Stock market shenanigans?

by MBT

I read the book Flash Boys and found myself so appalled at how sketchy and underhanded the market is, and how little I know of how it works, that a handful of other people in my life got the book because I kept talking about it. The SEC has approved a new stock exchange run by the men who were central to the book.

IEX Group, Critical of Wall St., Gains Approval for Stock Exchange

Many of you know much more about the markets than I do. Do you see this as a good thing? Something that will last? Are the warnings that it could hurt small investors accurate?

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123 thoughts on “Stock market shenanigans?

  1. My lay understanding, hopefully not too naïve, was that none of this mattered much to the boring buy-and-hold investors, but I’d feel better if someone could confirm that.

  2. MBT – Small investors have no place in the market in any fashion other than for the long term, and usually that is managed through index or other broad mutual funds or ETFs, held in after tax or pretax accounts. High frequency trading, like currency and commodities trading, is a money making game for professionals or sophisticated investors with a tolerance for risk. The fact that it is almost impossible to beat inflation in FDIC protected investments or bonds rated A or higher has made it difficult for the very conservative investor both to preserve capital and earn any sort of meaningful return.

    While I agree that there is sketchiness in the stock market, I personally was not appalled that making a business decision to place your computers a few block closer to the source of information granted a small advantage. Some of the other tactics ranged from shady to illegal. The facts that the lay investor is NOT considered a meaningful stakeholder in decision making in public companies, as opposed to large shareholders and those within the company compensated in stock, and that corporate boards are incestuously interlocked, are more worrisome to me, yet we seem to have weathered that situation for many years.

  3. I agree with Meme.

    This is all about market timing. For those of us who put a % of our pay into maybe 3 index funds (US stock, US bonds, Int’l stock) every pay period, I believe there is no material concern over the long haul.

  4. So we had an event up in CT over the weekend, and we did a half day in Manhattan on the way home.

    I just looked at my EZ Pass statement. Holy crap! $80 in tolls for the weekend. $80!!!! (We did pick up BIL and SIL from LaGuardia on the way.)

    I don’t know how you NYers get around. Trains and ferries, sure, but then you have to multiply everything by five.

  5. Milo – the subway. =)

    I remember renting a car a few years back for a trip to DC and bringing quarters with me. Ha! I had no idea how much tolls had increased.

  6. Milo, that is a big reason why I hate having to go into campus when I don’t need to. I got called in for a meeting 3 weeks ago, which lasted exactly 15 minutes, and involved stuff that could have been handled by email. That cost me 2 hours (accident on I-95 meant it took 90 minutes to go home) and $10 in tolls.

  7. Milo, you sound like my Dad.
    Or your Dad, for that matter. The one who rationed the ac

  8. This year, DH is limited in his 401k contribution, and not allowed to contribute the full allowed IRS limit. Besides the IRA, what are our other options?

  9. That was ages ago. My Dad who rationed the AC now drives in the “Lexus Lanes” all the time and dismisses the fees by saying “It just goes on the EZPass, it’s not like it’s real money.”

  10. The fact that it is almost impossible to beat inflation in FDIC protected investments or bonds rated A or higher has made it difficult for the very conservative investor both to preserve capital and earn any sort of meaningful return.

    It’s interesting that Swiss government bond yields are now negative for all maturities. -2% for overnight on through 30 years which yields -0.02%.

    https://www.six-swiss-exchange.com/services/yield_curves_en.html

  11. Aononypug: Backdoor Roth. Open a nondeductible IRA, the next day convert it to a Roth. You have to pay taxes on any gains, but unless you pick an awesome day, it shouldn’t be significant.

    Otherwise, I’d just go with a tax-efficient standard index fund. Cap gains tax levels are still below income tax levels, and as long as your fund isn’t constantly buying and selling, you shouldn’t rack up huge annual cap gains taxes anyway.

    I know there are deductible IRA options with phaseout income thresholds and all, too, if you qualify.

  12. @Lark — her DH is probably a highly-compensated employee, and the lower-comp employees didn’t contribute enough to allow the highly-comp their full contributions. Our firm has had a couple of years where we needed to do an EOY additional payment to the staff 401(k)s for the attorneys to be allowed to do the full contribution.

  13. I ignore tolls around DC. They aren’t that much and I regularly use the Lexus lanes. I love the one on 495 that charges based on volume. Tolls in NY are totally different! We did a trip up there a few weeks ago and the tolls cost so much! And we sat in traffic for so long. I could never live there. Everything seems to be so hard. DC is like a quaint little town in comparison.

  14. Well, if you actually live in NY, you take public transit, unless you live on Staten Island, and they have some kind of special bridge toll. I didn’t even own a car when I lived in NYC.

    My problem is that I live in Westchester and work in Queens. The transit systems all assume you work in Manhattan

  15. Anonypug – Fund the HSA to the max, also. In mine I can invest thru a brokerage so I have a minor portion of that in stock and bond mutual funds, leaving the majority in cash.

