Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

Evaluating public expenditure: measuring outcomes

Depending upon where you’re from, you will have more or less familiarity with the issue of cycle-ways in urban environments (being from Sydney and now living in NY – and not being a motorist – I am fairly familiar with it).

New York, for example, has made significant moves towards cycle-friendly transit lanes (this is 2nd Avenue, way downtown, via Streetsblog:

Streetsblog 1

Streetsblog 2

Sydney, of late, is beginning to get ‘with it’. Economic evaluation comes in when you look at this sort of thing and ask, “was that worth it?” Think about New York City, for example. The nominal cost of this stuff is a few cans of paint; the full cost is something else: diminished space for cars means slower traffic; slower traffic means higher costs. Is the Excess Burden placed on the city worth it? For Sydney:

Money wasted on cyclists: NRMA

Taxpayers are pouring millions of dollars into lining motorways with cycleways that are barely used – and are building a new bicycle lane the NRMA says will effectively cost $300,000 for every cyclist that uses it.

Despite pleas from Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, for bicycles to reclaim the streets, the motoring organisation says residents are sticking to four wheels.

In a submission to the Roads and Traffic Authority it accuses the Government of wasting millions on cyclists at the expense of motorists, who are forced to battle worsening congestion as lanes are removed from busy roads.

The cycling lane on the M2 attracted just 130 cyclists a day. The Iemma Government is building a cycleway alongside choked Epping Road, despite as few as 25 cyclists using that corridor each day.
At $7.6 million for the Epping Road cycleway, the NRMA says that would amount to spending $300,000 per cyclist on a lane that is unlikely to attract many more riders, based on the experiences of the M2 motorway.


A spokesman for the RTA said the cycleway would attract many more cyclists than those now using Epping Road. He said the NRMA’s figure was not a true reflection of how popular the new cycleway would be once completed.

“If you give cyclists a dedicated facility instead of riding in normal traffic, they will use it,” the spokesman said.

Hence the title: how is the outcome being measured, here? It would appear that measuring the number of cyclists utilising the cycleway is already premature (which is common sense: one should wait until public infrastructure is settled and known before measuring use of that infrastructure), but is the argument/suggestion that the number of cyclists on a cycleway is the outcome measure even valid?

This takes us back, immediately, to the timing of the measurement. Squeezing traffic is half the point: we are supposed to be offering motorists a dis-incentive. Expanding road-space to deal with cars is like expanding your belt to deal with obesity – it’s just plain silly. After a while we should return to see (a) how many bikes are on the road, (b) how many cars, and (b.2) how many motorists have swapped their car for cycling, and finally (c) other public transport.

This, too, is where merely measuring bicycles is off the point, because transit is a multivalent measure. If the problem is cars, pollution, etc., the solution has to be everything that isn’t cars. In which case everything that isn’t cars has to be, somehow, the outcome measure.

Other issues, such as crowding out (a negative), incomes generated (a positive), and so forth are also important. Pointing at bikes on a path and a bill to the taxpayer is not, necessarily, evaluation.


City Hall to Reduce Parking Placards 20% and Centralize Control

That’s the title of the post to which I’m referring (hence the “z”). Another story involving the reconciliation of incentive structures and control, from Streetsblog.

Acknowledging the dissonance between his congestion mitigation efforts and City employees’ flagrant parking abuse, Mayor Bloomberg today announced a reduction in the number of city government parking permits and new, more centralized procedures for the issuance of placards.

