Who should pay for roads, transit projects?

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I was interviewed by Dan Haugen of Midwest Energy News:

Who should pay for roads, transit projects? :

"It’s true that local property taxes, not gas taxes, pay for building and maintaining most roads, says David Levinson, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota, but whether or not that’s a subsidy for drivers is debatable.

“There isn’t a person in the United States who doesn’t get some use out of the roads,” says Levinson, who also writes the Transportationist blog. Even people who don’t drive still benefit from things like fire protection, ambulance services, and mail delivery — all of which depend on roads. “I suppose you could be Ted Kaczynski, but even he had to use the U.S. Postal Service to mail his bombs.”"

1 Comment

I agree with the analysis regarding property taxes and local roads. But I also believe a portion of the fuel taxes and excise taxes should help pay for local raods that serve property access functions. Those fees are "virtual" tolls and the default condition should be returned those user fees to the road segment where they are generated.

It's interesting that many people who understand public utilities have geographic monopoly positions and are therefore regulated because competing networks would double the fixed costs - which predominate - making competition ineffective in controlling costs, still advocate giving commuters a "choice". These same individuals are not likely to advocate giving electricty consumers a choice by duplicating electrical distribution lines. Roads are the default monopoly because transit can only serve a small portion of the functions of a road. Transit cannot serve law enforcement, fire protection, emergency medical response, delivery of goods, trash pick-up, they do not make good cooridors for utilities, bicycle and pedestrian uses are incompatible with rail transit, etc, etc, etc.

Since competition between transportation modes cannot solve the monopoly problem, regulation as public utilities should be explored, including public policies that cost effectively address mobility and income inequalities. By this I mean if it is less costly to buy every light rail transit line rider a new car every three years than it is to build and operate the line, then public policies that provide transportation vouchers, earned income credits (or other form of negative income tax), or other mechanism for providing a social safety net is preferable to building duplicate facilities. Fixed facilities do not provide flexibility for changing conditions and they support special interest groups (such as consultants and public sector union employees) instead of supporting the general welfare.

For example, casual car pooling can increase the effective capacities of the highest volume roads and parking facilites by factors between 2 and 4 during rush hour commuting with very little public capital investment. Yet casual car pooling occurs in only three metropolitan areas, Washington D.C., Oakland/San Franciso, and Houston where they appear to have organized spontaneously.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on March 21, 2012 8:29 AM.

Linklist: March 21, 2012 was the previous entry in this blog.

Perils of Privatization and Pricing as Proposed - Towards a Public Utility Model of Roads is the next entry in this blog.

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