In our blog, we frequently bring up areas of concern for rental car consumers, such as Zona Traffico Limitado (ZTL) areas in Italy, where drivers with permits (residents and local employees) can drive but others cannot. We also talk about tools we like when in rental cars, such as Waze helping us redirect around major traffic jams. Well, a community in New Jersey has become tired of commuters driving through their town (redirected by apps), so the concept of ZTL is coming to the United States! And they've made it a fineable offense, which is exceptionally punitive for visitors and rental car users!
Leonia plans to issue residents yellow tags to hang in their cars, and nonresidents who use the streets in the morning and afternoon will face $200 fines. Its police department has already alerted the major traffic and navigation apps to the impending changes, which will take effect on Jan. 22 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
The borough's council voted unanimously on this measure. So Leonia's 60 streets will be off-limits to all except residents and local workers but the three roads maintained by the county or state will remain open. If the $200 fine for driving through town sounds like an absurd municipal cash grab even by New Jersey standards, well that's because it is! And traffic in the immediate area has already made national news before, as Leonia's neighboring borough is Fort Lee, New Jersey, site of the "Bridgegate political scandal". There are few ways into New York City for a commuter from New Jersey, and the mayor of the adjacent borough doesn't seem pleased with Leonia's actions.
“If their initiative visits gridlock upon Fort Lee and, in particular, creates problems with our emergency service vehicles getting to and from where they need to go, they will hear from us.”
If I were the council of Fort Lee, I would consider one-upping Leonia and put up traffic barricades -- cars crossing from a "closed" Leonia street (with their silly hangtags) can't enter Fort Lee! Why should Leonia residents benefit from enhanced traffic flow to New York City when residents of other communities have been banned from Leonia? This is the type of unscripted reality television we might even pay to watch!
On a more serious note, this is bad news for many drivers, especially rental car consumers. How many of us will be able to drive across the United States with a patchwork of communities that have roads only open for residents? How many of us intentionally visit the small towns along the way, stopping off for coffees and meals while visiting obscure historical landmarks? Waze has already declared that if Leonia declares the roads "private", the company won't include those roads in their directions. Ideally, we'll avoid a scenario where directions have to update multiple times per trip because we reach a certain township at a time their roads are "closed" to commuters and visitors.
Yet there's one major part Leonia's missing; what happens when friends and family can't visit (6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week), outside parishioners stop coming to their churches (6 a.m. to 10 a.m., seven days a week), shops and restaurants lose their primary customer base (4 p.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week)? We suspect there will be a need for far fewer hangtags for individuals employed in Leonia but the borough's government will still have strong revenue growth!