The problem:

Crosby Street

That’s quite near the site of my recent experience with UPS, by the by. How is a city that can’t govern how it parks supposed to administer to how private corporations do so?, the makers of that image, also do a good turn in USPS officials:

West 83rd

Bicycles Only, a Flickr site, added to the complaint (his being that this won’t affect cyclists), citing things like actual uniform cars breaking traffic laws. In front of City Hall:

City Hall

Streetsblog points to the site NYPD Rant (which does exactly what it says on the box), whereat the following was among the responses:

if the city yanks our plaques, then the war is on. the pba can have some printed for its members, active and retired, and i will bang out every car with official plates that is illegally parked or runs a light (the offenders can explain themselves in front of an administrative judge at AAB or parking violations bureau)….JUST WAIT AND SEE

It is a message board, yes. The grammar and orthography are just atrocious. As long as they know not to shoot me, I won’t complain. They also tear up the NY Times, so. This response is, while hypocritical (since they will, in all likelihood, not enforce it against their comrades – see above image of uniformed cars parked illegally) basically correct. Most parking restrictions are based either upon revenue (meters) or safety (everything else). Having a permit inside your windscreen that says you belong somewhere in the civil service hardly makes one’s car not a safety hazard.

From the Mayor’s press release

… the NYPD will create a new enforcement unit to ensure compliance and agencies will develop enforcement procedures to prevent the abuse of placards. A multi-agency working group will implement and coordinate the various measures being taken and take additional actions, including a review of existing agency parking-space allocations and on-street parking regulations.

This is a standard regulation problem (don’t get me wrong – a 20% reduction in parking permits can only be a good thing, especially in very urban areas. Much of the problem is people who work very near a subway station anyway, and should be driving or parking in the city at all). People will speed, so long as they believe they may not be caught. People will also park wherever they please, so long as they believe that a plaque on their car will prevent them being ticketed, clamped or towed.

In this instance, there really isn’t a mechanism for incentives to be brought to bear. From what I read at NYPD Rant, putting parking permits into contracts would not work (this would be where the “war” stuff in the post above comes in), so the idea of offering incentives based upon not taking a plaque for one’s car probably won’t work, because it’s too much like making the others pay for their parking. Centralised issuing is certainly a good idea (although we shall see how equitably the new 80% of permits are allocated, with one service at the centre).

I don’t believe the City is asking for my advice (and I doubt they read this blog), but the key is administration of the system – something Bloomberg probably already understands, since it’s a technocrat’s problem (and his press release specifically mentions “smart placards”). If you’re given a plaque for a specific reason, a simple barcode-scanner should be able to tell a parking official that you’re mis-using it, parking illegally on the other side of town. And away we go. It really should not be that difficult to administer or maintain. Even the cops would like the idea, as far as I can tell.

New York City: curb your damn UPS trucks

Walking downtown to meet the missus today. This was just in Little Italy, but I went via Prince St/Broadway to go to Best Buy. This is only to explain how I came to be at this intersection (click for the large version):

google street view

The corner of Spring and Crosby, to get coffee (there’s a Starbucks franchise under the scaffolding). Now to the problem. Sadly, this picture was not taken this afternoon because, this afternoon, the part of Crosby St directly in front of this street view contained the following. On our left, two UPS trucks: one right on the corner (nearer to the corner than where you currently also see a truck), one directly behind it (parked, curbside, on deliveries). On our right, a third freaking UPS truck, also parked curbside. Between these was another truck, trying to get any sort of visibility whatsover – i.e. sticking its idiot front out into the traffic on Spring Street itself. Unbelievable.

Back in 1986, the New York Times had a story about UPS owing the city USD1.2m in fines (story behind the wall). More recently (thank you, Lexis Nexis) the Washington Times reminds us that the practice hasn’t changed (also behind a wall):

… records obtained through the DMV’s Office of General Counsel showed that on a typical day earlier this year, UPS owed $28,755 on 471 open tickets.

That’s second only to its competitor FedEx Corp., which had 493 open tickets for $30,630. Each company had more than 100 vehicles ticketed. The only other company with more than $10,000 in open tickets was Verizon, owing $10,430 on 289 tickets.

A UPS spokesman said the company encourages its drivers not to get tickets, but added the tickets are sometimes an unavoidable cost of doing business.

“We train our drivers to try to avoid tickets, but we have to provide service to our customers,” said spokesman Malcolm Berkley.

