TagAPTA

Happy birthday Gas Tax, it’s time to retire

Descending

Traffic congestion (right) won’t change until we give transit infrastructure (left) a better footing on which to compete.

Today’s apparently the birthday of the Yosemite National Park, NASA, and also the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax.

It’s time to go. Peter Rogoff, the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration said as much yesterday at the American Public Transportation Association annual meeting.

A meeting attendee asked Rogoff, during the Q&A session following his speech, about the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, where gas tax revenues go, and from which payments for road, transit, and bike projects are drawn. Rogoff replied,

We see a lot of governors taking this on. Wyoming raised its gas tax 15 cents. And on any given weekend there are more Democrats drinking beer in my backyard than in the entire Wyoming legislature. All options are being considered. Gas tax has diminishing returns. We can’t simultaneously lower independence on foreign oil and fund transportation systems dependent on the consumption of oil.

Here’s why the per-gallon gas tax is unsustainable: it loses purchasing power because of inflation. If it were sales tax based on the total cost of your fillup, this would be a completely different story, by decreasing driving instead of decreasing gas use (and yes, they are different because as cars become more fuel efficient, driving can remain the same or go up while gas use can remain the same or go down).

So “goodbye gas tax, hello mileage tax?”

Cross-posted to the Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology.

Do people really know the cost of driving?

Billboard over the Kennedy Expressway advertising Metra and that it’s “easy come, easy go”.

Updated 11:50 AM: I was mistaken about the vote timing: the Metra board will vote on the fare increase plan on November 11, 2011, not October 14, 2011.

I’m having a wonderful time reading the minutes from Metra’s September 2011 board meeting. This is when Metra staff made their first fare increase proposals. They made a second proposal at the October board meeting – this is available for public comment. These minutes are not yet available.

Here’s Lynnette Ciavarella, Senior Division Director Capital and Strategic Planning, talking about how Metra is cheaper than driving, in the same discussion she had with the board about how Metra fares have not been keeping up with inflation:

She [Lynnette Ciavarella] concluded that it is well known that commuter rail fares are much lower compared to the cost of driving downtown everyday. In previous meetings, staff has used a Drive Less/ Live More calculator. Staff has modified this calculation to be much more conservative. The drive cost now is calculated at traveling 22 days per month, averaging 25 mpg, at $3.95 per gallon, and an average cost of parking downtown at $18.00. The Metra fares no longer include a parking component, so under this approach, a Metra customer living 20-25 miles from downtown under the estimated proposed fare scenario could potential save over $5,000 per year.

I disagree that it’s well known that taking the train to work downtown is cheaper than driving. It does not advertise this; I don’t believe any Chicago transit agency publicizes this fact.

Metra has cryptic messages on its billboards: “Easy come, easy go” and “The way to really fly” neither describe what Metra is and where it goes nor the benefits of using it. These billboards are often placed on train viaducts over the highway so people driving in traffic jams can see them.

The message they should be sending is right there in the meeting minutes: “Take Metra downtown instead of driving and save $5,000 each year”. Complement that text with a link to a new website that helps interested drivers find a station near their home and a schedule; sign them up for a local parking lot wait list or tell them how to ride their bike to the station on a good route and lock up properly when they arrive.

The Drive Less Live More website, operated by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), has a maps page that links users to CTA station maps, a PDF of an RTA system map, a broken link to a Metra system map, and links only to an Illinois bike map, not the Chicago bike map. This doesn’t make it easy to switch to transit! The Metra homepage does have a “station finder”.

Study: American Public Transportation Association (APTA), March 2011 –  $11,889 annually in Chicago.

Board meeting minutes

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