Tolls are ancient and integral to our friend, bureaucracy.

I like to imagine that one day, a farmer mom paid for a ferry crossing with a bunch of chicken eggs, as usual, when it suddenly occurred to her that she could block passage around her farm and funnel traffic through her magnificent dirt road and collect eggs from everyone. She was a chicken-hater, I am certain, so this idea had tremendous appeal.

Or she just wanted money, if you want it to be weird.

nataliemaynor on flickr
nataliemaynor on flickr

Ancient infrastructure was terribly unreliable. We hear about bridges failing and dams breaking and roads collapsing now, but it’s unusual in the engineered world. Our traveling ancestors had to cope with a constant threat of sudden death due to infrastructure dangers.

As recently as 1889 more than two thousand people were drowned when a poorly executed dam failed in Pennsylvania. (Have you ever even heard of Johnstown? I would be very surprised if you had since you don’t live in western Pennsylvania).

Tolls are a way to make the people who use the bridges and tunnels and other goodies actually pay for the expenses. Much to the dismay of many city managers, the big tubes and blocks and wires that go into such things are not ageless, but require upkeep and even watchful care. These structures are also mindbogglingly expensive to build in the first place.

Some governments have had the idea that rather than deal with any of it, they will sell the structures or the rights to collect tolls to outside companies. What could possibly go wrong with that?

As a few of your siblings have learned, you can skip tolls, but with the current technology, the toll-takers will find you and you will end up with a huge bill. It’s possible that you may not be identified if you ride a horse, but if you are in a car, they will track you down.

So pay attention and check for tolls before you travel. You should carry ones and quarters. Unless you’re going to New York or New Jersey; then take fives and tens.

Or ride a horse.


Waddaya think?

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