able to stop it. He believes that what will result is a plateau in total output that will last approximately 15 years followed by decreasing output."

by oboe on Mar 15, 2011 10:21 am • linkreport

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