  16. For me, “hard” was when I lived in semi rural MA, outside of a dying mill town. We were 5 miles from a decrepit grocery store, it frickin’ snowed all the time, and the electricity went out all the time. WHich meant no water, since we had a well. We also were stuck with a septic system and no trash pickup. I would far rather live in the NY area and pay tolls.

  17. Public transit seems to be so hard with kids. I had a hard time getting my kids around. Maybe it is better once you get the hang of it. But I really enjoy the ability to throw my kids in a car and get them somewhere without it costing an arm and a leg.

  18. I always get the same sense of “hard living” as Kate in NYC, and I don’t mean that as an insult, because I always feel rather provincial and simple for thinking that, but it’s definitely there. Once you pass Newark Airport on the Turnpike, and you’re approaching the GW Bridge, everything just starts closing in on you. The lanes are getting narrower, and there are more and more people and cars and trucks all around you. And it’s the same experience on the train. Even just walking, almost anywhere you stand, you’re in someone’s way. And attending to the most basic needs for sustenance requires a constant outpouring of cash.

    When we stay overnight, the hotel room is always a partial respite–you get a quiet place to sit, at least. A big part of it, personally, is that I feel naked and helpless without easy access to my own car.

  19. It is totally me! Like I don’t have enough grit to live there. Maybe as a single person. But not as someone with kids. To be happy there, I would need a driver on call to shuttle us around.

  20. Public transit is a real PITA with young kids. It’s the stroller/toddler age that is awful. Once they are 4 or 5 and up, it’s no big deal. Especially if they’ve been riding it their whole life & know the drill. But that’s a long time to wait. Especially if the alternative is messing with carseats in cabs. I’ve always just let my kid sit without one in a cab, but he hasn’t ridden in them all that often either.

  21. Thanks Meme. It’s actually been quite a while since I read the book, but seeing the article reminded me of how annoyed the book left me. I was under the impression that the front-running of transactions added cost/reduced profit in pension and 401k transactions. I understand that the amounts are small on a per unit basis, but I interpreted it that it was material in the aggregate, or why do it. I am interpreting the comments to mean that a new exchange has minimal effect on a small investor and 401k participant like me.

  22. A big part of it, personally, is that I feel naked and helpless without easy access to my own car.

    I’m having the opposite experience. I’ve started a new project that has me, for the first time in 15 years, in a suburb. It’s sort of a shock to be so car dependent. I need to go to Walgreens? Get in the car. Get lunch? Get in the car. Go to dinner? Get in the car. At my last site I’d just walk out of the hotel and jump in a cab. The hotel is only 2 miles to work, so that’s good. I can’t imagine all that car dependence and a commute.

  23. I read the book a year or so ago and it may be that I shrugged it all off because I sort of assumed it was that way anyway. For a long term investor it really shouldn’t matter.

    I just read Jim Collins New Hampshire’s book, “A Simple Path to Wealth” and would absolutely recommend it for someone starting out investing. A lot of the info is on his blog (invest in VTSAX and a Vanguard bond fund and forget about the money). But I think his charts showing the steady ascent of the market over decades with all of the crashes and bear markets would make people feel better.

    Speaking of tolls in NY – we don’t have an EZ Pass because we live in Georgia and so I was surprised at the new Tappanzee set up with no toll booths. So I am now going to get a bill in the mail for $5?

  24. So I am now going to get a bill in the mail for $5?

    I believe so. Starting this fall the Mass Pike is going with that system. You just drive around at highway speed and if you don’t have EZ Pass they use license plate readers to send you a bill along with a process fee. No more toll booths or anything other than a bar across the highway with the scanners and cameras attached.

  25. Rhett – The thing about the car, though, is that it gives you a mobile base of operations. You can bring your favorite pillows to the hotel, you can travel with all sorts of drinks and foods kept cold in a cooler. On some trips, it’s got your bikes and all their equipment.

    Without your car, you’ve got nothing.

    As an aside, instead of the car, I’m seeing that you can get transient dockage at Liberty Harbor Marina in Jersey City for $7 per foot (including 30 amp electric) per night. So $238 for a 34-foot trawler. Not bad, and you avoid the tolls. :)

  26. you can travel with all sorts of drinks and foods kept cold in a cooler.

    I know, we dragged all our gear to the beach on Sunday. It’s the day to day all day dependence that’s kind of a shock.

  27. “Speaking of tolls in NY – we don’t have an EZ Pass because we live in Georgia and so I was surprised at the new Tappanzee set up with no toll booths. So I am now going to get a bill in the mail for $5?”

    Oh good. Maybe they’ll fix the SNAFU with “out of state” EZ Passes. On the Tap’s high speed EZ Pass lanes, you have to be registered in either NY or NJ to use them. With our RI plates, we used them twice and got ticketed. Not a bill for the toll, but a ticket. We called the Bridge Authority, gave all the info and only were charged the toll. But still. Since then we avoid the high speed EZ Pass lane in NY. NJ has no problems on the Turnpike or Parkway.

    I have a very naive question – why do we need more than one stock market? Why do we have 13? Are they geared towards different stocks? Or is it all the same stock market, just different ways to calculate things?

