El Paso toll road still being subsidized by taxpayers

Link to article here.

We’ve learned that higher than expected traffic on a toll road does NOT mean it’s operating in the black. Until you look at each toll road’s traffic and revenue projections, all of these puff pieces pushed out but he press are more akin to propaganda than truth. Every toll road has a ramp up period where it operates int eh red. The Austin toll system is expected to operate in the red for the entire life of the bond debt - it’s being annually bailed out by you and I the taxpayer. So don’t buy the soundbites in the press - we’re all paying to bail out these toll projects…

César Chávez Border Highway toll road sees increased users, toll tags still underutilized
By Aaron Martinez / El Paso Times

The number of transactions on the César Chávez Border Highway toll lane has continued to increase since it opened in January, but most motorists are not using toll tags, officials said Thursday.

So far, about 153,246 transactions have been recorded, officials said. Of that number, 37,394 were with toll tags, the rest were with the pay-by-mail option in which a motorist is mailed the fee.

"Pay-by-mail statistics are well above the (expected) numbers and really driving the initial transactions," said Clayton Howe, project director at Atkins Global at the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority monthly meeting. "I think a part of that is because it is still very new to the area, people are very new to toll lanes in the El Paso region. They are learning about this and they are still learning about the value of the toll tags."

Atkin Global is a company, working with the authority on the border highway toll roads, that helps create and manage lane implementations including toll roads.

When the toll road, which stretches 8.9 miles on the border highway between U.S. 54 and the Zaragoza Port of Entry, opened on Jan. 10, about 471 toll tags were issued to motorists in the first month. The number dropped to 172 in April and 124 in May. June and July numbers are not available.

"It is actually going pretty well," said Raymond Telles, executive director of the authority. "What we anticipated versus what we are actually seeing is higher than the projections (for pay-by-mail transactions)."

He said a traffic and revenue study identified what the demand would be on the toll road and what the potential number of transactions would be.

The authority had 9,920 toll-tag transactions and 29,351 pay-by-mail usage in April. In May, it had 10,841 toll-tag transactions and 26,696 pay-by-mail transactions.

There is an expected revenue of about $87,782, Telles said. All the money has not been collected because not all transactions have been processed.

"Our actual (transactions) are in excess of what we had projected," Telles said. "Which is a great place to be, but I caution that the expected number of transactions have kind of flat lined because it doesn't take into account the period of the year, for example school is no longer meeting so the actual numbers will drop off."

While officials are happy El Pasoans are using the toll road, they are still urging motorists to use toll tags.
Officials are in the process of trying different ways to make it easier for motorists to obtain toll tags. Toll tags currently can be obtained online and at the city's One-Stop Shop, 811 Texas, which handles several services for the city, including purchasing permits and licenses at one location.

"We are looking at different ways to get AVI (toll tags) penetration, so we can get a higher percentage of users using the toll tag instead of pay-by-mail," Telles said. "One of the things we have come up with is when someone goes to a retail store or the One-Stop Shop or wherever we end up putting them, there will be a box on the counter and the box will have toll tags, very similar to brochures, with instruction on how to activate it and put it on their cars. This is an easier and more convenient way. It is really just providing another option for the public."

Toll tags are free and work like a pre-paid phones that are link to an account motorists can manage online and add funds to it. Using a toll tag can save a motorist almost half the cost of the pay-by-mail option because pay-by-mail has fees associated with the process, officials said.

Currently, rates for the border highway toll roads are 10 cents a mile with a toll tag and 20 cents a mile without one, officials said.

"The majority of the users are using pay-by-mail, but you are starting to see spikes (in the numbers) because people are starting to get bills and starting to see in the bills a separate sheet that tells them that they are paying double what they could be," Telles said. "So we will continue to make efforts to show people the benefits of getting a toll tag."

The authority is also working with the municipal courts to make sure all motorists who use the toll road pay their fees, Telles said. Violators will get three warnings and have 127 days before they go to a collection agency and then to municipal court.

For more information on the toll road or toll tags, visit crrma.org.

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