Category Archives: cars

Why I’m voting no on the Wisconsin transportation referendum

All attention is focused on Mary Burke and Scott Walker, so I didn’t even realize there’s a state ballot proposition in next week’s election.  And it’s not a trivial one, either.

Question 1: “Creation of a Transportation Fund. Shall section 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?”

Mary Burke supports this.  So does Governor Walker.  The bill to put the referendum on the ballot was passed by large majorities of both houses.  “Yes on 1″ has an organized campaign and a snappy website; as far as I can tell, there is no such thing as “No on 1.”

But I’m voting no.  I don’t expect every dime of people’s property taxes to support upkeep of residential infrastructure.  I don’t think the sales tax should be restricted to promoting Wisconsin retail.  I think money is money and it’s the job of the legislature, not the constitution, to decide how money can best be raised and where in the state it’s most needed.

The amendment prevents gas taxes and vehicle registration fees from being used to fund schools and hospitals and police, but it doesn’t prevent other revenue sources from being raided to fund our highways and bridges.  And that’s what’s actually happening right now; the current administration takes $133 million from the general fund to fund transportation in the current budget.  I’m not sure why transportation, out of all state projects, ought to enjoy a special status:  allowed to draw money from the general fund, but constitutionally prohibited from releasing any back.

The Yes on 1 FAQ points out that many states around the country have constitutional language enforcing segregation of the the transportation fund.  I looked at a few of these, and it’s true!  But those provisions are of a rather different nature.  California’s constitutional provision requires that 25% of the money go to public transportation.  In Minnesota, it’s 40%.  Our referendum has no such restriction, requiring only that the money go to things funded by the DoT.  The Yes on 1 FAQ points out, correctly, that “Wisconsin’s segregated transportation fund is the sole source of state funding for the entire transportation system – highways, air, rail, transit, harbors, bicycle and pedestrian facilities.”  Pretty weak sauce — the fund will not be prohibited from funding other forms of transportation.  Unless an enterprising governor splits off transit into a separate department, that is.  (Ohio’s Constitution, by the way, already forbids gas taxes and license fees from aiding mass transit.)

The amendment establishes one class of spending and taxing as privileged above all the rest.  It shouldn’t be part of our state constitution.

Links:

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I think I just saw a live-action political cartoon about the state of American liberalism in 2011

A tow truck passed me on John Nolen drive, carrying a Toyota and a Subaru that had been in an accident.  Neither was totalled, but both needed some pretty serious body work.  The Toyota had a bumper sticker that said “Feingold ’10” and the Subaru had one that said “Obama ’08.”

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Is Zipcar offering too little insurance?

Ron Lieber in the New York Times says Zipcar is underinsuring its customers:

Today, customers who are 21 or older have $300,000 of liability coverageper accident. That would have to cover mangled limbs, brain damage, pain and suffering and anything else that might befall all the people that a Zipcar vehicle mowed down or plowed into.

Drivers under 21 get much less coverage. Zipcar would have to pay a lot of money to provide $300,000 in coverage to less-experienced college-age drivers, and it figures that most of its users in this age group are covered by their parents’ auto policies anyway. So Zipcar does as little as possible here, offering each state’s minimum requirements and no more….

Zipcar members who do not read the disclosures on the company’s Web site would never know about any of this. And many of them don’t, since the company has persisted with the claim elsewhere on its site that its insurance is “comprehensive.”

Wouldn’t a lawyer for an injured person or the family of an accident victim go after Zipcar first, since that’s where the money is? They could try, but a federal law shields rental car companies in many instances, and Zipcar has already cited it in at least one legal skirmish over someone injured in an accident involving a Zipcar.

Just in case, however, Zipcar still insures itself. In a filing accompanying its initial public offering, the company noted that in the event that it was responsible for an accident, say because it failed to maintain its cars, it had coverage up to $5 million in the United States. That is more than 16 times the maximum protection that it offers its members.

I have no position on how much liability insurance a driver ought to have.  But every advice on this I’ve ever read agrees that the amount of insurance you want goes up with your assets.  It would be truly weird if Zipcar didn’t insure itself against much, much greater losses than its customers do.

According to a Zipcar spokeswoman, Colleen McCormick, the $300,000 in coverage has been adequate for every accident since it began operations. She added that more than half of accidents involve only the Zipcar vehicle itself. When another car is involved, 93 percent of the accidents have resulted in claims of less than $10,000, and 99.3 percent result in claims of less than $50,000.

