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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning


"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

Thruway tolls redux

The increased tolls on the Thruway are already being blamed for an apparent decrease in Memorial Day weekend traffic:
[weekend traffic was down] according to Mark Stewart, Thruway toll plaza manager. "The traffic is lighter than normal," he said. He attributed the decline to isolated thunderstorms and weather forecasts that predicted rain for Memorial Day. At Thruway Exit 23 in Albany, toll collector Frank Fiacco said he heard motorists complaining about heavy rain south of Albany. He also got an earful about the toll increases. "I worked the same booth last year on Memorial Day and it was backed way up," Fiacco said at 6:10 p.m., with long breaks between cars. "It was real slow Friday night, too. I think it's the gas prices and the weather."
If we sort out two of these three varialbes - gas prices and tolls - some interesting results occur. It's simple economics. Consider:

As discussed earlier here, the tolls went up about 25% (12.5% of you use EZ-pass, which now has a discout.) That means that the tolls went up about 1-2 cents per mile - from about 3 cents/mile to about 4.5 cents/mile. In a typical car getting 30 miles to the gallon on the highway, with gas prices about $2.20/gallon, a mile worth of gas is about 7.5 cents. So per mile driven, the tolls are about 35% of the cost on average. So it seems reasonable than either an increase in gas prices or an increase in tolls could affect people's economic mindset. It doesn't seem that way because the tolls are such a low, fixed cost (who worries about $3), but when you break it down by mile, it does make some sense.

However, both variables miss the real cost: driving your car for 1 mile is estimated to cost about 45 cents, if you include the purchase price of the car, wear and tear, insurance, gas, tolls, and everything else. So in some ways it's a psychological error to worry so much about the gas and tolls - the vast majority of money is already sunk into the car. When you drive, the price of gas is a small fraction of the cost you are paying - the real costs are repairs, insurance, and having to buy a new car.

One other note from the article mentioned above:
Thruway travel plaza trash collector Mustafa Yazicilar has a foolproof method of gauging holiday traffic volume: the trash bag count.

"Today, we got 75 to 80 bags. Last year on Memorial Day, we got over 150 bags," said Yazicilar, who has cleaned the travel plaza in New Baltimore, south of Albany, for 14 years.
I don't know why, but I take his word even over the toll plaza managers. What a great use of data!
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