5-year deal for companies benefits taxpayers, too


August 23, 1993

Arnold Wasserman was stunned to see a '98.

No, not the Oldsmobile sedan, the sticker.

He could see it on the license plate in front of him in traffic. Instead of the '93, '94 or even the '95 that you normally see on a tag, a defiant '98 was in plain view.

Mr. Wasserman, a federal worker and a Pikesville resident, is no fool. He knew instantly that something was amiss.

"How could this be possible?" Mr. Wasserman subsequently asked yours truly. "As far as I know everybody only gets two years on their tags."

Without so much as a whisper to us regular folks, the Motor Vehicle Administration started offering Maryland companies a deal in April. Any business with 25 or more vehicles could register them for five years instead of two.

There is some precedent for this. Since the 1970s, companies have been allowed to register trailers for seven years (check out the double-0 stickers that have been issued since the start of this year).

But here's what makes the deal sweet. While you and I have to pay for two years up front, companies can get a five-year sticker for the cost of one year's registration, plus the cost of a bond covering the second year.

James E. Hose, the MVA's director of vehicle registration, says taxpayers benefit from this arrangement.

It cuts down on paperwork and computer processing at the MVA since businesses are billed yearly for one total fleet, instead of thousands of individual titles.

Large companies generally are better risks than regular folks. And if they forfeit their bond, the MVA comes around and takes its license plates back, Mr. Hose says.

"They can pay me all five years up front, but they don't have to," Mr. Hose says.

"We're talking about heavy vehicles where the annual registration cost might be $1,300 apiece instead of $35."

William G. Hardisky, general supervisor of maintenance for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., says the utility will save tens of thousands of dollars on its 2,200-vehicle fleet with the five-year tags.

Part of the savings comes from the fact that his department doesn't have to track down service vehicles every two years to plaster new stickers on them.

"We expect the MVA is saving as much in paperwork as we are," Mr. Hardisky says. "An individual might move around in five years, but not a utility company. It was mutually beneficial to be involved in this."

So far, about 17,000 vehicles have received the five-year stickers.

Incidentally, Intrepid Commuter faithfully reported our findings to Wasserman. Would he like to get five years of registration and be billed annually?

"That would be a great idea," he says.

Readers rail about N. Charles St. tie-up

Imagine a motorist's surprise to be driving up Charles Street in a thunderstorm and suddenly find your lane turn into a taxi stand.

It happened to at least one irate reader recently. It's probably happened to a lot more.

NB Intrepid Commuter reports a veritable summer squall of Sundial

calls thundering on a single topic: the inconveniences spawned by construction at Pennsylvania Station, particularly the conversion of the right lane of North Charles Street to taxi use only.

A random sampling:

"The traffic situation is chaos."

"It's extremely inconvenient."

"What are the alternatives, and why is it necessary to block this off for a long period of time?"

"The public relations aspect of this is a disaster."

Lest our readers decide to run the City Hall crowd out on a rail, we feel an obligation to explain the circumstances surrounding the train station.

Charles Street lost a lane during rush hour between Mount Royal Avenue and East Lanvale Street when construction started in May on a $9.1 million, 537-space parking garage that will be just south of the station.

Workers have already torn down the elevated service road and the ramp that lead to employee parking beneath the station. The closing of the service road meant finding a new system for taxis and drop-off passengers.

The answer was use the little turnaround area along the building's west side for taxis, stacking the waiting cabs in the right lane, and creating a drop-off point north of the entrance for everybody else.

To make up for the loss of off-peak parking spaces on Charles Street, the city converted the south side of East Lanvale to angled parking.

Signs were installed along St. Paul Street to let southbound drivers know that they need to turn at Preston Street and to turn right again on Charles Street to get to the station.

M. Faysal Thameen, chief of the city Public Works Department's interstate division, admits that the initial signage could have been better and that the city had to make some changes in the traffic plan. Officials originally wanted commuters to share the turn-in area with taxis, for instance.

"We've adapted, and I think people have responded beautifully," Mr. Thameen says.

"We made a lot of minor modifications," he says.

Still, the loss of a lane on a major thoroughfare is no small matter. Many of the city's commuters have learned to take alternate routes.

The good news is that the garage is on a fast track. It should be opened to the public by July.

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