  28. Thank you Lark and Fred! This is very annoying! Highly compensated employee is a misnomer and only applies because other employees are either not compensated enough or do t contribute enough.

  29. “Open a nondeductible IRA, the next day convert it to a Roth. You have to pay taxes on any gains, but unless you pick an awesome day, it shouldn’t be significant.”

    A word of caution– if you already have a nondeductible IRA, you may have a tax bill if you do this, and it could be significant if your existing IRA has had significant gains.

    How about contributing to a Roth 401k instead of a regular 401k? That effectively allows him to contribute more (his contributions plus the tax on it).

  30. I live close enough to all daily necessities so it can be a walk or a loop in my car. I do a weekly shopping run but catch myself making a stop ever so often. In the home country people do groceries daily because everything is accessible but there is no storage space for Costco type shopping. My Mom says that now in cities you can get everything delivered to your house so that’s progress since my childhood.

  31. Rhode – yes, different exchanges focus on different things. Nasdaq is more tech-based. NYSE – bigger companies and more traditional companies. Nasdaq is broken down in to even smaller exchanges. They all have different rules for listing – market cap, stock prices, revenue, etc. There used to be Amex before it became part of NYSE. It was smaller companies, some SPACs, etc.

  32. I guess I will have to be on the lookout – I have a bad habit of tossing most of our mail into our shred pile without opening it.

  33. And I should say – you generally are not listed on more than 1 US stock exchange. But foreign companies are often listed in their home country and then have a special listing here under ADRs. It is complicated and I spent a lot of my former life dealing with this stuff!

  34. At a previous employer I very occasionally dealt with the head of trading. While he came across as nice enough to me, all others had horror stories about his arrogance. There had always been scrutiny of any gifts traders would receive from people they placed trades with. Anyway after a review it was found that a lot of traders were violating policy by accepting lavish favors – tickets to events, stays at hotels etc. The head of trading was not publicly fired but eased out, no doubt to the glee of his haters.

  35. Is anyone watching SCOTUS today? They are on fire. Guns! Abortion! Virginia governors! I am quite liking the post-Scalia court.

  36. As much as I would love to take credit for her brilliant response, it was LfB ;)

  37. I am having an issue with ezpass in nj. My daughter bought a new car in May and had a temporary license plate, She has now received 8 ezpass violations from the NJ Turnpike Authortiy – 5 for a dump truck and 3 for a Ford Taurus. Apparently it has become common for criminals to print temporary plates (they are now plastic and go on the back license plate holder) and sell them to people to beat the tolls. Since the plate number is associated with her car, they send her the violations and she has to respond to each one, Seems to me that software should be able to tell that that number is not associated with either a dump truck or a Ford Taurus. Very frustrating!

  38. Old mom, I’m pretty sure you’re looking at a pretty big capability increase to be able to capture not just the license plate # but also the make and/or model of the vehicle. License plate capture systems are pretty specialized.

    My guess is the best way to address some of these problems is to use technology already existing for automated issuance of speeding tickets, which also capture photos of the cars and drivers. They won’t automatically capture information like color or make/model, but in the case of contested tickets, it would be pretty easy to show that dump truck is not your daughter’s car.

  39. I’m in a rural part of PA today, and I had the opposite experience on my drive here vs. NYC. Very few cars on empty interstate, and then very narrow roads to get to hotel. No tolls except Tappan Zee on the way back.

    The high tolls are in NJ!!! When I drive back/forth to DC, I am amazed at how every state manages to get some money. Even Delaware catches you on two tolls. The NJ turnpike and GWB are expensive tolls.

    The tolls to get to LGA are slightly higher for non NY issued EZ pass. I see other states doing this too, and I wish the rates for having EZ pass from any state applied to all.

    I really don’t like driving in central Florids because there are tolls to enter the road, and then multiple tolls just to drive 10 or 20 miles.

    OT, I think that smart people at financial firms will do everything they can to make more money. In a few instances, it might benefit the holders of their funds. I agree with the others, that it shouldn’t matter to the average Totebag investor over the long haul.

    It makes more sense to pay attention to unneccessary high fund fees that might really cut into your returns.

  40. I feel similarly to Rhett about car dependence, even though I do have a car commute to work. I would far rather take public transit. When my kids were babies, I hated, hated, hated schlepping them into the car, so I mainly did errands I could walk to with the stroller. One nice thing about this area is that it is possible to walk to lots of everyday stores.

    I have to go to the Chicago “area” for a conference, and I just realized that the hotel is in the middle of NOWHERE. It isn’t Chicago at all, even though they billed it as such. Now, I am really used to public transit in Chicago – I go frequently, and know how to get around. But this place is 3 MILES from a Metra station. It isn’t even close to the airport. I hate renting cars, and I really hate driving in unfamiliar places, so I guess I will be stuck in the hotel for the 2 days. I would feel so much better if I could just get to public transit.

