Last Exit Before Toll-Hike Debate

Is that cup half-full or half-empty? The answer is yes, if you compare two newspapers' accounts of a new study forecasting what would happen if ...
January 21, 2008

Is that cup half-full or half-empty? The answer is yes, if you compare two newspapers' accounts of a new study forecasting what would happen if New Jersey raises its highway tolls, as Gov. Jon Corzine wants to do. Both articles cite the same data--showing that something like 20 percent of drivers might avoid the toll roads--from the study. done by a London traffic-consulting firm at Corzine's behest:

Tollbooth

New York Times:

Study Says Drivers Will Use New Jersey Toll Roads Despite Increases

Excerpt: "Most New Jersey drivers would continue using the state's toll roads even if Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposal to raise fees sharply is adopted...."

Newark Star-Ledger:

NJ study: Corzine toll plan will increase local road traffic

Excerpt: "Traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike would fall precipitiously under Gov. Jon Corzine's plan to increase tolls...."

Everything hinges, as you can see, on words like "most" and "precipitously." So the good news for Corzine is that something like 80 percent of motorists will continue to use the toll roads. The good news for opponents of the toll hikes: Something like 20 percent of the motorists will be flooding the local roads. And 100 percent of the forces on both sides of the issue get something they can pound on as the debate unfolds.

Unexamined in either account of the study is the impact of what might be called "the E-ZPass effect." Do drivers equipped with the automatic tolling devices pay much attention to how much they're paying? I certainly don't. As I zip through those express E-ZPass lanes, my thoughts are on how happy I am not to be in those long queues of suckers waiting to pay in cash.

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