Les Schwab attempts to block Ballot Initiative Drive

By Jeffrey Bernards of Portland, Oregon. Jeffrey is a citizen activist and community volunteer.

Today in Oregon there's a story going on that few Oregonians know about, and as chief petitioner of the campaign to ban studded tires I wanted to share that story with you. It's about a common sense idea that would save our state over 40 million dollars a year but is not being done because one company doesn't want it to happen.

When drivers use studded tires on their cars they make gigantic ruts in our roads (1c). The ruts are not only a safety hazard, but the cost of repairing damage from studded tires is estimated at between $40 - $79 million dollars per year (1b). ODOT, whose ten year old estimate represents the low end of that range, spends $11 million annually to repair damage caused by studs (1a). That means that by the state's own estimate, there exists a $29 million dollar gap each year, adding $1 billion to a road maintenance backlog.

There are low-cost alternatives to studded tires. In 1990 Bridgestone Tires invented the Blizzak Snow & Ice Tire, which has been proven to outperform studded tires in most winter driving conditions. Studless Snow and Ice tires cost only 10%-15% more than studded tires and cause no damage our highway infrastructure. Only 16% of Oregon drivers use studded tires & a minority of drivers use them East of the Mountains (1b). The relatively minor cost to these consumers versus the overall tax burden to all Oregonians seems like a common sense public policy choice.

There is a strong lobbying effort in Salem by the Les Schwab Tire Company (3). The company seems to have strong interest in maintaining the studded tire market without fees or restrictions.

Any attempt over the last 10 years to regulate or ban studded tires in the Oregon legislature has been blocked by lobbying the Oregon Transportation Committee. Rep. Alan Brown, who owns a Les Schwab dealership, chaired the Transportation Committee that successfully tabled a $3 per studded tire fee (2). That fee didn't even come close to the actual cost to repair the damage caused by studded tire use. Iâ m asked to pay $25 for a Snow Park permit yet cause no damage to the roads.

I am currently the chief petitioner of a ballot measure which would ban studded tires from our roads.

When I turned in 2,000 signatures earlier this year to begin the process of qualifying a ballot initiative to ban studded tires from our roads, Les Schwab immediately hired a high priced public relations firm and a law firm to challenge our ballot title and delay our signature gathering effort (3).

I own a small landscaping service, and I have no interest in the tire market. I'm just concerned that common sense is being trumped by a company's financial interest in my state. I hope with all my heart that some day Oregon will follow the path of common sense and ban studded tires. We need teachers' not studded tires.

Please visit our website, PreservingOregonRoads.org for more information.


  1. Oregon Department of Transportation: Studded Tires in Oregon (PDF)
    a. page 2
    b. page 21
    c. page 8 & 9
  2. Northwest Dealers Succeed in Quashing Studded Tire Bills (PDF)
  3. Progress of Ballot Initiative and the Les Schwab Connection
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    Schwab is highly concerned with customer satisfaction. As a tire store they are second to none. As public policy stewards, not so much--and i have a feeling their rep in the Leg is a major mechanism.

    I wish the diarist had posted some action ideas--like telling Schwab they should stop selling studded tires, or at a minimum to stop interfering with the public process. But otherwise an important piece, thanks.

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    It seems also that many Oregonians leave their studded tires on for far too long and drive only on city roads. I'd be curious to see what percentage of studded tire-owners actually need to have them rather than "snowpacolypse" worry-worts who don't.

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    It's not clear why you think Les Schwab should not have a right to engage in the political fight that you have started. You clearly have every right to pursue this issue, and it sounds like it would be a good thing if you won. But then you complain that your opponent "hired a high priced public relations firm and a law firm to challenge our ballot title and delay our signature gathering effort." Should Les Schwab have just done DIY PR or lobbying work?

    This isn't like some backdoor, out-of-state funding; it's a player in the political debate, engaging in the kind of work that both sides do in political fights.

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    Welcome to the world of Oregon initiative law, where it is a time-honored tradition for every opponent to a proposed ballot measure to tie up the ballot title in court.

    Charlie Hinkle and the ACLU probably hold the all-time career records for using this tactic against conservative measures, with the OEA close (if not ahead today).

    Most initiative campaigns today build in a time table and budget for the inevitable ballot title challenge that admitedly is designed to hinder by delaying signature collection. (That's one reason why statewide ballot measures are given expedited hearings before the Oregon Supreme Court.)