  41. DH and I kept our NJ EZ Passes when we moved because (1) there’s 1 toll in RI and it isacross the Newport Pell Bridge and didn’t accept EZ Pass and (2) we still wanted it to travel to NJ. Then RI decided to incorporate EZ Pass to the Newport Bridge toll. Non-RI EZ Passes were subject to a $4 per crossing toll (meaning $8 to go to the Island and back) and RI Passes charge $0.83 per crossing. I immediately relinquished my NJ pass and signed up for an RI one. I’d rather pay $1.66 toll than $8 any day of the week. If you paid by cash, regardless of registration, you paid $4 per crossing.

    Lauren – yes, NJ tolls are high, but the sticker shock of the bridge crossings get me every damn time.

  42. MM – UGH – is it at least near a mall? There are some in the Oakrbrook/Yorktown and Schaumburg areas where you can at least walk across the parking lot to go somewhere outside the hotel. There are some that are really not walkable to anything though.

  43. I have to say I am ashamed at how much I love the “Lexus” lanes on the beltway!

  44. RMS – I would more likely take a cab, but yeah, I could do that. I think the hotel also has a shuttle that will cart you to the Metra. But geez, what a PITA

  45. Relatives of mine live in a city. But the area they live in is full of expensive townhouses with hardly any store fronts in walking distance. For everything they drive short distances and parking is such a pain. Their expensive townhouse looks out on a parking lot across the way. The whole area is devoid of any interesting streetscape and bleak. I know they bought for the house itself but the location is not great.
    After a few days I felt trapped and just wanted out of there.

  46. No concrete plans yet- we’ll probably hike a little and the boys will play in the stream near the campsite. The usual WCE family level of excitement.

  47. WCE, the hike that goes out of Ohanepecosh is pleasant and kid friendly. It is called Silver Falls

  48. I liked stroller errands except when it was cold, dark. raining, 95 degrees, someone was sick or cranky, or I needed to buy things like milk, juice, flour, or diapers.
    I love my vehicles.

  49. Scarlett – I had this great tank of a stroller with huge amounts of basket space under, plus a net shopping bag thingie that hung off the back. I also had one of those rain covers for the stroller, which kept the occupant completely dry (and I have rain gear purchased while bike touring on the ST Lawrence, so it is pretty hard core). And I still totally preferred that to hauling the heavy baby bucket out of the car, trying to snap open a recalictrant stroller with one hand while juggling bags, all in the same pouring rain.

    We live only a few short blocks from a lot of businesses, and I love to walk. It would be totally different if we were still in rural MA, 5 miles from any store at all. That is a big reason I had to get out of there – too much car dependence

  50. My new house is walkable to things. Which I really like. But not when I am schlepping 3 kids with me. Or if it is raining. Or too humid. Or the bugs are out and biting me. Or it has snowed and it is icy. So, around DC, there are like 3 days that are good for walking to things.

    But I am glad that some of you like to walk places in all conditions! We have enough traffic!

  51. Lauren – Lexus lanes around here charge a varying rate based on current traffic congestion, but they’re always free for vehicles with three or more occupants and the right type of EZPass transponder with the switch selected to “HOV.” That is the mode in which we tend to use them, so I love them.

  52. Mooshi, maybe it’s because you weren’t walking to stores in Manhattan?

    I had a large stroller but found it impossible to maneuver in some of the smaller specialty shops, so I always put the baby in a carrier.

    I would much, much, much rather drive to Target than schlep everything I bought at Target back on the subway from Queens, with or without a baby.

  53. Not walking to stores in Manhattan?? How else did I get my groceries? Like many Manhattanites, I had a pull cart for my groceries
    https://www.google.com/shopping/product/17608793742168184734?lsf=seller:7815,store:12177322790725130319&prds=oid:5955902596360000497&q=NYC+grocery+cart&hl=en&ei=kNxxV4nZLMTYecDfhdAF

    Fresh Direct and Peapod did not exist in those days. You hauled your groceries. I espeically loved the 80-somethings in my neighborhood, who usually had “legless dogs” (small dogs with ribbons who were never seen standing) perched in their carts

  54. Sky, in NYC you don’t buy mass quantities at Target, not because of the subway, but because you have no place to put it. It is very similar to living in Europe.

  55. The problem with Lexus lanes is they create an incentive to keep the free lanes as congested as possible. if the free lanes are moving freely, nobody will pay to use the toll lanes. And the more congested the free lanes are, the more they can charge for the toll lanes.

  56. DD, down here on I-95 at least between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, the Transit folks were all pissy because the flexible poles they installed to demarcate the Lexus Lanes were routinely driven over as people switched lanes at high speeds as usual. In fact, I got this experience recently when my real estate guy who was showing me places in North Warehouseville started going back and forth between the Lexus Lanes and the poor folks lanes. The third time, I stopped him. (After that, he insisted on meeting me at the places we were seeing. I guess he thought I was restricting his rights as a South Florida driver.)

    So the Transit Authority is going to start closing down I-95 to take out the flexible poles and replace them with rigid poles, closer together. Honest to God, today I heard a Transit commercial on the radio announcing the new program bragging, “Now the lane hoppers will have dents and scratches when they try to drive over the poles.”

    How many people are these idiots trying to kill?

