Before we sign over the keys to the PerryPike to Cintra, it would be nice to know what kind of power Cintra will wield over its customers. We can look to Ontario, Canada, for examples.
Some toll-road companies can raise tolls without a government hearing, or send collection agencies after drivers with past-due accounts.
Some even negotiate noncompete clauses into contracts so that governments cannot expand other freeways that might take business away from toll roads.
Just how much power Cintra will have is being negotiated behind closed doors in Austin. State officials say that within weeks they expect to sign a contract, known as a comprehensive development agreement, identifying Madrid, Spain-based Cintra as the lead agency, along with San Antonio's Zachry Construction Corp. and other minority partners.
Ontario has filed several lawsuits attempting to gain some decision-making powers, including the right to veto toll increases, but courts generally have sided with Cintra, citing a 1999 contract signed by both parties.
In fact, Cintra is pushing for additional authority. The company has asked Ontario not to renew vehicle registrations for motorists who are behind on their toll payments, a request the government has declined.
As for toll hikes, that's the nature of free enterprise, right? Cintra's a profit-maximizing firm, and they'll set their price point where they see fit. But what happens if somewhere down the line they're the only provider for a certain area? Again, what if any checks and balances will exist here? The gas tax doesn't get raised without public input (sometimes after the fact, but still), so are we comfortable letting Cintra make unilateral decisions about tolls?
A noncompete clause and the power to deny vehicle registrations to delinquent payers are complete nonstarters for me. That's just way too much power in the hands of people no one voted for. And I don't know about you, but I have little faith that future Leges will be able to resist the urge to accede to whatever new demands Cintra will have. The potential to give away the store is just too high.
We'll know what the contract looks like in a few weeks. I just hope there's enough skepticism in the Lege to keep it from being too outrageous. Via Lasso.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 25, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack