Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time for a change in transportation funding

Much debate and discussion is underway on how we are to pay for transportation improvements in the coming years. The state per gallon gas tax hasn't been increased since the 1970's and with increased mileage from today's autos combined with inflation, the current tax isn't keeping pace with the need. That said, there's little chance that State Legislators will increase the tax.

Perhaps they shouldn't. Perhaps we should be looking at other alternatives to fund roads, bridges, transit, sidewalks, and the many other transportation related investments.

Have you seen the latest General Motors commercials? Their tag line is GM: Gas-friendly to gas-free. GM is touting not only high fuel efficiency, but also ethanol, hybrids, electric, and fuel cell vehicles.

So, how high would we have to raise the gas tax to pay for needed transportation improvements if in a few years we're driving gas-free vehicles? I can't count that high.

So, if not a per gallon gas tax, generating revenue based on usage which seems like a reasonable mechanism for paying for the needed investment, what?

What other user fee options exist? Obviously, tolling and I believe tolling must play a role in future new construction. I personally find great merit in the voluntary, variable priced managed lane proposals (HOT Lanes, Express Toll Lanes, Congestion Pricing).

Tolling alone won't be enough. Another user based variable is distance. Rather than a cents per gallon of gas tax, perhaps it is time to investigate a cents per mile driven tax. A distance tax doesn't discriminate between gas, hybrid, electric or fuel cell. A distance tax remains a somewhat voluntary user based revenue source. Distance tax systems are being tried in several European cities and may provide data worth considering here in the States.

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