  57. DD – I agree, but I believe the Lexus Lanes are run by a private company that doesn’t have much control over whatever repairs and maintenance and adjustments are done to the regular lanes. But that could be wishful thinking.

    I’m more bothered to learn on here that some bridges and tunnels in the Northeast are charging higher rates to those from out of state. I’m assuming that the transit authority is ultimately accountable to the voters, but a different pricing structure for out-of-staters makes it a lot easier to let costs go out of control.

  58. Mooshi, I lived in Manhattan for years too :) We still bought in bulk, and stored things on shelves over the refrigerator and inside the oven and even (near the end) in the bathtub, although that was really annoying….

    The guys who moved us out were stunned that the stuff in our tiny apartment filled a full size truck.

  59. Milo, that’s no different than charging different prices for the express lanes for those with or without transponders. Here, the tolls are about double if you don’t have a transponder, but people from out of the area are very unlikely to have one so they get extra screwed.

    And the answer to your point is that they shouldn’t allow private entities to manage highways.

  60. PTM – are there breaks in the barriers so cars can merge back into traffic when they need to exit the highway? Or is it an express lane?

    Milo – I think of it like state colleges and universities – you have in-state pricing and out-of-state pricing. In-state because your gov’t subsidizes your education in some way. State residents pay other taxes which subsidize infrastructure that tourists don’t. Might as well get something from the tourists.

  61. Most toll roads are public-private partnerships. I am totally fine with charging out-of-towners more.

  62. I didn’t have a pull cart because I picked up groceries on the way home from work and carried them for the 3/4 mile walk uphill on Connecticut Avenue. Just thinking about those shopping trips makes my hands hurt where the plastic bags cut into them. DH had our car at his university where he was finishing his PhD, and it was absolutely heaven when he visited and we were able to DRIVE to the grocery store. A Target (which did not exist in our area then) would have been beyond heaven.
    Perhaps city living is easier now that Amazon will deliver most household essentials, but in retirement I will not be willing to live like a European.

  63. ” in NYC you don’t buy mass quantities at Target, not because of the subway, but because you have no place to put it. It is very similar to living in Europe.”

    No matter the reason, that would be a significant added cost for us. We buy household staples at Costco, and usually only when they send us coupons for them, so things like toilet paper, razors, laundry and dish detergent, kids’ conditioner, sunscreen, even charcoal in the summer is bought in large quantities at steep volume discounts.

    We went to visit my parents over Memorial Day weekend, and my Dad texted me on the way asking if I could pick up a small bag of charcoal from the gas station for dinner that night. It was like $8 for a tiny bag. I’m used to paying about $12, after the coupon, for two GINORMOUS bags.

  64. but in retirement I will not be willing to live like a European.

    Weren’t you the one complaining about the local breakfast places serving pancakes from a box and fake syrup? I also seem to recall numerous complaints about the local selection of all you can eat buffet establishments.

  65. I am honestly not sure how these guys get away with charging higher tolls for out-of-state. There is a fundamental constitutional right to travel, and there is a federal interest in free interstate commerce that has been used to override a buttload of laws that would impose additional costs/requirements on out-of-state citizens than in-state citizens. A direct tax on the use of a major road that is 20x higher for out-of-state than in-state would seem to blatantly violate both of those rights.

    The problem with these laws is that of *course* the voters don’t care — the people who get to vote on it are the same people who get the awesome deal. There are absolutely no checks or balances for that kind of law.

  66. No matter the reason, that would be a significant added cost for us.

    I’m not sure of the situation in DC, but in Boston you can have storage and a car to make Costoco runs. It’s just that you only have one car and you hardly drive it. You get the savings of negligible transportation costs and the Costco savings.

  67. Rhett – I could definitely make do if I were in a city where I had easy access to my car in a covered reserved spot AND (I’m realizing after this weekend) there are not horrible tolls to get off the island.

  68. I didn’t drive for a long time. I relied on public transport to get around. Both DH and I used to go grocery shopping because he could drive. I didn’t mind taking the train or the bus but the waiting in the cold or rain when transport didn’t arrive on time was not fun. Some of our apartments were a walk from the train station. The days DH said he would give me a ride direct from work made my day. We thought quite a bit about where to buy our house because everyday travel be it to work, school, stores impacted our lives so much.

  69. Rhett, we definitely live in a food desert. But there are other places to live in or near major metro areas where you can have a smallish SFH with a garage.

  70. “I am honestly not sure how these guys get away with charging higher tolls for out-of-state.”

    On a horse-drawn carriage tour through Charleston, the guide mentioned that there was a huge difference in property tax rates in the city for full-time residents vs. those who live there less than six months of the year.

    But what I’ve never understood is how the 55+ communities get away with discrimination. DW’s aunt was diagnosed with a progressive neurological disorder, so they’re looking to become those who will almost surely be the youngest residents in one of those developments for the one-story living options. At 54, they’re allowed to buy a house, but they can’t move in until her birthday next year.