Mr. Berkley also said UPS has enrolled in parking-adjudication programs in other cities such as San Francisco and New York City. “It’s a vehicle that allows us to manage the tickets we do receive,” he said.

It’s commonly-known that UPS treats parking fines as an ordinary cost of doing business as UPS. Back in 2006 the NY Daily News covered the complaint specifically with regard to this city:

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly blasted a city policy that allows FedEx, UPS and other delivery companies to defy parking rules without punishment – while average New Yorkers get socked with tickets.

Kelly said guidelines that permit delivery giants to clog streets by double parking without punishment for up to three hours should be reined in.

“Does that make sense? Is that common sense living in this 8.1 million-population city?” Kelly asked the City Council.

“You can double-park and unload a commercial vehicle for three hours and that’s considered expeditious parking.”

Kelly’s words resonated on the city’s crowded streets, where many New Yorkers slammed the three-hour grace period crafted by the city Finance Department.

“They park out here all day,” said Manhattan handyman Mike Pau, pointing to trucks double-parked along 47th St. near Fifth Ave. “It’s like their office.”

Kelly said the grace period should be shrunk to 30 minutes – and only if there are no legit spots nearby.

The delivery outfits get the grace period on top of another city perk that allows them to avoid paying full price for all their parking tickets. Since July 2004, City Hall has offered companies a chance to pay reduced fines in exchange for dropping their right to go before a judge.

“It’s not fair,” said Mark Carbone, 55, a precious-metal buyer. “I’m here two minutes and I get a ticket.”

But jeweler Leon Garadet, 25, saw wisdom in the perks. “They deliver millions of dollars of merchandise,” he said. “It’s important for the economy.”

That last line is ridiculous: M. Garadet might be reminded that everybody living and working in New York City is responsible for billions of dollars of merchandise – but they all get their cars towed or clamped. So what we have here is the twin system: preventive taxation for ordinary individuals (or small businesses), but mere revenue-raising off the backs of bigger companies like UPS and FedEx.

Seriously, though, the situation this afternoon was just moronic. For a start, why can’t UPS figure out how to use only one truck for deliveries in a single set of city blocks in lower Manhattan? Thus, the question: how to figure out a system by which to make UPS bloody-well behave? The administrators at/of Long Beach figured out that day-trippers were treating the parking fine as an ordinary cost of the day at the beach – so they jacked up the fines (significantly).

Would the same work with UPS? No. The costs would simply be passed along to consumers (more than not), while businesses would hammer the City over the policies. The Washington Times article, for example, specifically discusses the use of fleet-adjudication programmes to pay fines in toto, per month. Escalation? Good luck towing a UPS truck (and, probably, sorting out the lawsuits from people who needed the things that had been inside). Same for clamping them.

My plan!

Part 1: a stated hierarchy of violations. The one I saw this afternoon, for example: Class 1. Random double-parking can be, say, Class 3. Doing so in narrow mid-town cross-streets can be Class 2. You get the idea. If you’re the third UPS truck and you block up a street by parking next to two others, you should absolutely be hammered for it.

Part 2: Come the end of the month, businesses should attract a progressive rate of taxation on parking violations, case-mix-adjusted. UPS pay fines at an increasing marginal rate, the more violations they collect. If UPS breach pre-specified thresholds (too many overall, too many Class 1’s, etc.) they cop real punishment: punitive levels of taxation, limits to the number of trucks they can operate in the city. Something.

That’s my plan. If UPS wants to treat every street like a potential parking-space, fine – but we can, very easily, produce the incentives required to at least have them do it in a manner that minimises our inconvenience or endangerment.

United Airlines may ground up to 100 planes

United Airlines may ground up to 100 planes to save money on fuel expenses as other major carriers including American Airlines and Northwest Airlines also consider grounding aircraft.

This comes as two US senators asked aviation officials to look into a report that carriers may have cut back on fuel reserves to reduce expenses, possibly violating safety regulations. Carriers are scrambling to meet demand and maintain their profit momentum after a successful summer travel season amid pressure from high energy prices.

