I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Market-Driven, Private Sector Approach to Managing Beach Tolls, Traffic

When I heard about the recent move to automate all lanes going out to Pensacola Beach, I was somewhat concerned.  I believe this will drastically reduce revenue.  I know it will.  A large portion of the revenue generated will now be re-directed to Sun Pass, and these recurring fees and costs will result in steep revenue declines going forward, as much as $500,000 yearly compared to what we currently collect.  How will we replace that revenue?  I’m not inclined to support new taxes on citizens, or the imposition of new fees for consumers who choose to go to the beach, simply to cover a self-inflicted revenue loss created by a bad decision.  I’m a small-government, fiscal conservative and I want less government, less regulation, less taxes, smarter decisions and more prudent governance.

Government is not like a business in the sense that government’s job is not to maximize profit but rather to generate revenue sufficient to provide needed services to citizens. Services cost money and revenues must be raised --and government should strive to be efficient like successful private sector, for-profit entities are.

Movie theaters offer discounts for matinees, restaurants offer early-bird dinner specials, and bars have happy hours.  All of these promotions attempt to increase revenue in off-peak periods.

Why don’t we use some smart, market driven initiatives to help ease beach traffic issues while simultaneously building off-season use of the beach by citizens?  I think there are some things that can be done right away to create a win-win scenario—without going to a fully automated, Sun Pass system.

The toll by plate collection process will be cumbersome and I believe will result in further revenue declines (e.g.  Where will the fee be sent for island visitors driving rental cars?) What percentage of the toll by plate notices and bills will we realistically collect?  50%, 40% or less?

How about we do something better:

I’d like to look at reducing the toll to $.50 cents,  re-installing automated baskets,  thereby substantially reducing employee costs currently incurred by utilizing human toll collectors.

To make up for the reduced revenue, the delta between what we lose by charging $.50 cents versus $1.00 plus the savings achieved by automating the toll booths—I’d like to see some modest fees for parking established at some of our parking lots on the beach.  If done properly, we could have some zones that are premium ($5.00 for all day, front row at casino beach) some zones that are $2.00 for all day (back rows at casino beach) while other areas (parking lots beyond Portofino, boardwalk parking lot, sound-side lots just south of the toll booths) could remain free.  Consumer discretion and choice would dictate where folks park based upon what they want to spend.  Consumer choice works. 

We could have a company that specializes in the management of parking bid for the concession and manage the beach parking program.  During the winter off-season (December-February) we could make all parking free and open up the toll-lanes to allow free access to the beach during the off season—which could help beach businesses increase revenues during their slow months.

Doing this intelligently will preserve our revenue while also helping traffic flow while increasing beach visitor numbers during the off-season.  Importantly, we could adjust the various facets of the plan to match existing revenue --while also making the beach access free for winter visitors and 50% less costly for summertime visitors who don’t mind parking in areas further removed from the central hub of Casino Beach.  If this plan can be adjusted such that the revenue will remain consistent with what it currently is (Roughly $3.5 Million Gross, $1.2Million Net yearly) I believe this plan would be appropriate and such a plan would find support among citizens---more so than going to a fully-automated system.

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