  71. Toll roads – Some states in the 16 state EZ pass program (Illinois to Maine to NC – a couple of no electronic toll states remain) give discounts to in state travelers. I know of NJ, NY and RI (a single bridge). There used to be locally available tokens in many states that functioned as quarters but cost less in bulk. Same principle. I have no issue with that. You can also have more than one EZ pass if you need it regularly, but you have to shield the one you don’t want charged while in the other state. In googling I was astounded to find out that many states have a monthly fee for EZ pass in addition to to initial sign up cost, and those vary widely as well. Maine is the cheapest, I think, and the pass can be purchased by anyone anywhere. Snowbirds often have an EZ pass and a FL Sun Pass.

    The private automobile (and the attendant freedom to live non collectively) is as powerful an American symbol today as was the cowboy on his horse or the settler in his wagon. I have often written about how I structured my retirement life so that I could live easily without a car, with all needs within walking distance, and with adequate storage for staples. To me, life long freedom is freedom to live without depending on my ability to operate private automobile or to rely on a child/paid helper to ferry me everywhere.

  72. scarlett, where is Connecticut Ave? Were you up in Washington Hgts? I don’t know that area very well. I was in a loft in the west teens

  73. DH’s family is currently dealing with telling MIL that it is no longer safe for her to drive. But the reasons for that — her rapidly accelerating cognitive impairment and a shoulder surgery — also make her dependent on others to get around. I see plenty of older people able to drive who are not capable of walking long distances, standing at bus stops, or carrying more than a loaf of bread. One of the most difficult challenges of aging is accepting that one will be dependent on others for one thing or another. It is going to be very difficult for MIL to give up her car, but even if she lived in a walkable neighborhood she would still need to rely on others for many trips.

  74. I also lived carfree for a while in Hoboken NJ. It is very easy to go carfree there. Unfortunately, I think it has gone the way of much of Brooklyn, gentrified to the point of total unaffordability.

  75. There is a fundamental constitutional right to travel

    Is that really the case? I think of that in terms of the gun rights debate. People get all up in about the right to bear arms but if the government really wanted to cramp your style, they could just revoke your drivers license. With most jurisdictions having cruisers with automated plate scanning, they could render travel impossible for a significant majority of Americans. But, people don’t seem too concerned about that. They were told in high school that diriving is a privledge not a right and they just accept it.

  76. MM, I lived near Nebraska Avenue. South of Chevy Chase Circle. Right down the street from Politics & Prose, which I think is still hanging on.

  77. The basement remodel will be finished today — I am spinning around happily making a joyful noise unto the cat. Final cleaning and they’re out! Yay! So sick of the noise and intrusion and lack of privacy. Of course DH kind of hates the end result because we saved money by using mid-range finishes and he hates them. Oh well.

  78. I see plenty of older people able to drive who are not capable of walking long distances

    One could make an argument that their lack of mobility is related to their previously car dependent lifestyle.

  79. I think many elderly become uncomfortable with driving long before they are really completely unable to. Those are the ones that often prefer to walk to nearby stores. Many years ago, when I was living in rural CT, there was a big campaign to get a sidewalk put in from the senior living facility to the local supermarket area. It was only a few blocks, but along a narrow two lane road which was not safe for walking. The seniors really wanted the sidewalk because they preferred to walk those blocks. It got voted down by all the yuppies living in the area, who said a sidewalk would “destroy the rural ambiance”.

  80. Oh, I thought you said you were in Manhattan. You were in Washington DC, right?

  81. Rhett – traveling is a fundamental right, but the govt can still put reasonable restraints on it. And it gets more murky when there are private entities involved like there are in some of these toll issues. As for a privilege v a right, one of the few things I remember from studying for the bar is that the distinction is never the right answer! Does anyone else remember that?

  82. “I’m not sure of the situation in DC, but in Boston you can have storage and a car to make Costoco runs. It’s just that you only have one car and you hardly drive it. You get the savings of negligible transportation costs and the Costco savings.”

    Me too. It’s all personal trade offs I suppose.
    One car for the family, parked in a shared garage in a private spot, driven mainly for errands and leisure activities – not for commuting. This is why I think where I live is ideal. I can walk/bike/public transit/cab most anywhere — school/work commute, quick trips to the grocery store, dinner/drinks, most kid activities, cultural/sports events, routine doctor’s appointments, etc. But if a car would be more convenient, we have that too. And most of our local stores have adequate parking. And our living space is small, but not even close to Manhattan small so I can buy some Costco staples in bulk. We don’t technically need a car, but it is easy enough to own one and use it. I have occasionally thought about getting one of those old lady grocery carts, but for the large shopping trips, I usually just drive instead.

    I think I would have loved to live in Manhattan as a younger person or now as an uber wealthy person. But as a “middle class” middle aged person raising a kid – eh, not so interested.

    Walking stroller errands are fine as long as you aren’t going somewhere cramped. The storage was always nice. But taking a stroller on public transit is a truly awful experience even under the best circumstances.

  83. “Of course DH kind of hates the end result because we saved money by using mid-range finishes and he hates them.”

    That’s not consistent with what you’ve shared about him at other times. This is the wealthy law firm partner who prefers a Subaru Forrester and fly fishing?

