Cleaning out our notebook

1 02 2010

2009 VMT Perceptions and Demand Survey Central Texas

Vaporizing the Gas Tax Myth: “The federal gas tax, now set at 18.4 cents per gallon, was last increased in 1993. A combination of inflation, changing driving habits — due in part to higher gas prices (quick note: not quite true; over the course of the past twenty or so years gas has gotten 17% more affordable when CPI adjusted) — and better fuel economy of our cars has robbed it of much of its purchasing power. In fact, the trust fund is broke, needing infusions from the general treasury totaling more than $15 billion in the last year alone. The way we fund our roads is at odds with almost every other public policy America has adopted. While proposed climate change legislation, green energy initiatives and even our foreign policy demand that we move away from a dependence on oil, we pay for our transportation system almost entirely by using more of it. In the short-term, we need to consider an increase in the gas tax. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the only way we can ease the congestion we face. At last count, that congestion costs every traveler in the U.S. $750 a year. A gas tax increase between 5 cents and 8 cents each year during the next five years will cost average Americans only $10 to $20 each month per car. In Britain and much of Europe the gas tax is nearly $4 per gallon, 20 times the federal tax in the U.S. In the long-term, we must move away from the gas tax to solutions that actually charge people for the roads they use, including a vehicle miles traveled user fee, congestion pricing for peak hours and more toll roads. We’re willing to pay for actual use of other utilities — like electricity, water and natural gas — why not our roads?”

To give just one example, TxDOT, recently concluded that the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes — just 16% of the total cost…And an individual’s approximate yearly gas tax (quick calculation based on 12,000 miles driven/year) = about $350/year/individual

Sustained Long-Term US Gasoline Demand Growth Unlikely

(source) “If you don’t like gasoline taxes, here’s an alternative: a tax on the number of miles you drive in a year. The Texas Transportation Commission has directed a fresh study of the idea, and it is not alone. There are pilot projects in other states and nationally to gauge how such a tax would work. Texas transportation officials say the study is meant to help give lawmakers information on options ahead of their next regular session in 2011, when they confront a funding squeeze that is expected to drain the highway fund of money for new construction contracts by 2012. “We need to think differently about how we fund transportation,” Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi said at a Texas Taxpayers and Research Association forum in November. Delisi said the vehicle-miles-traveled tax idea is controversial, but should be discussed because revenue from the state’s main source of transportation funding, the motor fuels tax, is declining. The gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991.”

Quick note: If one further thinks about it, due to hybrids requiring massive batteries which, in turn, require massive amounts of heavy metals which, in turn, require massive amounts of energy to extract and transport, the “environmental footprint” of a hybrid, may very well be higher than that of a gas-driven comparable model.

From AAA’s 2008 Your Driving Costs report (Quick note: Reducing an individual’s VMT will free up disposable income that can be spent elsewhere, like for actual goods and services locally):

Miles/Year   10,000 15,000 20,000
(in cents)        
small sedan   55.1 42.1 35.7
med. sedan   71.9 55.2 46.9
large sedan   85.8 65.1 54.8
average   71 54.1 45.8

(source) “The claim to a link between economic growth and vehicle mileage – that, in other words, auto travel is essential to keeping U.S. productivity high – remains controversial and much-debated in transportation policy circles. One notable recent flare-up in that debate took place on National Journal’s blog after road lobbyist Greg Cohen, referring to an October paper [PDF] released by the Cascade Policy Institute, contended that “it’s not simply a correlation but VMT actually causes economic growth.” Now economist Todd Litman, founder of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, has taken direct aim at the mileage-growth arguments made by Cascade’s Randall Pozdena. In a paper [PDF] prepared for next week’s Transportation Research Board conference in D.C., Litman charges that Pozdena’s research “misrepesents” the relationship between prosperity and VMT “in important ways.” Litman questions Pozdena’s conclusion, based on the below chart, that “increasing a country’s income by 10 percent appears to increase its use of energy by the same percentage.”

(source) According to Litman: “Recent research shows that per capita economic productivity tends to increase as public transit travel and land use density increases in a community, and declines as per capita motor vehicle travel and roadway supply increases. This reflects transportation cost savings and agglomeration efficiencies from more efficient transport and land use policies. Images and more detailed information can be found in these reports.”(source) “By increasing transportation system efficiency, Win-Win strategies increase economic productivity and support economic development. They do this by reducing inefficiencies such as traffic congestion, road and parking infrastructure costs, accident and pollution damages, and the cost burden of importing petroleum to fuel vehicles. Here are some examples and their typical VMT reduction impacts”:

 Pay-As-You-Drive insurance and registration fees (8-10%)

 Efficient parking pricing and cash out (6-10%)

 Efficient road pricing (3-6%)

 Mobility Management programs (4-8%)

 Transit & ridesharing priority (3-9%)

 Walking & cycling improvements (2-6%)

 Smart growth planning reforms (4-12%)

 Freight transport management (0.5-2%)

 Carsharing (1-2%)

 Tax shifting (5-15%)

 Vehicle Miles Traveled Reduction Targets: Will This Strategy Get the Desired Results? [from the Transportation Research Board’s 89th Annual Meeting (January 10-14, 2010)]

A Compendium of Research Papers and Information

Socially Optimal Transport Prices and Markets Principles, Strategies and Impacts

Promoting public health through Smart Growth

Key Relationships Between the Built Environment and VMT” (quick note: based on this author’s other work and his “think tank” connections, he’s  irrationally anti-Smart Growth and a pro-road partisan but has put together a great bibliography at the end)

