California ‘Road Diet’ Antagonizes Drivers Still Stuck in Traffic Gridlock

traffic-los-angelesQuick, name the place where drivers suffer through maybe the worst traffic on Earth while policymakers are committed to making it altogether intolerable. Yes, of course it’s California.

Earlier this year, Inrix, a transportation analytics firm, ranked Los Angeles as the city with the worst traffic in the world, as measured by annual “peak hours spent in congestion.”

Southern California drivers who commute regularly to Los Angeles experience this gridlock every day. They spend an average of 104 hours “in congestion in 2016 during peak time periods.” Inrix says that sitting in traffic costs the average driver in the Southland $2,408 a year in lost productivity, and fuel burned while idling or creeping along in slow-moving parking lots.

Los Angeles also had “10 of the 25 worst traffic hotspots in America,” according to Inrix, “costing So Cal drivers an estimated $91 billion over the next 10 years.”

While California drivers slog through grueling traffic, policymakers have been putting them on a “road diet.” Joel Kotkin of Chapman University says “the notion animating the ‘road diet’ is to make congestion so terrible that people will be forced out of their cars and onto transit.”

The governor’s office has pursued road diets, as well as the cities of Los Angeles and San Jose. San Francisco has been putting its drivers on various, and often costly, road diets since the 1970s. The Reason Foundation says that in addition to its Vision Zero effort “to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2025,” Los Angeles “is still planning to implement over 40 road diet projects” across the city.

Further antagonizing California drivers is the $52 billion fuel tax hike that lawmakers passed to repair the state’s cracked and battered infrastructure. Is there a dime available for expanding highway capacity to open gridlock? Apparently not. But don’t be surprised if considerable portions of the revenue are spent on “transportation” projects that will not improve automobile travel. Transportation analyst Wendell Cox says that California lawmakers “don’t have any problems spending money on roads” as long as the funds aren’t used “to make drivers’ experiences any better.”

It’s not out of the realm to imagine that lawmakers will also try to siphon off some of the revenue to repair the high-speed train wreckage.

In addition to increasing the typical California family’s financial burden by nearly $800 a year, according to Reform California, the fuel tax hike is also organizationally incoherent, as are other elements of the state’s transportation policies. Consider:

  • How much of that $52 billion will be raised over 10 years if policymakers are able to eliminate vehicles with internal-combustion engines that burn the fossil fuels subject to the tax hike and replace them with electric vehicles? As the forced transition to EVsthat Brown and Democrat Assemblyman Phil Ting favor overlaps with the final years of higher fuel taxes, revenue will fall.
  • If the objective of road diets is to get drivers off the roads, won’t that also hurt revenue?
  • And if it’s a policy goal to remove cars from California roads, won’t the mandatory transition to EVs actually require a less than one-for-one replacement ratio? In other words, replacing every internal-combustion vehicle with an electric vehicle won’t decrease the number of cars. Will policies change from efforts to subsidize EV sales to discouraging them?

Public policy should be consistent, coherent and just. Not muddled, contradictory and heavy-handed. It should never be used to herd people, to compel them to conform to politically favored behaviors. But this is what we get from the government we have in California. It’s as lousy as the traffic congestion.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Cellphone use among drivers is rising, but fewer citations are being issued

As reported by the Orange County Register:

On an October day last year, 18-year-old Alexis Patlan stood at a busy intersection just west of Garden Grove’s Santiago High School at morning rush hour with one task – log distracted drivers.

The hourlong survey, part a larger awareness campaign with schools, yielded troubling results. The majority of motorists observed were fumbling with their cellphones, downing breakfast, or both. One standout offender was “eating a doughnut with one hand and on the cellphone with the other hand,” recalled Patlan, who graduated from the school last month.

Despite years of warnings about the potentially fatal consequences of using mobile devices behind the wheel, distracted driving jumped significantly in the past year, according to a newly released state traffic safety study.

The increase comes as law enforcement agencies face added challenges in catching violators, and experts say the upward trend is being exacerbated, in part, by quickly evolving mobile devices as well as a growing obsession with texting and social media. …

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Controversial New Program Will Track Your Driving — For Tax Purposes

carpool-laneAs state drivers’ changing habits undermined roughly a hundred years of gasoline taxes, California officials debuted a controversial new pilot program designed to make up the difference.

“The state of California is looking for 5,000 volunteers this summer for an experiment with potentially major pocketbook ramifications,” the Sacramento Bee noted. The so-called California Road Charge pilot program, proposed by the state Legislature, has tasked “Caltrans and other transportation officials to set up a nine-month test to see what it would be like if drivers paid for state road repairs based on how many miles they drive in their cars or trucks rather than how many gallons they buy at the pump.”

Aiming for a July start and a nine-month run, the program “already has a list of 4,300 people who are game,” according to Next City. “Participants will continue to pay the pump tax, but receive simulated monthly statements detailing how much they would pay under a road usage system.”

Losing gas

With gas prices, gas taxes and gasoline usage all sinking, lawmakers have labored to settle on a different way to collect revenue from road usage. “In California, drivers now pay 30 cents per gallon, plus 18 cents a gallon in federal tax,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“Not only are politicians averse to raising the tax — which hasn’t been bumped up since 1994, with polls showing extreme distaste from voters — but also the continuing rise in fuel efficiency and the boom in electric vehicles ensure the steady evaporation of revenues even as more cars roll up more miles on the road. Gas taxes are expected to bring in $4.5 billion this fiscal year, 16 percent less than last year and 21 percent less than in 2014. Projections call for revenues to drop another 6.5 percent in the coming year.”

