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Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke at this morning’s event in Pritzker Park. Participants are holding Riders for Better Transit signs.

This morning Active Transportation Alliance held a press conference to announce that the advocacy group and its partners are introducing legislation in Springfield that would raise the state gas tax and index it to inflation. Under this initiative, called Transit Fast Forward, the tax hike would apply only in the six-county Chicago region, and the extra revenue would be used solely to increase funding to the CTA, Metra and Pace.

The new legislation, Senate Bill 3236, is sponsored by State Senator Martin Sandoval, a Democrat from Chicago. Active Trans estimates the hike in state gas taxes in Chicagoland would only be .4 cents per gallon in 2013, costing an average family an extra $4 for the year. But the result would be an estimated $11.6 million in new transit funding next year, and a whopping $168 million increase in funds over the next five years.

“Transit has been derailed by chronic underfunding,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke at the event. “I think of Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls. He recently released a new shoe with a map of the CTA system inside the liner, which is kind of cool. If only our transit system was more like Derrick Rose. They talk about how Derrick is too big, too fast, too strong, too good. Unfortunately our transit system is increasingly too slow, too infrequent and too expensive, with too few routes. We need to change that and we can, with a modest increase in funding for transit.”

Speakers also included Steve Schlickman, current director of the Urban Transportation Center (UTC) at UIC and former executive director of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Jennifer Henry, transportation policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council and often quoted here, plus Sam Smith, director of government relations for Metra.

The state gas tax, currently at a fixed rate of 19 cents per gallon, has been stuck there for 22 years (since January 1, 1990). Stuck meaning that roadways and transit cannot always have the maintenance they need. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents, the rate since 1993. Both are flat fees and do not change when the price of gas changes. A majority of the price of a gallon of gas is not taken up by taxes. Additionally, buyers in Illinois are charged a standard state sales tax of 6.25% – other cities and counties have their own taxes.

The tax increase would only take effect in the RTA service area.* Transit would receive additional funding like this: If the rate inside the RTA service area is 19.2 cents and the rate outside the RTA service area is 19.0 cents, the 0.2 cents (times all the gallons of gas people purchased) would be dedicated to transit. The bill summary mentions it like this:

Provides that, beginning on February 1, 2013, each month the State Comptroller and the State Treasurer shall transfer from the Road Fund to the Public Transportation Fund an amount equal to the difference between the amount collected in the previous month from within the metropolitan region [RTA service area] and the amount that would have been collected from within the metropolitan region if the tax had been imposed at the rate in effect for areas outside of the metropolitan region.

The current gas tax is unsustainably low: revenues from gas taxes are not sufficient to pay for roads that people drive, bike, and uses buses on (the Illinois Tollway system notwithstanding). Funding is then taken from general revenue sources to make up the difference. Revenues from gas taxes also go to support transit, which helps reduce congestion on existing and highly congested roads. Additionally, revenues from gas taxes do not keep up with the trend of buying more fuel efficient vehicles: people with more fuel efficient vehicles that drive the same as those without fuel efficient vehicles will pay less in fuel taxes. (This is one reason to move to a pay-as-you-drive system, instead of pay-as-you-buy.)

By indexing increases to the gas tax to inflation, revenue will do a better job with keeping up with our infrastructure needs.

We cross-post to Tumblr nearly all of our posts. Sometimes the post there is a just a verbatim copy of the first or second paragraph, but sometimes it’s rewritten. Here’s what the Tumblr post for this article says:

The group of people above did something crazy: they are trying to index the gas tax to inflation, and any increase would go straight to increasing funding for CTA, Metra, and Pace, so we can have modern equipment and maintain service instead of cutting it all the time (or raising fares).

If only highway builders had to ask for more money: they’re rarely, if ever, turned down.

Read Mayre Press’s transit experience and report on this event.

* The RTA service area is a six-county region of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will.

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  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    This is an excellent idea that’s long overdue.  When I was handing out flyers at the Jackson red line station this morning, some of the people taking them were very enthusiastic about the idea of a better funded transit system.  During my slow zone-plagued trip home on the red line, I was thinking of how much better that trip could be if there was adequate funding to eliminate the slow zones and keep travel times reasonable between major maintenance projects.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I believe you were handing out the flyers before you knew about the press conference and the gas tax legislation. I wonder what the riders would have said if you told them about the proposed gas tax legislation and how it could raise gas taxes. 

      Would they care? Do they drive? Do they think that’s a good thing? If they think it’s a bad thing, could they be convinced of its merits?

      • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

        I knew about the gas tax legislation and press conference beforehand.  Most people were in too much of a hurry to stop and talk about the details.

        I would assume that there were both drivers and non-drivers in the mix.  I think that the low annual cost per driver could help persuade some who might not favor it at first.  I think that enough people are fed up with the problems caused by inadequate maintenance and service cutbacks that they’d prefer this approach to significant fare increases, or doing nothing at all.