For Whom the Toll Tolls, II

“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” Monroe County, Florida’s, commissioners said about adding a toll on U.S. 1 into the Keys.

“Some statutes have changed, tolling mechanisms have changed, a lot of things have changed,” Commissioner Heather Carruthers of Key Weird told the Keynoter. 18-Mile StretchShe introduced a resolution to explore the logistical and legal aspects of a toll at the board meeting on Wednesday. Commissioners endorsed the resolution on a voice vote.

Ms. Carruthers says there are a lot of big-ticket items looming for the Keys and their only recourse is to raise new, um, revenues.

That’s kind of refreshing. Most politicians promise to cut spending when they raise taxes. Our commishes make no such false promises.

Still, riiiight.

In For Whom the Toll Tolls we noted that Monroe County already collects about $700,000 in tolls each year on the Card Sound Bridge and spends about five times that much to keep the bridge up. They are in the midst now of a $2 million “upgrade” to change over from human toll collectors to the Sunpass system.

We can guess that they would install the border crossing^H^H toll booth on a wide spot in the 18-mile stretch that connects Florida City with Key Largo.

FDOT Florida Traffic Online shows 20,500 vehicles traversed the 18-mile stretch on an average day in 2016. At a buck a car (more for boat trailers and 18-wheelers bringing beer) that’s an easy $7.5 million. Ka-ching!

It would cost my neighbor Joe a couple of bucks more to go the Cleveland Clinic.

It would cost Rosie Martin a couple of bucks more to come to work. Rosie is a cashier at Kmart in Marathon. Like many store employees who work in the Keys, she can’t afford to live in the Keys so she commutes from Homestead.

It would cost the Borden Dairy delivery driver more than a couple of bucks extra to get to Walgreens with a truckload of milk. Guess where I get my milk?

And it would cost every tourist a couple of bucks more to visit.

A record 5,466,937 million visitors traveled to the Florida Keys in 2015. About one million of them were day trippers.

What do you bet the toll will have to be two bucks or more?

What do you bet the toll will cut the number of day visitors in half?

I have to put a new roof on my little house, rebuild my seawall, buy flood and wind and fire insurance, and build the not-so-Perfect-Travel-Trailer. A new toll will raise the prices on every bit of material that goes into each of those projects.

I can’t raise taxes or charge a toll on my driveway to cover those looming “big-ticket items.” I guarantee I can’t do them all in a single year, either. Imagine that.

 

The Big Brother Inspection Kerfuffle

My parents helped me buy my first car but that was entirely self-preservation on my mom’s part. See, I had had a Triumph motorcycle. She was driving behind me as we returned from the shop when an oncoming car cut a little into my lane as I drifted a little toward the centerline and just tapped my foot peg a little.

BAM.

It didn’t break my foot. I didn’t drop the bike. It did bend the footrest. And, of course, it proved I was invincible. And immortal. To everyone but my mom.

The long and the short of this story is that not much time passed before I was in a Triumph with four wheels instead of on a Triumph with two.

How Our Car Looks Before InspectionThat first car was a sad, 8-year old Triumph TR-3A with side curtains and a cast iron 1991 cc four-cylinder tractor engine that allegedly produced 100 horsepower, and standard disc brakes. Although it had just 50,000 miles, it was a tired, little car. My dad and I built new side curtains for it using Chuck Weiler’s miracle Hypalon™ fabric. The Standard-Triumph Motor Company sold only 74,800 TR3s in all its flavors. Only some 9,500 of the original 58,000 3As built survive today so I really wish I still had that little car.

But it probably wouldn’t pass inspection in Vermont today.

Speaking of passing, SWMBO got out of state last fall before her “sticker” came due, saving us that $40. It was well and truly expired when she got back, though.

Vermont’s new “Automated Vehicle Inspection Program” (AVIP) has “integrated electronic data collection and management into” the state’s inspection process. Inspection regulations have not changed but drivers may notice fewer inspection garages. And higher prices.

Ya think?

Vermont inspections typically cost between $35 and $50 last year, up from $20-25 a few years ago when the state last forced mechanics to buy new gear, first one OBD-II reader, then another.

Gerald, the neighboring mechanic, gave up the business this year.

“It was too expensive and too intrusive,” he said.

AOL Commissioner Robert Ide expected some of the smaller stations like Gerald’s would throw in the towel.

How Our Car Looks After Inspection“Some” mechanics will need to offset the $1,500-2,000 cost of new equipment, including a tablet computer with a camera to photograph your license plate, VIN plate, underbelly, and any repair that needs to be made, that uploads all that vehicle data to the state. The system will also make the inspection take longer to perform. Mechanics have to charge by the hour.

“I wonder if the data collected includes the onboard GPS readout,” my friend Dean “Dino” Russell mused. Dino is a roofer here in the middle Keys. Dancing about on roofs all his life has made him the most physically fit man in the Home Depot; it also gives him an overview of the conspiracies of everyday life.

“No, it doesn’t,” Mr. Ide said.

Motorists will be able to access their own vehicle’s inspection history and the history of other vehicles, identified by the Vehicle Identification Number. Only vehicle information relative to safety and emissions inspections will be made available.

“Uh oh,” said Dino.

Vermont contracted Parsons Corp., a huge engineering services firm out in Pasadena, to provide the equipment, networking, maintenance and support, and a technical support hotline for Vermont mechanics. Parsons is the sole suppler for ruggedized tablets and auxiliary stuff like printers. The inspection stations are required to pay $1,624 for each tablet, additional for other hardware, plus a small fixed fee for each inspection. How much the entire contract costs the state was not immediately available.

“Yeah, sure. Competitive bids with a governmental RFQ, so they know they will pay too much,” Dino said. “And there is a ‘street price’ so the bids will all be close enough to choose the ‘right’ vendor.”

The average age of the cars and trucks we drive has risen once again, now to now 11.6 years, as we keep them longer and longer. My (topless)(white) car is 17-years old. SWMBO’s “new” car celebrated its tenth birthday last fall. Registrations for light vehicles in operation in the U.S. hit a record 264 million.

“I wonder if the state is just flush and wants to share with a favorite business, kind of like the Exchange debacle, or if there’s a bigger motive,” Dino wondered.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Like a back door ‘clunker’ program.”

G. Stone Motors does say the new Inspection program “will eliminate older vehicles.”

The cars and trucks we drive are better made than my Triumph was. Back then, that 8-year old car with was 50,000 miles was down to its last owner before getting recycled into washing machines. Last year, I sold my now-17-year old white truck to a neighbor when it had almost three times that mileage. Some rust. Runs good. He drives it to Daytona every other weekend. Pulling a trailer.

Nobody’s talking about how to inspect that TR-3A but I did learn that “the manufacturer or distributor of each device or lens designed to control lights on motor vehicles shall apply to the commissioner for his approval of the use of such device or lens in” Vermont. I doubt anyone has done that for a now-70-year-old British sports car.

SWMBO’s now-10-year-old American sedan passed.

$65.

For the record, Florida has no vehicle inspection. A fellow I know in Big Pine drives a 1910 Oakland Model 25 every day. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.