Friday, February 3, 2012
Why Do Motorcycles Pay Tolls?
Heck, why am I paying a toll at all?
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority was created in 1947 to build the first toll road in Oklahoma, the Turner Turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. This was the postwar boom and America's nascent interstate highway system was beginning it's cross-country trek. When the turnpike opened in 1953 the gameplan was for the road to become a free road once the original bonds were retired. Ironically the original language also called for dissolution of the turnpike authority. But that's not quite how it happened.
Instead the Will Rogers Turnpike, between Tulsa and Miami, opened in 1957 and the turnpike fad just kept on rolling.
All of the turnpikes use a "per axle" toll scheme. This is partly due to the technology that was readily available in the Fifties. Back then it was common to see metal trigger switches embedded in roadways, especially at intersections to trigger traffic lights. This same concept was applied to vehicles passing through the toll booths on Oklahoma's turnpike gates. Pa-klunk, pa-klunk goes the car over the sensor- that's two axles. Towing a trailer makes another pa-klunk, so the toll booth operator knows to charge you for three axles.
Nearly sixty years later technology has changed nearly every aspect of our modern lives. The turnpikes now offer electronic toll tags that allow Pike Pass subscribers to zip right through toll plazas. But the tolls are still calculated on the pa-klunk basis.
The fact is it would require some extensive redesign to make the turnpike tolls more equitable. Using weight, a common method for heavy trucks, would require expensive scales at every toll plaza. And the fact that a small car still occupies the same lane as a large pickup makes the weight argument less feasible. But motorcycles... that's a different story.
The technology of the Pike Pass system allows the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to monitor a vehicle passing through the toll plazas. The system is smart enough to "find" the toll tag on your windshield, scan the identifying data, log a transaction and/or alert the system to a violation. Some checkpoints can even photograph your license tag.
I submit that it would not be a difficult matter for that same system to distinguish the difference between a 6-foot wide automobile and my 2-foot wide motorcycle. I bet it would be even easier if I was not riding in the center of the lane. Let's say the lane was even painted with motorcycle-only stripes to make it easier on the scanner. The cost to implement a "bikes are free" policy would be negligible. In fact there may be Federal incentives available to defray the initial costs, and the savings in highway maintenance due to the decrease in overall tonnage would surely make it a net gain in short order.
Large cities have High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to reward drivers who reduce congestion, use less gas and defray traffic jams. Motorcycles, regardless of their occupancy, are always eligible for these HOV lanes. The same idea should be applied to our turnpike system to encourage the use of motorcycle and scooters as the efficient transportation option they are.
It's a Travel Show
Two Wheel Oklahoma is a television travel show featuring the motorcycle rides of Brad Mathison and Rex Brown along the scenic highways and backroads of Oklahoma.
Each episode highlights a stretch of road or historic route and explores unique destinations along the way. Tune in three times a week on the Cox Channel.
We hope you'll come ride along.