  84. @Rhett: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_movement_under_United_States_law

    This was the case that stuck with me: “the Supreme Court overturned state prohibitions on welfare payments to individuals who had not resided within the jurisdiction for at least one year as an impermissible burden on the right to travel (Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969)).” This line of cases also led to striking down residency requirements for other things as well. But it does look like they have made a distinction between residency requirements vs. taxes/fees, per Kate and Wikipedia — Wiki notes the S.Ct. upheld higher rates for hunting/fishing licenses.

    I think the fees/tolls is a little less defensible, because it literally costs you more to drive the same highway based on where you live. Whereas things like hunting licenses don’t prevent you from going somewhere, they just cost more to do certain things while you’re there. But it does seem like the courts have the opposite focus — they focus on constraints on what you can do when are physically in another specific state for some period of time (voting, welfare, medical coverage, etc.), and not on constraints that make it more difficult/costly to do the actual traveling.

  85. Aging is gradual though. If living in an elevator building in a walkable neighborhood gives me 5 or 10 more years of independence than doing yardwork in a big suburban multi-story house in a neighborhood without sidewalks, why is that an objectionable choice?

    I never understand the objections to sidewalks. In a friend’s neighborhood, they refuse to put in sidewalks because *gasp* people may WALK on them, and they may be undesirable types who do not live in the neighborhood! Nevermind that this neighborhood is in the middle of what was quite recently cornfields, the sidewalks would not actually connect to the slightly less upscale neighborhood with an entrance 1/2 mile down the road, and it is not remotely close to any “undesirable” neighborhoods where the median house value is under $500K. But somehow poor people who MAY enter the neighborhood if there are welcoming sidewalks are more dangerous than the boatload of kids playing on the damn street as cars whiz around the windy streets. It is just insanity.

  86. Milo, yeah, but when it comes to houses he’s really picky. I’m not sure why. He says it’s because he grew up in a nice house, but he didn’t! His parents’ house was perfectly presentable but had laminate counters and oak trim and stuff. But in our first house I was driven mad by the amount of time he spent complaining about the construction and the finishes. He’d do a few DIY fixes and still be unhappy. When we bought this house he was much happier because it’s new and nice. I’m so glad that I realized at the last minute that if I bought the crappy Santa Cruz beach house of my dreams he’d be miserable (and thus I’d be miserable) every living minute. The California house is smaller but arguably nicer than the Denver one. Dodged a bullet!

  87. We have a neighborhood/community with quite a few seniors. My observation is that if for what reason you are unable to drive, it is for the same reason that you require some one to be at your side for errands. May be you are unstable on your feet, can’t manage the weekly grocery run etc. Older couples who seem frail but can walk rely on each other to a large extent. Seniors who are by themselves either have a family member or a paid helper accompanying them.

  88. But somehow poor people who MAY enter the neighborhood if there are welcoming sidewalks are more dangerous than the boatload of kids playing on the damn street as cars whiz around the windy streets. It is just insanity.

    Agreed! I hate neighborhoods with no sidewalks. And the logic you described is the same logic that kept Palo Alto from agreeing to have a BART station in the 1960s because nasty poor people from Daly City might show up. Gracious! Now a BART station would be an amazing advantage there but it’s totally unaffordable.

  89. Does it matter from a legal perspective that the Interstate system is Federal in some way? I don’t really have any clue about the relationship between Federal/State oversight of Interstate highways, but I know the Federal Gov’t is somehow involved. Most tollways are Interstate, no? (Maybe not one of the Jersey ones – the Garden State Parkway?)

  90. Most tollways are Interstate, no?

    Aren’t they all intrastate i.e. The toll portion only exists within a single state.

  91. This is off topic, but when leaving LaGuardia and we initially missed the exit (for the Whitestone Bridge?) and were traveling too far on Cross Island Parkway, I considered just keeping on to Port Jefferson and taking the ferry across (I’ve done the ferry a few times years ago, both the Port Jeff and the New London one). I LOVE ferries, especially car ferries.

  92. “The toll portion only exists within a single state.”

    This is the case with I-95. AFAIK, it’s not tolled all the way. In New England, RI and CT do not have tolls on 95 going through their states. I know NY and NJ do. DE may, but the southern states (except FL) don’t either. I can’t think of any interstate road that’s tolled then entire run.

    The Parkway (NJ) is not a federal road. It was an alternative to 95.

  93. “DE may, but the southern states (except FL) don’t either.”

    DE does, and a chunk of MD north of Baltimore does. I always tend to forget about it, though, and then EZPass just takes care of it, so you get de-sensitized.

  94. I saw this on social media about the Old Testament and thought you might get a kick out of it

    On her radio show, Dr. Laura said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Schlesinger, written by a US man, and posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as quite informative:

    Dear Dr. Laura:

    Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

    3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

    4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

    7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

    8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

    9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

    I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.

    Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

    Your adoring fan,

    James M. Kauffman,

    Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,

    Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

    P.S. (It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.)

  95. Re: interstates: I don’t think it matters. The right to travel comes from the Privileges & Immunities Clause, which grants rights to individuals that neither the feds nor the states may override. But as noted above, that right appears to be limited.

