Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

I read an interesting opinion piece over the weekend about tolls vs. a gas tax as funding sources for "transportation". Check it out here.

I am assuming that by transportation the writer means solely highways because he doesn't really refer to any alternate forms of transportation. Between the author and the commentors, there a lot of misguided arguments. You get everything from the idea that increasing the gas tax alone will help, to the very common misconception among the pro-highway set that, other than vehicle cost/repair/maintenance (including filling up at the pumps) driving is and should always be free.

The events of mid 2008 have shown, in my mind that relying on a gas tax to fund transportation is not a solid bet. As gas prices increased independently of the tax, people drove less, to the tune of 12.9 billion miles. This caused the revenues of the tax to decrease by nearly $71 million. Tolling, I think has worked well, and should be expanded. Pennsylvanians need to know that driving is not free, and tolling provides the perfect method of explanation to the public at large. Ok… you can't toll everything, but I sure wish you could, and it certainly seem more stable than a gas tax. During 2008, the revenue from tolls increased despite the fact that nationally, vehicle miles driven decreased. (The increase was NOT from a fare increase either: the toll revenue increase occurred because the amount of vehicle miles traveled was higher in 2008 than 2007). There are mileage tax plans out there, but I don't even know if I like big brother having the potential of knowing where I am all the time, let alone what Cletus in central Pennsylvania will think of the idea.

I don't have the answer to taxing highway or road usage and the point of this post wasn't to propose an answer. At the risk of generalizing, this submission and the subsequent comments just go to show how ignorant people really are. There is a general misunderstanding of how roads and transit are funded; people still have this concept that "I pay for transit that I don't use and it's therefore a waste but don't have to pay for roads I don't use, and that makes roads more economical".

Another thing to take away is people's general dislike of transportation agencies. The Turnpike Commission gets a bad rap, but unlike PENNDOT was profitable until Act 44 required a $750 million contribution that put their numbers into the tank. There's a reason that Ed Rendell wanted to Toll I-80, it works on I-76.

Check out the Turnpike Commission's webpage here which goes into the details on their finances.


nathan said...

I've always found tolls odd - why do I have to pay to drive on Highway A but not Interstate B?

And particularly frustrating is when the PA Turnpike is under construction and you've still got to pay for using it.

The whole idea of the gas tax making $71 million less because gas was that much more expensive so people weren't driving sounds like good ol' fashioned Capitalism to me. Tax gas, if it becomes too expensive then people will discontinue driving as much, the funding for highways will go down, so we'll need to stop building new ones, possibly one day even eliminate old ones.

I also think that the tax should actually be much higher, to the point that driving 2 blocks to get a half gallon milk might be thought twice if you could easily walk / bike it for free.

Though again, and I am a daily bicyclist, I think that there needs to be some type of "bike tax" in order to help build more bike lanes, dedicated bike trails, etc. But that's another story, I suppose.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how it's possible to drive from coast to coast and everywhere in between in the USA for free, save for maybe a dozen toll roads where you pay relatively miniscule amounts...driving has become a free, god given, SOCIALIZED right in America.

But we can't come up with a decent plan to fix our health care. How did we choose the right to get fat and drive everywhere over our choice to stay healthy and alive?

East Busway Blogger said...

I think tolls work on the roads where emplaced. The issue, which I agree with is that it is hard to implement them on a large scale.

If you read my earlier post, I agree that the gas tax should be more, but that you can't solely fund our nation's transportation needs through a gas tax.

You bring up an interesting point, how much of our healthcare crisis arises from the fact that Americans are getting fatter by the generation. Along with that obesity comes increased health problems, sickness, and therefore higher healthcare costs.