Friday, May 23, 2008

Lessons not learned

Our focus this week is on Pennsylvania, their turnpike, their lease proposal and their highway financing.

But whenever you look at a future possible lease, it’s useful to see how it worked out when it was tried before.

Our best example is the Indiana Toll Road. We kept hearing from the state how the private operator wouldn’t let the road run down, wouldn’t let prices get too high, that private business efficiencies would help them run the road better and make a profit.

OOIDA and others said that was balderdash.

Well, guess who had it right? Just ask the truckers. We did, and this is what one of our listeners told us he encountered:

  • Long waits just to pay the toll, to get on or get off the road;
  • Higher-than-ever prices for goods sold at the service areas;
  • Increased toll rates;
  • And even some toll tickets that don’t tell you what you’ll pay while on the road.

What a crock.

There’s no reason for that kind of wait, no reason for that level of prices, no reason for the lack of service, and certainly no reason to expect you to run that toll road without knowing what it will cost you.

I wish we could get that road back in the state’s hands. Before this lease was signed, how long had it been since tolls went up? How bad were the lines?

The fact is, while every other cost in our lives went up during the years the state ran that road, the cost of the tolls was stable. The state ran the road well, maintained it well, lines were not so long, things were OK.

We know that some toll roads have problems. And many folks have pointed to inefficiencies in the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority.

So, here’s how you deal with that: Fix it.

Folks in Pennsylvania's government don’t have the courage to do that. Instead, they figure they can sell the road, get a big wad of cash they can spend to ensure their own political futures, dump the job of fixing turnpike management on a private company with no accountability, and leave the cost to our children and grandchildren.

Privatization won’t fix the problem here. It’s just another way for politicians to avoid their own responsibility for how the government is run.

BMI – a bloody mess, indeed

We reported recently about a proposal that could force hundreds of thousands of truckers to undergo required, annual, expensive medical tests.

Here’s the basic concept: the FMCSA’s medical review board wants to track truckers’ BMI – body mass index – a method of questionable accuracy at best.

Those above a certain body mass index would be required to undergo testing every year for sleep apnea. And those tests can run into the thousands.

If this idea did become the law of the land, then thousands of perfectly safe truckers could be forced off the road.

One of the biggest reasons that this is a bad idea: Muscle weighs more than fat.

I know I’ve said this before, but I can’t say it enough: According to the BMI test, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was Mr. Universe, he was morbidly obese.

And even if these folks are overweight or obese, that doesn’t automatically mean they have apnea or that they’re unsafe.

OOIDA has made truckers’ views on this known. And I think you can count on us to fight this very foolish idea.