So it goes. Much like the fishmermen of Europe, if we envision a currently profitable airline:


Leaving out Average Total Cost – i.e. assuming (a) the industry is profitable, and (b) the market is perfectly competitive. The latter is off, obviously, for the likes of air travel – with few firms and significant barriers to entry. They are, however, reasonably competitive in the domestic market (I believe). The illustrations serve the purpose, at least.

Jack up fuel costs, and you increase the marginal costs of providing flights. Assuming P* holds, fewer flights are supplied. Shift the MC curve and you shift the Supply curve (not shown, but, again, the same as for the fishmermen of Europe). Ceterus paribus, we get higher airfares and fewer bought and sold at equilibrium. Along the way, planes are grounded, mechanics are laid off (or their hours are cut), same for stewards/stewardesses, sales people, etc. Everyone, I would imagine, but the Executives.

We respond to the risk of getting away with breaking the law

Or, as Thom Yorke once famously said, the more you drive, the less intelligent you get.

The Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, has backed away from his promise last year to enforce school-zone speed limits by rotating covertly monitored mobile speed cameras across the state.

Instead, fixed cameras will be installed in just 50 school zones in NSW, meaning almost 11,000 school zones have infrequent and sporadic police enforcement.

So, “rotating covertly monitored mobile speed cameras”: there is a single manner in which a permanent stop would be put to all speeding. By ensuring, publicly, that every inch of road had a speed camera pointed at it. I.e., ensuring, and making publicly known, that your probability of not being caught speeding was exactly zero. Anything less will not be effective. Double-demerit weekends work fine, because they usually include (or at least imply) elevated policing – i.e. the chances of being caught go up.

This, by the by, is also among the reasons why capital punishment is idiotic. It’s just a human logic problem: we’re hyperbolic discounters. We just do not properly value – or evaluate – the consequences of our actions. Especially when behind the wheel.

So, this reaction:

In May last year, Mr Roozendaal announced an initiative to use mobile hidden cameras, warning that “any school zone could have a camera in it”.

is wrong. The message to motorists would be that any school might not have a camera in it – unless there were simply far more zones with them, and this were known. I would say (without any analysis at all) that anything, certainly, below 50% would be ineffective.

Also this:

He said Mr Roozendaal had been “rolled” on the initiative by his cabinet colleagues, who feared a political backlash about revenue-raising from drivers caught by covert cameras.

is probably true but, on the part of motorists, equally wrong. If we honestly believe we will be caught speeding we will not speed. Ergo: the government will invest in all the cameras and earn no money. Which is fine (full disclosure: as well as an unsympathetic non-motorist, I am also an unsympathetic non-road-law-breaker, non-life-threatener, and so forth. Speeding motorists are complete twats).

Using roving, probabilistic methods of policing, however, only ensures that people will speed. Because people will believe they can get away with it. Anything other that total saturation is in fact revenue-raising, but motorists just refuse to see the basic calculus at work. Just like Thom Yorke said.

Londoners: walk

It would appear the mooted 72-hour strike (you read that correctly) is still on:

Millions of London underground passengers face travel chaos this evening after the RMT refused to join two fellow tube unions in calling off a three-day strike over jobs and pensions following the collapse of Metronet.

Passengers were warned of “severe disruption” to Tube services because of the strike and were urged to seek alternative routes from tonight.

London Underground said in a statement that trains would have to be back at depots before the 72-hour strike begins at 6pm tonight, right in the middle of rush hour.

Metronet, again, makes an appearance (do they not always show up when shit goes pear?)

Bob Crow, the RMT’s general secretary, blamed the situation on Metronet and its administrator for failing to give the “unequivocal guarantees” on jobs, transfers and pensions that the union was seeking.

A second 72-hour strike is scheduled to start at the same time next Monday, September 10.

