Charging by the mile, a gas tax alternative, sees serious movement


The Illinois Department of Transportation is ready to build many more lanes and flyovers at the Circle Interchange, shown here in a postcard from 1963. Posted by Brandon Bartoszek. 

Because of vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, slightly less driving, and the gas tax not being changed since 1993, the motor vehicle fuel tax, or “gas tax”, has failed to pay for everything that Congress has legislated that it should pay for. The Highway Trust Fund, which includes the Mass Transit Account, has received several infusions of money from the “general revenue fund” – to the tune of over $60 billion.

But a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the congressional think tank focused on financing, past, present, and future, has made the country take a giant step forward in considering a switch to a fee that more accurately charges usage. The report, like all GAO studies, was commissioned by the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee*.

The gas tax charges drivers based on their use of petroleum, different vehicles can go different distances on the same amount of petroleum: essentially, some pay less than others for the same use of the road. Addiitionally, the counts of how much people drive has decreased (called vehicle miles traveled, or VMT), yet our demand for funds to maintain and build new infrastructure outpaces the incoming revenues from the gas tax. Lastly, the federal gas tax hasn’t changed at all, sticking to a cool 18.4 cents per gallon (for non-diesel drivers) since 1993. “While the gas tax was equal to 17 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas when it was set at its current level in 1993, it is now only 5 percent” (Streetsblog).

Continue reading Charging by the mile, a gas tax alternative, sees serious movement

House transportation bill: What’s at stake for Chicago


A broken down 4400-series bus on Clark Street in 2007. Steven remembers that these buses seemed to break down more often than other models, and their retrofitted wheelchair lifts were slow and difficult to use. Imagine if they couldn’t be replaced when they needed to be. Photo by Sabrina Downard. 

Ed. note: This is a post by guest contributor Brian Morrissey, of Commuter Age – or is that Commute Rage? – a blog covering the economic and social issues of transportation. It was originally written for Taking the Lane, a blog about “bicycling, economics, feminism, and other cultural commentary” by Elly Blue. -SV

First, the latest on the surface transportation bill from the House of Representatives we’ve been discussing so frequently in the past two weeks (known as HR7):

  • Speaker John Boehner doesn’t have the votes, delays until after President’s Day (Politico)
  • What the House transportation bill means for the Bay Area (SF Streetsblog)
  • Obama takes a stand, threatens veto (DC Streetsblog)
  • Reps. Lipinski and Dold joined CTA and Metra officials to call on the GOP to fix HR7 (WGN-TV)
  • Wed., Feb. 29, is the first ever Riders for Better Transit Day of Action (see end of post)

Continue reading House transportation bill: What’s at stake for Chicago

Replacing the gas tax with distance-based charging


In the future, you may receive a bill that shows you a map of where you drove and how much you owe. The map above shows an actual, circuitous route I took from Avondale to the Loop, and was generated by a GPS device I carry. 

This is part two of two about a seminar in October about infrastructure funding and financing held by the Metropolitan Planning Council at their office at 140 S Dearborn. The first article talked about innovative ways to fund construction of highways, airports, transit, and other capital-intensive projects. The final speaker, Dr. Paul Hanley from the University of Iowa, talked about charging drivers based not on how much gas they use, but the distance they drive. This is known under several names but here I’ll be using “mileage charge” (see note 1).

A mileage charge can make up for the loss of gas tax revenues that’s happening because of an improvement in cars’ fuel efficiency, and that Americans as a whole are driving less. It would also charge those who drive electric cars; the current gas tax system, in essence, has those who drive the least efficient automobiles pay more for 100 miles of driving on roads than those with the most efficient automobiles. Each jurisdiction you drive through could have a different charge, similar to how each state, county, and city can charge a different rate for gas taxes (see note 2). Continue reading Replacing the gas tax with distance-based charging