1.24.2007

Roads and Transit

If you've been reading my blog for a bit, you know I've been banging
on this idea of raising the federal gas tax. However politically
suicidal and emotionally visceral the notion is, it would certainly
align incentives to reduce oil consumption and spur demand for and
supply of alternative fuels.

Interestingly enough, though, as pointed out by Governing Magazine, if
this sort of thing is effective, it could have the adverse consequence
of drying up a major source of funding for transportation. As
Governing pointed out, if we Americans are successful in achieving
that 20% reduction in gas guzzling that President Bush urged us to
strive for in his State of the Union address, the federal government
would be out some $7 billion for transportation projects.

So where is the money going to come from to pave our roads and upkeep
our rails? The technology is close to being there to tax vehicle
miles traveled directly instead of by proxy via the gas tax. Thus,
there will be a more direct connection in terms of users (i.e. people
driving cars that put wear and tear on roads) paying for their use of
roads via taxes. Versus a gas tax, which perversely brings in less
revenue for transportation if more people buy fuel-efficient cars, use
alternative fuels, or forego roads altogether for alternative forms of
transportation.

You might be saying, "OK, fine: tax me by the number of miles I travel
in my car . . . but then why should some of that money go to subsidize
public transportation that I don't use and that can't turn a profit on
its own?" Consider, though, that just as public transportation is
subsidized, so are roads: we are nowhere near paying the full price of
our roads in our current user taxes. Just as with transit, government
has decided that there is a public gain in subsidizing roads, for the
purpose of facilitating commerce and leisure.

Further (and this is the subject of another post, hopefully coming
soon), riding transit is spiritually good for you. I'll end on that
note.

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