Mr Crow said: “The efforts the mayor and Transport for London have put in to try to broker a deal have been welcome, but the problem for all of us remains that Metronet and its administrator are the employer, and the qualified assurances they have given cover only the period of administration.

“It is astonishing that the administrator can decide all sorts of things, including who will take over the PPP contracts, but is unable to give an unequivocal guarantee that the jobs of the people who will actually deliver the tube’s upgrades will be safe.”

But the RMT was isolated today after the other two tube unions, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association and Unite, abandoned strike action following written guarantees from Transport for London over jobs and pensions.

Unlike the RMT, Unite seemed satisfied with the assurances it has received.

As discussed the last time TfL and Metronet made a stage appearance together, the government is not supposed to be required, here – is that not the point of privatisation? Liberal Conservatism takes another blow.

Electric cars: the weirdest two-part tariff I’ve ever seen

Late to posting today – I was travelling out to (and back from) the office. But I lined up three posts over breakfast!

First: the Financial Times is carrying a great story about an electric car. After killing their last one, General Motors is getting back in the business.

General Motors may allow buyers of its Chevy Volt electric car to rent the vehicle’s battery as a way of pricing the vehicle at a comparable level to a traditional, petrol-driven family saloon.

The Volt is emerging as one of the most crucial vehicles in GM’s history. Failure would be a deep embarrassment after the fanfare surrounding its development. But success could propel GM past Toyota as a pioneer in alternative energy vehicles. GM has assigned 150 engineers to the project.

The Detroit carmaker aims to launch the Volt by 2010. The battery would give a range of 40 miles and maintain full performance for at least 10 years. It would be recharged either by the car’s small combustion engine or from a normal electrical point.

Battery rentals would help fulfil GM’s goal of giving the Volt a wider appeal than the petrol-electric hybrid vehicles now on the road. Noting that the Volt will be marketed under GM’s global, mass-market Chevrolet brand, Frank Weber, the carmaker’s chief engineer, said that it “needs to be affordable to the buyer of a normal mid-sized car”.

I gave up hyperlinking brands and companies half-way through. Also that typo is not mine, but I hate the use of “(sic)”.

Two-part Tariffs

Two-part tariffs are a form of price discrimination, when the ‘good’ being sold is divided up – part is sold for a fixed amount, the other part sold per-unit. Razors are good example of this (thanks, Dave!). We buy the handle, first:


And then we pay for the razor itself:

razor box

The handle purchases our access to the usage of the razor as a whole (i.e. the ‘good’). GM is going for the same thing: purchase the car for a lump sum, then rent the battery as you actually use the car. Technically it is not a perfect example, unless the batteries (or, say, battery size/capacity) are bundled in a manner than extracts more Consumer Surplus than an ordinary market for batteries (such as purchasing them and charging them yourself).

What doesn’t follow, exactly, is the idea of making the car more affordable by employing this approach. It’s a hybrid, but more an electric car than petrol – it ought to be poor without the battery, right? So you buy the car, and you give GM the power to tap into your Consumer Surplus as time goes on. You buy a car that is immediately held hostage by GM. Rationally, we should accept that, if buying a house is supposed to make more sense than renting, in the long run, shouldn’t buying a car do so, also? Particularly given that the car itself is supposed to be priced to match others:

GM’s goal is to price the Volt, excluding battery, at about the same level as its Chevrolet Malibu saloon.

Mr Weber estimates that an average Volt owner would spend about $25 a month on petrol, against $145 for a traditional Malibu. The difference could be used on battery rental payments, giving a similar total cost.

Meaning that, as petrol prices increase, you can expect to see your rental prices increase. On the other hand, it could also confer to batteries (the key ingredient of a power in an electric car) the same advantage one gets from leasing an entire car – you get to upgrade, as upgrades come along. This way you might get to keep the same car, but get progressively more power/fuel efficiency as the technology improves.

It might turn out great for the environment (I’d take it)! I’m just saying, I don’t see you making money off GM, along the way.