Just last month, regulators signaled the shifts to come by throwing their weight behind a further drop in the gas tax. “California drivers will pay 2.2 cents less per gallon of gasoline, starting in July, after a divided Board of Equalization voted to cut the excise tax,” according to U-T San Diego.

“‘Lowering the rate is the right thing to do and I’m sure Californians will welcome this reduction,’ board vice chair George Runner said in a statement after the agency voted 3-2 to pass the reduction that was recommended by BOE staff.”

Making the transition

From a regulatory standpoint, moving toward a per-mile tax would offer an additional advantage — a relatively smooth and seamless transition from a logistical and bureaucratic standpoint. Of the four vendors recruited to track mileage in the new pilot program, three “are already providing bonus services to fleet managers based on vehicle data,” according to

“Azuga currently offers fleets a device they plug straight into a vehicle’s OBDII computer — a standard component in all vehicles made after 1996. Aside from automatically reporting mileage back to fleet managers, the computer is what alerts drivers to specific problems in the engine and can also offer information about what’s going on under the hood,” the site noted. “Two of the other companies signed up to track the mileage of participants in California’s test program, Intelligent Mechatronic Systems and EROAD, offer similar services. The fourth vendor, Arvato Mobility Solutions, will manage the accounts.”

Although privacy advocates have expressed skittishness and dismay, many Californians have grown accustomed to their driving habits being monitored electronically. California Road Charge will offer “the option to allow the state to monitor their in-vehicle computer, tracking where they go so they aren’t charged for the use of private or out-of-state roads,” Next City noted. “Recognizing that many will see this as an intrusion on their privacy, the state is testing other ways to collect this data, like periodic odometer reading verifications. California will also experiment with offering drivers weekly or monthly ‘all-you-can-drive’ passes.”

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CA Traffic Citation Amnesty Law Gives Drivers Relief

Financially strapped motorists are catching a break through the state’s traffic citation amnesty law, which began in October and gives discounts of up to 80 percent on unpaid traffic tickets due before Jan. 1, 2013.

In Los Angeles Superior Court, $2.8 million in fines had been collected and more than 28,000 driver’s licenses restored by the middle of December, according to a new KPCC report. The law passed in September after advocates for the downtrodden urged the Legislature to lessen the effect of some of the nation’s heaviest traffic violation fines.

Three measures, passed last session, provide relief to motorists in trouble:

  • Senate Bill 85 requires counties to implement an amnesty program. Amnesty runs through March 31, 2017.
  • Assembly Bill 1151 provides a way for drivers facing parking ticket fines to pay by installments.
  • Senate Bill 405 allows drivers to contest fines before paying the fine by a set deadline and gives those in arrears more time to make good. The previous law made it difficult for drivers to contest tickets and added penalties for prolonged pay periods. Traffic tickets for $35 violations were turning into $200-plus fines once a state fee, a court cost fee and a county assessment were tacked on.

Now, though, the state and municipalities will have to deal with a loss of revenue.

Following the Money

The money ends up funding any number of government projects and enterprises, depending on the location, the issuing agency and the type of violation.

Traffic Fine Fees - source Los Angeles Superior Court (1)

The state attaches 20 percent onto any traffic ticket, of which 70 percent is distributed to a number of operations. Leading that is a restitution fund (32 percent) followed by driver training assessment (25 percent) — which pays for driver training in schools — and police training (24 percent). Eight percent also goes to the corrections training fund, which exists “for the development of appropriate standards, training and program evaluation.”

“California is unique in that traffic fees go to so many different funds as a revenue source,” said John Bowman, vice president of the National Motorists Association. “You just don’t see it to that degree in other states.”

Diverting portions of the revenue to things like officer training, he said, makes no sense.

“It seems logical that the proceeds of the fine should be tied to the nature of that fine.”

In some cases, cities and counties battle for the revenue. The city of San Jose in 2011 complained in a report that the $4 million it had been receiving for 50,000 violations has been tapped by outside government sources.

“Most revenue from traffic citations benefits the state of California and the county, not the city,” the report stated.

Legislative analysts found that amnesty would have no effect on local or state coffers.

But that seems unlikely, unless SB405 was simply a feel-good measure to make motorists feel like their representatives were offering them some relief.

“This sounds like a gesture,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “If a person feels they have a good chance to win in court, why wouldn’t they in the first place?”

But language in SB85 does give more money to state funds supported by traffic fines and fees:

The bill would, following the transfer to the Judicial Council of the first $250,000 received, increase the percentage of specified penalties to be deposited in the Peace Officers’ Training Fund and the Corrections Training Fund, which are continuously appropriated funds.

Speed Traps (1)

California, with 13 million registered vehicles on the road, ranks second to Texas in the number of speed traps over the last five years, according to arecent study by the National Motorists Association.

The state also ranks in the top 10 based on speed traps per 1,000 of lane miles.

The crowd-sourced website has tracked trouble areas and warned drivers since 1999.  Los Angeles tops the list of speed traps in the state with 57, with San Diego second with 48.  San Jose, Riverside and Fresno round out the top five.

For more information about how to qualify for the program, organized by county, see

Steve Miller can be reached at 517-775-9952 and His website is

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