Evaluating Transportation Economic Development Impacts Understanding How Transport Policy and Planning Decisions Affect Employment, Incomes, Productivity, Competitiveness, Property Values and Tax Revenues

Investments in transit produce 19 percent more jobs than an equivalent investment in new road and bridge projects

Portland’s Streetcar Oriented Development

Development ROI for Streetcar Lines
  Initial Track Miles Capital Cost/Mile Total Capital Cost Development Investment ROI Expansion Planned
Kenosha, Wis. 2.0 $3.00 $6.00 $150 2,400% Yes
Little Rock, Ark. 2.5 $7.84 $19.60 $200 920% Yes
Tampa, Fla. 2.3 $24.35 $56.00 $1,000 1,686% Yes
Portland, Ore. 4.8 $11.38 $54.60 $2,300 4,112% Yes

All costs in millions of dollars. Tampa’s costs include land acquisition.

“Operating costs per passenger for light rail are between 25 percent and 75 percent lower than for buses, through a combination of more carrying capacity, higher levels of ridership, more efficient grid-connected electric power (using only one fifth the energy per passenger-mile), and much lower maintenance costs for the vehicles… In fact, according to a study of light rail in Texas, each percent shift in travel from automobiles to transit produces almost $3 million growth in regional income and over 200 new jobs.”

Density and Urban Rail

(source) “This paper examines economies of scale and density in urban rail transport. It isolates the effects of constant and non-constant returns on output and productivity growth using data relating to 17 rail systems in cities around the world. Estimates reveal constant returns to scale but increasing returns to density. The productivity model shows that total factor productivity change has been of great importance in differentiating the output performance of urban rail systems. Our analysis of average labour productivity confirms the importance of shifts to other factors of production and technological change in explaining changing levels of output per worker.”

“A number of myths about rail transit have long been promoted by the automobile industry, the highway lobby and other special interest groups that are opposed to balanced transportation. The most common of these myths as well as the realities are provided HERE.”

“This table, Annual Unlinked Passenger Trips and Passenger Miles for Urbanized Areas Over 1,000,000 Population, Fiscal Year 2004, from the American Public Transit Association, shows that the more dense a rail transit system is, the more it will be used. For example, passenger miles in Chicago are some 30 percent higher than Los Angeles, despite the larger population in L.A. Particularly telling is a comparison of Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC – each with relatively much more developed rail transit systems – with Miami, Dallas, and Houston.”

(source) “Real world experience in the U.S. and other countries has demonstrated repeatedly that rail transit does not necessarily require high population densities to be successful. And there are numerous urban areas in the U.S. that have densities sufficient for rail. An example is Salt Lake City, which has a population of only 181,743 and a density of 1,666 per square mile. The population for the urban area as a whole is about a million. Its new, two-line light rail system is heavily utilized with more than 53,000 riders per day, far more than even the most optimistic original projections. This success has resulted in strong pressure to construct more lines to serve additional parts of the city and suburbs.”

(source) “This bulletin summarizes current concerns about improving public transportation and compares the distinguishing characteristics of the different modes of urban rail transit. It provides an overview of the history of rail transit in the state and outlines the evolution of current rail proposals for southeastern and southern Wisconsin. It also surveys the experi­ences of comparable urban areas outside the state.”

(source) “This paper describes the potential use of the financing strategy of value capture or benefit assessment for an urban mass transportation project. The paper describes the legal background to the use of benefit assessment, and the process of implementation for the first construction phase of the Los Angeles Metro Rail project. The process of developing the benefit assessment structure was a consultative one, utilizing technical inputs from a team of specialist consultants, a task force consisting of major developers and property owners in the affected area, and politicians representing many of the interests in the region. The initial benefit assessment districts were set up to raise $130 million of the cost of the first 4.4 miles of the rail project, and are based on the benefits accruing to certain categories of property in the vicinity of stations. The assessment would be collected for about 18 years and bonding would be used to provide the capital at the time of construction. The paper describes the procedure for setting boundaries, the structuring of the assessment rates, the definition of benefiting properties, and the uses and tenure of the assessment. In almost all cases, the theory of value capture indicated a different result than was achieved from a consensus of the task force, and the nature of these differences is explored in the paper. The establishment of the benefit assessment districts withstood early court challenges, but has subsequently been appealed and was overturned on appeal. Action is pending with the Supreme Court currently, and efforts are also underway to pass new legislation to deal with some of the issues raised in the court proceedings.”

Environmental Protection Agency Publishes Draft Report for External Comment on the Feasibility of Incorporating Climate Change Information Into Land Protection Planning



3 responses

1 02 2010


“Making Transportation Sustainable: Insights from Germany”

3 02 2010


In analyzing outcomes of the 2009 stimulus package, Smart Growth America found that “In the 10 months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed, investing in public transportation produced twice as many jobs per dollar as investing in roads.” To wit, a billion dollars dumped into maintaining our highway system, which enshrines the oil-guzzling car as our chief mode of getting around, generated 8,781 job-months. That same billion dollars used to build out mass transit created 16,419 job-months.

3 02 2010

A study done two years ago found that a 20% shift of retail food spending in Detroit redirected to locally grown foods would create 5,000 jobs and increase local output by half a billion dollars. A similar shift to Detroit-grown food by those living in the five surrounding counties would create 35,000 jobs – far more than ever will come out of the multibillion-dollar bailout of the auto industry. The experience of microenterprise organizations around the country suggests that each of these jobs can be created for $2,000-3,000 of public money—a tiny fraction of the price of the last stimulus.

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