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.