“I’m not here to meddle in UK policies, if you don’t meddle in my environment.”

Over at the website China Dialogue is a story about the proposed expansion of Stansted airport, and the contribution to the debate being made by an Inuit politician from Greenland, Aqqaluk Lynge (of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference – Alaska, Russia, Canada and Greenland).

This is (for non-Brits) Stansted, not Heathrow- at which the absurd abuses of the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act and the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act are in play.

So… how near is Stansted to Greenland, or the Cirumpolar thingamabob? Let’s break out the Google Map again:


Far enough that one might question the propriety of Inuit commentary. And one did. The motivating exchange for this post:

As spectators’ applause for Lynge’s speech died down, BAA’s lawyers did not seek to question his account of changes in the Arctic. Their argument is that a local planning inquiry is no place to challenge the government’s overall policy on climate change, since allowing more flights from Stansted could be consistent with the overall aim of reducing carbon emissions provided sufficient reductions are made elsewhere. Flying Matters, a group backed by the airline industry, says Lynge’s claims are part of “an apocalyptic campaign of green spin”.

Surely, said Michael Humphries, legal counsel for BAA, Lynge agreed that it was “not for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to tell the UK government how it should deliver its greenhouse gas totals?”

Lynge proposed a deal: “I’m not here to meddle in UK policies, if you don’t meddle in my environment.”

Lovely. His argument:

If thousands more flights were allowed to take off from Stansted – London’s third airport – each year, he told the inquiry, their impact would be felt in his homeland, in the form of thinning ice, lost hunting grounds and eroded shorelines which are already threatening many Inuit settlements in Alaska, Canada, Russia and Greenland.

“What happens in the world happens first in the Arctic,” said Lynge, a former minister in Greenland’s home-rule government and a vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) [actually he is the President], a organization promoting Inuit rights, development and culture. The Inuit – “the people who live farther north than anyone else” – were “the canary in the global coal mine”, he said. Climate change was “not just a theory to us … It is a stark and dangerous reality.” Some Inuit villages have already lost homes as the sea moves 300 metres inland in places, while thinning ice makes hunting increasingly difficult, even dangerous. “We don’t hunt for sport or recreation,” Lynge said. “Hunters put food on the table. You go to the supermarket. We go on the sea ice.”

From the other side of the argument:

BAA is seeking to remove the cap that limits the number of passengers taking off from Stansted to 25 million a year. Opponents say that could see flights increase from 192,000 to 264,000 a year, raising the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from 5 million to 7 million tonnes. The inquiry’s lead inspector, Alan Boyland, will make a recommendation after the process concludes in October, and a government announcement is expected next spring. Stop Stansted Expansion says it will be “the litmus test of the seriousness of the government’s commitment to properly tackling the climate change issue”.

Honestly, I can’t see ordinary people getting that worked up over 2 million more tonnes of CO2, George Monbiot or no George Monbiot (which, I assure you, I think is a dangerous shame). I expect the 66,000 extra flights to be the big problem. BAA may be selling the airport off, anyway.

It would be fascinating to watch a Coasean solution develop here. Purely voluntary (given we’re talking about different sovereign nations) and whereby BAA taxed British travellers and dispursed the money to Inuits as compensation. The trouble of course is that they aren’t losing money, they’re losing land, culture, etc. Monetising that is exactly the reason why Coasean solutions are so difficult to bring about. The information-gathering and negotiating process alone would take so long the bloody ice-caps would probably be gone before an agreement could be reached.

Neat traffic congestion video

From the spectacular Streetsblog (who I used the last time I wrote about congestion, or the pricing thereof). Originally from the equally spectacular, being related,

The video is of an intersection in Jackson Heights, Queens (in New York), 6pm on a Saturday:

We put together the video because we wanted to show how visceral the problem is on a daily basis. The problem of traffic congestion has so many side effects that are difficult to communicate in words or still images. Also, most residents would cite noise as the main complaint, particularly horn honking.