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      It may be a time honored tradition I'm just saying the public has right to know who is dictating road use and cost in Oregon.

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      Heh. Pat, I'll see your anecdotal claim and raise you my anecdotal claim. :-)

      I live at 800 ft elevation in SW Portland, with steep uphill and downhill routes in all directions out of my neighborhood. We see 5-10 days every winter where a 2WD summer-tired vehicle cannot leave the neighborhood, period.

      When we first moved here I used studs because, hey, my parents always used studs. In side-to-side comparison between my wife's RWD Blizzak setup and my FWD studs over 3 years we found zero times where one of us could get out and the other couldn't, and many times where neither us us could get out without chains. In addition, my non-ABS car was dangerous on bare wet roads due to poor traction.

      We now both use lightweight AWD rigs with traction tires and would never dream of going back to the clatter and squirrelly bare pavement handling of studs. It's fun calmly rolling past big-a** 4WD pickups on snowy uphills that are spinning all four.

      If you have safety issues without studs, you might be going too fast. Just a thought, I see it a lot. All the best.


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        All, you really do need to view any of the bumper car videos taken in SW Portland over the years.

        Visit YouTube and search for "portland ice storm"; there are many classic ones to view.

        Traction tires are pretty much worthless on a hill in our infrequent ice storms each winter. It's going to be studs or chains to navigate safely regardless of speed, and neither are fool proof. And yes, both will damage our roads.

        Our public safety vehicles do use studded tires.

        I'm on a hill at 750 ft elevation, and get to experience the "fun" each year. I choose chains. My traction tires don't work on the ice or snow covered ice which is the typical result of our snow events here.

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          In Portland ice-storm conditions (clear, thick, wet glare ice), it's chains or stay home. That's why ODOT and/or PPB usually declare "chains required" in those conditions.

          Doesn't even require (much of) a hill. I've been been on the PDX/I205S ramp during the start of an ice storm behind an Escalade with studs on all 4 and watched it slide sideways off the inside of the banked ramp into the weeds. I just managed to ease through the ramp with traction tires, made it onto I205S, immediately bailed out on Sandy, chained up and crawled home with my tail between my legs. :-)

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          The nice thing about chains is that you can wait until the snow hits to put 'em on, and they can come off when the snow melts.

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            The problem, though, is that even though they can come off when the snow melts, too often they don't, and that chews up the roads much more than studded tires.

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              Are there really people who leave the chains on more than an hour after the snow melts??? Putting up with the noise and the speed restrictions and the damage to their driveways, garages, and (potentially) vehicles?? If that's the case, we need to re-examine their capacity to drive.

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      Pat, I appreciate your willingness to pay for the road damage. My guess is that if the cost of the true damage was properly included in the cost of the studs every year, there would be a lot fewer who used them. My view is that the rest of use are subsidizing those who use studs.

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    And drivers are a lot less tempted to leave chains on too long than to leave on those studded tires--

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    I'm skeptical that studded tires cause as much damage as is claimed.

    In the early 90s I commuted to Beaverton from SE Portland, so I had occasion to drive out Hwy. 26 on a daily basis. The big ruts in the highway didn't appear gradually over the course of the winter, the appeared quickly after a big snow event.

    This suggests that the real culprits were vehicles, especially trucks and buses, that left chains on after the roads were clear.

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    As one who is a regular driver over the various mountain passes from central to southern Oregon and Government Camp to Portland the Blizzak 'studless' tires work great in fresh snow. Not so much in compact snow/ice and even less so on sheet ice. A light passenger car generally does not do well in ice without studded tires. It sometimes becomes a personal preference, especially if you already have 4-wheel drive.

    I prefer the studded tires and would gladly pay a seasonal fee to use them.

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    Ban studded tires. Ban light bulbs. Ban plastic.

    Is this the thrust of the liberal mindset nowadays? Does liberty ever enter into the discussion?

    I'm all for lowering the cost of road construction and repair. That is why I want to ban Davis-Bacon wages in favor of true market rates.

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      Ken, We all treasure our liberty, but I'm interested in how far different people go with it. For example, do you accept that the government has the right to regulate who is permitted to operate a motor vehicle on "public" (if you accept that concept) roads and highways? What is your thinking on this? Thanks--

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      Does liberty ever enter into the discussion?

      If by "liberty" you mean "the freedom to pollute, to damage public property, and threaten the health and safety of others for your own self-indulgence," then, no, it usually doesn't.