That makes the company pretty lucky. Sure, accidents with injuries are rare, but what happens when they do occur? According to ISO, a data provider to insurance companies, about 2 percent of bodily injury liability insurance claims in the United States are for more than $300,000; in the State of New York, it’s 3 percent.

For brain damage in a vehicular accident, the median jury award in 2008, the most recent year for which data was available, was $289,793, according to Jury Verdict Research, which compiles the data and publishes it. For leg injuries, the median was $192,775.

Not one but two devious coordinate changes here.  Zipcar says that claims of more than $50,000 make up .7% of half of all claims, so about .4%.  Lieber argues that this makes them very lucky:  3% of claims in New York State are for more than $300,000.  But look closely — the second number only applies to claims involving bodily injury — obviously these will be the most expensive class.  How frequent are bodily injury claims?  Lieber gives no hint.  But he does go on, rather slyly in my view, to narrow his focus to an even smaller class of claims, those involving brain injuries — now the median size of claim is already close to $300K.  But how many bodily injuries involve brain injuries?  Again, we’re in the dark.

I heartily endorse the genre of business piece that uses numbers as part of an argument.  But you need to include all the relevant numbers!

One number that’s plainly important:  how often do Zipcar customers end up facing liabilities that exceed what they’re insured for?  Credit to Lieber for answering this one — it’s “never.”

“Never in 10 million drives has a single person had to come out of pocket” for a liability claim, said Rob Weisberg, Zipcar’s chief marketing officer. “Our coverage is two times our next-largest competitor, and our coverage is greater than most Americans have who insure their personally owned vehicles.”

That doesn’t make those Americans adequately covered. And the logic here strikes me as backward. Insurance is supposed to be for things that would be financially catastrophic. To sell protection against a three-figure fee while leaving members exposed to a seven-figure judgment doesn’t make much sense.

So if you’re a Zipcar member, as I am, now you know what the worst case looks like. Still feeling comfortable with the company’s coverage?

To sum up:  Zipcar is mistreating its customers by failing to offer a service that most of them don’t want, and which, if offered, would not have been used in the company’s entire history.

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Reader survey: how many non-drivers in Madison?

Without looking it up:  what percent of households in Madison don’t own a car?  What percent of commuters don’t drive to work?  What percent bike?

My guesses were pretty far off.

The answers, along with similar data for other cities (drawn from the 2000 census) are here.

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Things I now know how to do: signal apology from inside a car

I mentioned a couple of months ago I didn’t know how to convey the sentiment “I’m sorry” while driving.  Why didn’t I think of this? (via MetaFilter.)

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Things I don’t know how to do, IV: signal apology from inside a car

The other day, in the middle of making a left turn from a four-way stop, I realized I’d jumped out ahead of the woman who had the right of way.  Aiming to signal an apology, I touched my index finger to my head (“I’m aware I did that”) and then to my heart (“and I feel bad about it.”)

Why did I do that?  Is there even the slightest chance this gesture was interpreted correctly by the other driver?  More generally, why don’t we have a consensus gestural shorthand for “I’m sorry about the improper traffic maneuver I just executed?”  Or do we have one, and I just don’t know it?

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Don Henley Must Drive

We were driving back from Milwaukee Airport the other day and got stuck for a while behind an old Civic with a license plate reading DON HNLY.  It puzzled me.  Are there really people, in 2009, whose commitment to Don Henley is so strong as to demand a personalized license plate?  EAGLES, all right, I can see, they still sell out arenas.  But solo Don?

Then I started to wonder — what if it is Don Henley?  I didn’t have a fully worked-out theory for why Don Henley would be driving an old Civic on westbound I-94, but the idea was appealing.  If I were Don Henley, I could totally imagine buying a modest vehicle, registering it with a personalized license plate advertising myself, then enjoying the reaction whenever I climbed out at a rest stop — the magnificent triple-take from “That guy has a Don Henley license plate!” to “That guy with the Don Henley license plate is a ringer for Don Henley!” to “Can it really be….”

So I cruised along behind the Civic, in no hurry, enjoying my fantasy, until everything was ruined by the Impala in the passing lane with the MENTORS plate.

