The country's economic woes have reportedly extended to Orange County's toll roads, where ridership is down as once-paying drivers opt to ply the public lanes and apply the savings to offset rising gasoline prices.
The agencies that operate the toll roads have responded with raffles and drawings that award winners financial credits to be used for future rides. You've just got to pay and ride now for a chance to win.
That may not be working.
Nicole Santa Cruz drives away with the scoop for the Los Angeles Times:
Orange County's 51-mile network of toll roads, once hailed as a model in solving Southern California's traffic woes, is experiencing drops in ridership as commuters opt for more time on the freeway instead of paying tolls that can exceed $7.75 per trip at peak hours.
From the beginning of the economic decline in 2007 through the fiscal year that ended in June 2010, trips were down 19 percent on the San Joaquin Toll Road, the portion of the 51-mile system known as California Highway 73. On the system's Foothill and Eastern toll roads, which include California Highways 241, 261 and 133, trips declined 17 percent in the same period, according to the Transportation Corridor Agencies.
(Slightly better off is the 91 Expressway that runs parallel to the 91 freeway through Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda to the Riverside County line. After getting hammered at the beginning of the recession, Santa Cruz reports, that toll road had a 5 percent increase in usage in the most recent fiscal year.)
The Weekly has reported extensively on toll-road operators inflating ridership and revenue figures to secure better financing for a system that has been on shaky financial legs since first opening. Overcome by privatization fever, Orange County leaders who fill transportation boards have been willing to look the other way–and even demand public roads be allowed to crumble so they pose less competition to toll roads.
But, according to Santa Cruz's piece, operators are taking the latest financial threat seriously enough to come up with games aimed at luring drivers back. And they will be back once the economy improves, academics from UC Irvine's Institute of Transportation Studies tell the Times. As research associate Sarah Catz put it, “It's a money thing.” Isn't it always?
But an expert from the Rand Corp. think tank in Santa Monica tells the paper the congestion levels used to justify construction of the toll roads in the first place have yet to materialize. The numbers can be fudged for only so long. And a toll road in San Diego County recently went belly-up.
Spin that raffle bin, baby!