October 11, 2007
Big TxDOT is watching you

I find this story to be more amusing that outraging, but your mileage may vary.

Did you drive on Interstate 35 in early September? Where were you going, and why? How many people were in the car with you? And by the way, how many people live in your house?

The Texas Department of Transportation wants to know, and a company it hired may have videotaped your license plate, then sent you a survey to find out.

The survey is being done in the name of sound transportation planning. Officials say the method has been used before in Texas and elsewhere. But it has some feeling uncomfortable, and others crying, "Big Brother."

Alliance Transportation Group Inc., under a $781,588.53 contract with the state, mailed about 150,000 surveys to homes containing an explanation startling to some: "You are being asked to participate in these efforts because the license plate of a vehicle registered in (your) name was randomly recorded" during a highway trip.

"It almost feels sneaky," said Alison Unger, an Austin communications professional who got the survey after traveling to San Antonio for Rosh Hashana.

Unger has no ill will toward TxDOT but is concerned about whether her personal information will be protected. She said she likely wouldn't answer the survey.


TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said the information won't be shared or sold and will be disposed of in a secure fashion. This is the first time the state has conducted a comprehensive transportation survey on the entire I-35 corridor, and the information is vital to planning, she said.

"With the heavy traffic demand already on I-35, one of the state's busiest interstate corridors, this survey will help us better forecast future demand and needed improvements," Garcia said.


Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican who has worked to stem TxDOT's drive toward privately run toll roads, said something else caught her eye.

"With TxDOT continuing to spill forth that they have no money to build highways, I find it very interesting they have a lot of money to do mailings to 150,000 people and ad campaigns of $8 (million) and $9 million," she said.


Garcia said the agency plans to let drivers know of the survey beforehand the next time: "It was by no means meant to be sneaky," Garcia said. "Lesson learned."

Can you just imagine some guy, carrying on an affair with a woman in Austin, telling his wife he's off to a business trip somewhere else when he's actually planning to be with his paramour, then getting one of those surveys in the mail? Everybody knows that their EZ Tag records may be used against them, but who expects to get tripped up like that? It would be pretty damn funny if something like that happened.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 11, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

This story is a great example of how the media can sensationalize a story, and how TxDOT's PIO folks can sometimes be inept in spinning it away.

Traveler survey's like this have been done for decades. In the past, before cheap license plate recognition technology and database interoperability, they were done with people sitting at all the various locations writing down license plate numbers, then going back to the office and coding the data into a db, then linking up with TxDOT's registration records, then mailing the survey to the owner. Net result was a far more inefficient process that developed a far smaller data set than what can be obtained today. Today, through the beauty of technology you can collect 150,000 data points and hope for 10-15,000 actual survey returns when in the past you may have hoped for 5-10,000 data points and 500 survey returns.

Bottom line is that the use of technology is "relatively" new, and the widespread nature of this survey is perhaps a bit different, usually they are confined to a single corridor as part of the MIS process. TxDOT should have pulled some postcards from 25 years ago and said 'see this is not a new process, its not a conspiracy, its just one of our tools'.

Posted by: Trafficnerd on October 11, 2007 9:04 AM

TxDOT, eager to Toll Tax Texas interstate I-35, begins to track, trace, and poll I-35 drivers.

Think Hutchison's bill stops TxDOT from tolling I-35? Think again. There is a loophole that allows TxDOT to use our gas tax dollars to build new toll lanes. That's a Double Tax.

Learn more here about the rogue agency we call TxDOT:

Posted by: sal costello on October 11, 2007 10:44 AM