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Good things about the last-place Orioles

Who’d have thought that the year the Orioles look to be heading for a last-place finish, their first since 1988, would be such a pleasure to watch? We are bad — yes. But we’re running last in the strongest AL East in memory, which with the current unbalanced schedule means we’re playing the hardest schedule in memory. And even so, we’re closer to .500 than we’ve been in ten years. We’ve scored just two fewer runs than we’ve allowed. We’re carrying a legitimate young star in Nick Markakis, and (though no one outside Baltimore has noticed yet) one of the 10 best pitchers in the league, in Jeremy Guthrie. We get to watch surprsingly great slugging from Aubrey Huff and Luke Scott, though they’re not part of the team’s future. And surpringly great set-up work from Jim Johnson, who might be. We shucked off old, expensive Miguel Tejada and middle-aged, expensive Erik Bedard, and, for once, we got legitimate talent in return.

The Bedard trade, to be sure, should have been completed by trading George Sherrill for something we need, like an unembarrassing shortshop; turning Bedard into Adam Jones and a major-league shortstop would be a real coup. And there must be something about Huff’s contract I don’t understand, because it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a contending team willing to trade something valuable for a DH with the 7th-best OPS in the AL. Huff, Roberts, Sherrill, and Scott are all probably as valuable as they’re going to be — I like watching them play, I like that they’re Orioles, and I’d like to see them gone as soon as possible.

Some miscellaneous Orioles links I’ve been meaning to post:

Mike Pagliarulo gives insider dish on the 1993 Orioles, one of my favorite squads. Here’s what I wrote in Rain Taxi about that team a few years back:

1993 was the year Fernando Valenzuela pitched for the Orioles. Valenzuela, when he was 21, already had a Cy Young award and was going to be the pitcher of our time, but by 1993 he was seven years past his last winning season. For some reason he came to Baltimore, and he had another losing season. But he brought a bit of noble twilight to the team, a team which was, all in all, a perfect mix of nobly twilit old guys (Valenzuela, Rick Sutcliffe, Harold Baines), young guys who hadn’t found themselves (Mike Mussina, Arthur Lee Rhodes, Jeffrey Hammonds), and, maybe most importantly, middle-aged, middle-talented guys who picked that year to have great seasons which they must have known they would never again equal (Chris Hoiles and the incomparable Jack Voigt). It was somewhat shocking to me to look up the statistics and see that the Orioles were actually pretty good that year, and finished in a tie for third. My memory of that team is Valenzuela losing in the late afternoon.

Also, the Orioles are bike commuters. I give you Jeremy Guthrie:

“I hate cars, I hate driving, I hate doing something I don’t have to do. For me to drive downtown is a waste of gas; it’s a waste of my time. I can ride faster than I can drive.”

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Wikidirections

Mrs. Q and I tried to drive from Philadelphia to Metropark the other day, with a printout from Google Maps to guide us. At a critical point we were directed to make a slight left onto Kaighn Avenue. What we were in fact supposed to do was to take the left-hand side of a highway split, which was labeled “NJ-38 / NJ-70.” It turns out that NJ-38 is Kaighn Avenue — but, not knowing this, we ended up toodling around lower Camden for a while before unfolding the state map and figuring out how to get back on course.

You could take various lessons from this — that we should have had the map of New Jersey open in the first place, that we should have a GPS for navigating unfamiliar territory — but my first thought was: why isn’t there a Wiki overlay for Google Maps? There ought to be a website in which I can load up the relevant directions, then annotate “4. Slight left on Kaighn avenue” with the comment “No signage for Kaighn avenue: take the left-hand side of the split, following signs to NJ-38 and NJ-70.” Then anyone else whose Google Maps directions query involved the same maneuver would be given the option to see my annotation, and hopefully the total amount of Camden-toodling in the world would be diminished.

The annotations wouldn’t be limited to clarifying the signage; they could also include things like “brutally short merge lane entering from the right” or “speed trap” or “the diner at the corner of this left turn makes really good corned beef hash.” Wouldn’t something like this — if it were popular enough — make Google Maps a lot more useful? Or are we the only ones who have this problem?

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Carseat/nobility quiz

Which are actual Britax carseats and which did I make up?

  • Diplomat
  • Monarch
  • Overlord
  • Emperor
  • Royal
  • Regent
  • Viceroy
  • Tyrant
  • Viscount
  • Chancellor
  • Sultan
  • Husky
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