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    Patrick, people always treasure their own liberty. The problem with America today is that people don't treasure the liberty of other people. That is why people who smoke loudly proclaim I should wear a helmet, and people who don't drive over the mountains on ice think studded tires should be banned.

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    Thanks for all your comments, I respect all your opinions. I want you to all know I too travel to Mt. Hood on a weekly basis and haven’t used or needed studded tires once in 25 years. I suggest you become more informed on the topic by visiting our website,www.preservingoregonsroads.org Many states & Canada with lots more snow and ice have banned studded tires and survived. Oregon allows Studdless Snow & Ice tires to qualify when traction tires are required. Les Schwab isn’t a car & driver safety business, they sell studded tires. It’s not AAA or your insurance company blocking any attempts to regulate, fee or ban the tires, its Les Schwab. Their business model and product are making driving more dangerous for everyone by creating ruts in our roads and costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Those of you that want to pay a fee should be prepared to pay $100 per tire plus administrative costs, that’s closer to the real cost than the $3 fee Les Schwab blocked. Mark Ford and Associates proposed a study to find the true cost of studded tires that too was blocked by special interest. Currently a new asphalt road should last 12-15 years, with studded tire use, it now only last 7 years. For concrete its worse, a concrete road should last 40 years with studded tire use it only last 15 years. Remember this damage is caused by a very small percentage of drivers. The mystery to me is how the vast majority of us to get work everyday without using studded tires. Oregon is in a financial hole, since no new Federal money is likely to come our way in the near future, we should do what we can to Preserve Oregon’s Roads for generations to come, remember our food comes down that road and we should protect it.

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    I live at about 2600 feet in Central Oregon. Studded tires are life savers. Any vehicle on the road causes wear and tear. We wouldn't have nearly the wear on our roads in Central Oregon quite frankly if all of the people in the valley stayed home during the winter instead of insisting on weekend ski and snow board trips. I wouldn't mind a $3 fee per tire or even higher but honestly I think I'd go to Washington or Idaho to get real studded tires. I'm no fan of Lew Schwabs or their lobbying tactics but they are representing their consumers. One winter we were forced to buy those plastic studs- that was a bust- what junk- The author seems to think things would be wonderful if we all bought Bridgestone Tires- I'll admit I haven't looked into who made my current studs (in the shed at the moment)but we know Bridgestone is a huge Japanese multi-national rubber conglomerate with questionable practices- In Sept. Bridgestone Corp. pled guilty and payed a $28 million criminal fine for bid-rigging and bribery of foreign officials according to the Department of Justice. The company's illegal activities. Bridgestone conspired to rig bids, fix prices in the United States and elsewhere and, separately, conspired to make corrupt payments to government officials in various Latin American countries. The fact is studden tire costs are a drop in the highway budget. Do you think people driving around on chains is better? If you want to keep winter drivers off the road why don't you choose to guilt trip skiers and snowboarders into staying home? The author says only a "minority" of drivers east of the mountains use studded tires- I just would say that many, many more would use them if they could afford the cost. His Bridgetone tires he swears on only cost 15% more. Depending on those would push more people out of the market. We come to Portland and we have to share the road with a bunch of drunk skiers and snowboarders that don't know the first thing about winter driving, speed, tailgate, drive their cars into the ditch and have the manners of pigs at feeding. I'll say it again- studded tires are live savers- if ruts in the road irritates you that much I'd say take another road and start an anti-skiing campaign. Well that's enough grumpy rant for today.

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      I am a long-time Les Schwab customer and have used studded tires in the past. The damage to our roads is evident with the terrible ruts and potholes we find everywhere. I thank Mr. Benards for his work on this issue and will not use studded tires in the future. If the costs to our roads are as great as the author states, the state has an interest and responsibility in banning studs for most drivers and allowing studs for those who live in areas where studs can provide them more safety for driving. Both sides should be be able to come to an agreeable compromise. We will always need to maintain our roads, and possibly some will need the studs, I am not qualified to say who those would be. I'm assuming that if studs were shown to be less effective than the alternatives, then those using studs would gladly use the safer tires. Go to the website Mr. Benards recommends and check it out. It's exactly like healthcare, the vast numbers of healthy people can easily handle caring for the sick and we can live like the civilized countries of the world that have longer lifespans, lower healthcare costs, and better outcomes for medical treatment for ALL their citizens, not just the lucky wealthy ones. Come on, people, a country divided against itself can not stand, as a great Republican President told us long ago.

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