Tattling on out-of-state tags must be its own reward

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

February 08, 1993

Intrepid Commuter proposes this generous offer: Turn in your neighbor's car (the one with the out-of-state tags) and earn $25.

Actually, the idea originated with loyal reader Michael Shaivitz, who believes he has discovered a stone capable of felling two birds.

Why not, Mr. Shaivitz asks, offer a bounty to anyone who will turn in a Maryland resident whose car is illegally titled out of state? After all, he says, such a crackdown could produce millions of dollars in fees for the cash-strapped state government and force more people to register here.

"I see a lot of these cars driving down the Jones Falls Expressway, and you constantly see the same cars," says Mr. Shaivitz, who commutes daily from Owings Mills to downtown. "The state's looking for money and everybody's looking for a buck. Why not?"

We forwarded this idea to the Motor Vehicle Administration. Of course to do so, we had to wait in line for a couple of days, fill out a bunch of forms and get bounced around a couple of departments. But eventually, we received a courteous response.

(Oops, just joking. They weren't that polite.)

The idea has been proposed before, and while the goals are laudable, MVA officials doubt such a program would do much good. It would create an administrative nightmare, keeping track of tips and linking them to prosecutions.

"But the broader question," says Administrator W. Marshall Rickert, "is about whether we really want to get into vigilante enforcement."

Mr. Rickert has a point. We could envision a day when families live in fear that their neighbors will rat on them and their tags.

People might stop moving here.

State law requires new residents to title and register their cars in Maryland within 30 days of arrival. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $1,000.

MVA enforcement agents last year issued 3,542 warnings for vehicles with out-of-state tags.

MVA and other police regularly sweep through residential neighborhoods looking for violators.

Mr. Rickert says his agency still welcomes tips on possible violations. Call the MVA at 950-1682, and ask to have a complaint form mailed to you.

No reward, but perhaps you'll get a warm feeling inside.

To HOV or HOV not?

Kevin Novak of Abingdon is unhappy to see signs along Interstate 95 in Harford County that promise a "future HOV" lane.

The signs sprouted late last year as the state began wrapping up the $38 million widening of a section of I-95 between the Baltimore Beltway and Route 24. HOV stands for High Occupancy Vehicle.

"They've got to be kidding," says Mr. Novak, who drives each day alone to Dundalk. "There's nobody around here with three or more people in their cars. I think car pooling is great, but to spend that much money for a few people seems incredibly wasteful."

To get an explanation, we called John A. Agro Jr., executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority. It has jurisdiction over that portion of I-95.

Mr. Agro admits the authority endorsed the idea of an HOV lane after construction began in early 1991, but he believes it may be the right thing to do. It would be conducted as an experiment that might not be made permanent.

HOV lanes generally require motorists to have a certain number of people in their cars during peak hours of traffic. Often the requirement is three, but it could be two, Mr. Agro says. Violators would be subject to penalties similar to speeding violations.

The point is to encourage car pooling at a time when the federal government is cracking down on ground-level air pollution.

The State Highway Administration is studying similar proposals for Interstate 270 outside Washington.

When would the lanes be restricted? Mr. Agro would not speculate, but suggested the HOV designation likely would coincide with federal regulations that will require companies to crack down on the number of workers who drive alone to work.

"HOV is a balancing act," Mr. Agro says. "We certainly don't want to impede traffic in the corridor."

Choo, choo, ring, ring: Is that the train phone?

Criticize Maryland commuter rail service if you want, but you have to concede the folks at MARC keep trying to please.

Last Friday, commuters on the Brunswick Line from Washington west to Brunswick and Martinsburg, W.Va., found a new feature aboard their trains: a phone booth.

The GTE Railphone is getting a six-month test to see if passengers would like to make calls from the train. The mobile phone service is getting its first test on the Brunswick Line because it's the longest commute -- up to 1 hour and 45 minutes one-way.

Using the phones isn't cheap: $1.50 to dial out and $1.50 per minute, BUT they accept all kinds of long-distance and credit cards.

The three cars with the phones are running on Trains 272 and 274 in the mornings and Trains 273 and 279 in the evenings.

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