I’m with them on the honking – they bloody love honking horns, here. They either are the world’s least patient, least understanding-of-the-physics-of-traffic-jams people in the world, or just plain love Jesus the most.

This is Queens, mind you – not (for those of you not familiar with the area) even on the island of Manhattan, where Mayor Bloomberg actually wants the congestion pricing. If you have a local variant of this, you should submit your own film to – they’re very interesting.

Streetsblog proper also has a very good post about Melbourne – I surely do miss Australia, at times (and I’m from Sydney! To be missing Melbourne is almost criminal).

Also, while I’m miles from economics: see the zombies?

Smith Street

Head over to read a great article about sharp commuters. I can’t blame them. Air in subway stations here is as bad as in any other comparable city. At least – Londoners – our trains have air-conditioning. You poor bastards.

We would prefer some of you to speed and make us money: just please try not to hit anybody

The Taxman Hits, in the Guise of a Traffic Cop

SHORT of cash and long of arm, the State of Virginia recently unveiled the nation’s first $1,050 speeding ticket.

All over the country, supporting safety improvements on the wages of reckless driving has become a tradition. But in the relations between government and its citizens, the four-digit traffic ticket also seems to signal a leap in the use of fines and fees — and just about any other form of enhanced governmental income production — to avoid the dreaded thing itself, a tax increase.

The rising cost of public benefits like pensions, health care and police services, combined with the conventional wisdom that raising taxes is political poison, have led public officials to cast a wide net for this kind of public revenue.

Leasing public bridges in Kentucky. Taxing tattoo parlors in Arkansas. Selling off large chunks of the state highway system in Indiana. Selling off bundles of state student loan portfolios in Missouri. Taxing funeral processions in New Orleans. Those are just some recent measures undertaken or proposed.

“Anything that puts money in the treasury, without raising taxes, is on the table,” said Sujit CanagaRetna, chief fiscal officer for the Council of State Governments, a Washington-based research group that works with state lawmakers. “It is a trend that we see growing tremendously.”

Wow – weren’t those tax cuts for the rich supposed to turn the US economy into a recession-recovering wonderland? Here’s a tip to readers who have yet to pick up on this: the Bush administration is slowly sending States as broke as it can, from unfunded mandates to unfunded Orange Alerts. When the Federal Government is the only branch able to afford to govern, its abrogation of previously-separated powers will be complete.

So. The next time you are forced to pay some stupid, outrageous money for something that makes no sense, just remember. States, cities and townships are being landed with more of the work and less of the money, that’s why. Enjoy that cut in your income tax, if you make enough money to get one of any significance.

But back to speeding. People in Australia and the UK, certainly, are often moved to violence over the issue of speed-cameras. The argument is that they are used for revenue-raising. As a non-motorist (and, more importantly, as a law-abider) I am unsympathetic. You simply cannot be angry over the penalty (known) for breaking a law (also known).

Where the argument has merit, however, is this: if speed-cameras primary purpose was preventing people from speeding, it is not the fine that needs to change, it is the number of cameras. If every inch of road was covered, such that the probability of getting caught, if you speed, became 100%, would you speed? No. Motorists speed not because they don’t care about the penalty, but because they believe they will not be caught. The incentive that works is the risk, not the penalty. Remove that change, and the problem is solved. It is the fact that speed-cameras are limited in number that demonstrates revenue-raising is at least a secondary motive for their use.

If nothing else, at least the state of Virginia is being frankly honest about it. Here is another question: allowing that the state needs the money (we can have that argument another time, if you like), would you prefer it came on land-rates, cuts in health insurance, etc.? Or from people who are breaking the law and endangering human life (and state infrastructure, both of which ought to be precious to you)? The downside is that if it is successful in reducing speeding, another policy immediately becomes important. The problem is the Faustian (of sorts) bargain the state makes – does it want money, or safety? Is it implying that it will accept motorists risking the lives of citizens, if they’re prepared to pay a bribe to the state to do so?