    I am a little surprised that someone hasn’t raised a Commerce Clause issue with all of the tolls, as it would seem that the vast amount of tolls in the NE would impact interstate commerce. That one does require a sufficient federal presence, but the interstate system would certainly provide that — states can’t just put up a tollbooth on an interstate highway without federal approval. I guess the feds have basically bought into this system — there’s probably some version of revenue-sharing, so the feds get their cut and all is right with the world.

  96. Right – the toll portion is only within one state, but the highway itself is an Interstate highway. Doesn’t that mean there is some portion of funding and oversight that is Federal? Otherwise, why are there even US highways vs. State highways vs. County highways? Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I’m just curious. LFB’s answer about the Commerce Clause is a bit over my head though, so obviously, I’m in too deep on this one since my main legal knowledge is to turn any legal document over to our corporate lawyers!

  97. Scarlett, I think DC is much more driveable, and much less walkable. than NYC, especially Manhattan. When we visit DC, we usually just drive in, and for many destinations are happy to have the car. Boston is the same way.

    I have a good friend who lived in suburban Chicago, but when she and her DH retired, they bought an apartment in the Loop and sold both their cars. She was really ecstatiic to ditch the cars. They get a Zipcar when they want to go visit relatives in Wisconsin.

  98. That is funny, Winemama!

    Most people I know are opposed to sidewalks on their property because they have to be maintained: kept clear of snow and ice in the winter and kept in good repair at other times of the year (no crumbling cement, tree roots pushing up the pavement, etc.).

  99. “I think DC is much more driveable, and much less walkable. than NYC, especially Manhattan.”

    Certainly in terms of congestion, road conditions, and parking costs. But I really love Manhattan’s simple grid of E-W streets and N-S avenues. It’s much better than DC’s endless circles and wagon-wheel spokes.

  100. @Ivy: yes, federal interstate highways are funded by the feds and must meet federal design standards and such.

    The Commerce Clause is just the part of the Constitution that allws the feds to do this. Generally, the federal government only has the power to act as the Constitution directly grants to it; all other rights are reserved to the states or the individual citizens. But one of the rights granted to the feds is to regulate commerce, both internationally and among the states. So, for ex., each indiviudual state can build highways only within its own borders; but the feds can build a system of highways connecting all 48 (reachable) states together, because that system will help the free flow of commerce across the country. And the feds can then also establish the rules of the road on those highways, if they want to, because the power is to “regulate” commerce — so if the states want to add tolls on the interstates, the feds can allow them, prohibit them, regulate how much, etc.

  101. The reason that the old folks in your orbit who no longer drive usually need help even to walk or navigate normal business relations is because (outside of walkable areas with residents who grew up with public transit) the automobile is their ticket to an independent life, and it is only discarded or taken away when they are so mentally confused or physically debilitated that they can’t even manage to negotiate the few blocks to the store or church or doctor’s office. The car is the prime signifier of independent living and you pry the keys away only when you must. Aging granny who is still able to walk down the driveway to the kneeling bus or walk a few blocks to pick up a quart of milk or a modern granny who can order almost everything online can live independently long after the 15 min drive to Costco on the highway is a distant memory. And more importantly to me, she can choose to live without a private automobile when her reflexes can no longer keep up with her mental faculties. I don’t really want to be driving at 85 as a personal and public health matter.

  102. My understanding about the interstate highway system is that tolls are grandfathered on the old state turnpikes that were incorporated into them, but all legs constructed after a certain date are free. Bridges and tunnels are permitted to charge tolls. And the in state discount on electronic tolls is not tied primarily to state of residence, but to the state from which you purchased your pass in the EZ pass system AFAIK. So if you live in NY just over the NJ border and work in NJ, you could choose to buy a NJ pass or vice versa.

  103. While waiting for equipment to reboot, I was reading the discussion about driving and age. The tech I was working with was telling me about how his 84 year old father just split 5 cords of wood with an ax and how he started driving a log truck (illegally) when he was 14. It makes me feel guilty for my lack of exercise.

  104. LfB, in my limited experience with toll roads, it seemed like there was always an alternate route (per Google maps) that did not have a toll. Perhaps that’s the way the argument about tolls affecting the right to travel is rebutted.

  105. “It is going to be very difficult for MIL to give up her car, but even if she lived in a walkable neighborhood she would still need to rely on others for many trips.”

    “The car is the prime signifier of independent living and you pry the keys away only when you must.”

    I am hopeful that by the time I get to that stage in life, the combination of self-driving cars and services like Uber will allow me continued independence without having to drive.

  106. “To cross the Hudson River eastbound toll-free, you would need to drive all the way up to Albany and the Dunn Memorial Bridge. And IIRC, you’ll pay to come back down on the Northway.”

    OK, there’s a similar alternative to the Golden Gate Bridge. So perhaps that point doesn’t stand.

    OTOH, the toll for the GGB is, to my knowledge, the same for all vehicles, regardless of which state they’re from. LfB’s rant (oops, comment) was about the higher tolls for out of state vehicles. My comment was to raise the possibility that such tolls were limited to routes where there is an alternative.

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