Transportation Nation

Why Spend More Money on Roads if People are Driving Less?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

That old axiom of transportation policy—to relieve congestion build more lanes—may be giving way to the realization that it's not worth it.

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Transportation Nation

A Pay-Per-Mile Road Tax Could Target Transpo Funding -- But It's Years Away

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

(photo by Richard Masoner via flickr)

As federal and state governments struggle to adequately fund their transportation networks, a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax has potential to increase revenues -- but the establishment of the tax is probably years away.

To cite one example, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding proposal would eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax. There is no mention of VMT. In fact, no state currently charges drivers a VMT tax, which tracks all miles traveled and charges a fee based on distance.

“The technology is generally there but there are an awful lot of political, institutional, and general public policy concerns that we still have to deal with,” said Rob Puentes, a transportation policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

One big concern may be privacy. A study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board released last week found that 86 percent of area commuters oppose having a GPS device installed in their vehicles to track all their miles traveled.

“There are lot of measures that can be put in place to insure that personal information is not being used or exploited, but you really have to do a good job of convincing the motoring public that privacy concerns are going to be dealt with in a very clear way,” Puentes said.

At a time when governments are looking for dedicated revenue streams for transportation systems and projects that often run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, VMT offers an opportunity to direct money to the most troublesome roads, said Puentes, who said a VMT tax would mark a fundamental change to transportation funding.

“If you are driving on the Beltway during rush hour consistently adding to the traffic on those highly congested roads, you’d be paying more, and then those revenues would go back to the road you are using,” he said.  Under the current gas tax system, revenues are placed into central transportation funds and allocated more evenly.

Politically, few politicians have shown the willingness to try to convince drivers of the merits of VMT.

"Oregon is generally considered to be the state that's pioneering most of the research and the policy analysis around this. A state law requires them to look at this,” said Puentes, referring to a state pilot program.

A University of Iowa study examined VMT on a pilot basis in Oregon and 12 U.S. cities. In Congress, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer is pushing a bill that would mandate that the Treasury Department study VMT.  In 2009 a national commission recommended VMT as one possible solution to the nation's transportation funding crisis.

But pay-as-you-drive is gaining acceptance in other circles. In 2010, California approved it as a method of pricing car insurance, and now State Farm is using it.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Detroit Mayor Wants to Privatize Bus System, OWS Takes to the Subways Today

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Top stories on TN:

House Republicans will unveil a five-year transportation bill today. (Link)

The Dulles Airport Metrorail link plan got another step closer to reality. (Link)

A Wyoming highway lowers its speed limit to help wildlife. (Link)


Occupy Wall Street protesters have vowed to shut down several subway stations today. (DNA Info, WNYC, New York Times, NBC)

Detroit's mayor says the city will run out of money this spring and that he wants to privatize some city services -- like the bus system.(Detroit Free Press, Changing Gears)

The new head of the Port Authority (Pat Foye) says the agency can help pull the region out of its financial doldrums -- a role he says it played during the Depression. (The Star-Ledger)

Meanwhile, NJ Governor Christie continues to blast the agency's previous head, Chris Ward, calling his leadership of the agency "awful." (The Record)

A pedestrian safety activist in Queens was struck and killed by a car. (New York Times, Streetsblog)

NY Daily News editorial: NYC's taxi dispatch plan for wheelchair users, which comes five days before a court hearing, is too little too late.

The head of the TSA has backed off a commitment to conduct a new independent study of X-ray body scanners used in airports. (Pro Publica)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a series of reforms to keep state highway construction projects on time and on budget. (Democrat & Chronicle)

The federal government and Minnesota officials agree that if high-speed rail comes to that state, its route will run along the Mississippi. (Winona Daily News)

Is a road use fee -- like vehicle miles traveled -- too "creepy" to work? (Atlantic Cities)

Planners say Sao Paolo, Brazil, needs a major infrastructure makeover -- including razing the Minhocao, an elevated highway known as the "Big Worm. (NPR)

A bus accident in China killed 18 children, prompting anger toward the government and renewing concerns about safety. (NPR)

Gas prices are up. (Marketplace)

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Transportation Nation

Our Survey: As Gas Prices Rise, Americans Drive Less, Carpool More, Take Mass Transit

Thursday, May 26, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Joe Guyon of Rock Hill, South Carolina says he's bundling his errands and eating locally. A listener in Augusta, GA says he "cuts off his car when I idle." Joe Manrique of North Palm Beach, Florida, says "since my daily commute is approximately 170 miles round trip, I try to walk as much as possible from my office to appointments." A contributor from Flushing New York says "I do my errands on the way home, no matter how tired I am."

Others have started carpooling, gone from being a two-car family to a one-car family, changed over from gasoline to waste vegetable oil fuel, or made sure they bundled errands, rather than driving on multiple shopping trips.

Or they are biking, working from home, going out less, or taking public transit.

Those are some of the findings of our survey with our partner The Takeaway (see map, just below) of gas prices and how they affect behavior.   And these results are bolstered by a number of  broader gauges of consumer behavior.

The American Public Transit Association is just out with a survey of traveler attitudes on public transit. APTA says some 54 percent of nearly 35,000 Americans queried said they planned to take public transit while vacationing this summer -- up from 51 percent two years ago. APTA spokesman Mantill Williams says that represents millions of travelers who will use transit in 2011 that wouldn't have in 2009.

And smaller cars began to sell more rapidly in April.  Hyundai, with its fuel-efficient fleet, reported a record 5.7 percent of the U.S. market.   All car sales are up, but for GM in particular, according to information provided to WNYC by Autodata corporation, car sales are increasing faster than truck sales. Escalade sales plummeted. Market share of the tiny Chevy (and inexpensive) Chevy Aveo soared.

In Houston in April, the number of people signing up for a carpool service tripled.

But we've seen this all before -- when gas prices spiked in 2008, and the changes in consumer behavior were sudden, and profound. Until they weren't.

As of March of this year, demand for fuel-efficient cars was still sluggish. In 2010, the Detroit Free Press reported, “hybrid car sales actually shrunk from 2.9 percent of new vehicle sales to 2.4 percent last year."

In May 2008, as gas prices in some areas topped $5.00 a gallon,  SUV’s were stuck on dealership lots. That month light truck sales -- usually about half of the U.S. market, plummeted to 43 percent of the market, according to figures provide to WNYC by Autodata.

And Americans were driving less, way less.

* In the year Ronald Reagan was elected president,  Americans were driving about 672 hundred billion miles a year.

*By 2008, we were driving five times as much. Needless to say, driving far outpaced population growth.

* But as the effects of the gas price hike sunk in, for the first time in well over a generation, Americans drove less on an annual basis –-
It’s true, Prius sales had been rising in May 2010, by about 41 percent over the year earlier. But SUV sales were up way more. The Chevy Suburban was up 100 percent over the previous year. The Chevy Equinox was up even more – by 256 percent. “This is absolute proof we have the shortest attention spans on the planet,” said Bill Visnic at the time, then a Senior Editor at Edmunds “Just two summers ago, you couldn’t give away an SUV.” Then, gasoline was approaching $5.00 a gallon. As of March of this year, demand for fuel-efficient cars was still sluggish. In 2010, the Detroit Free Press reported, “hybrid car sales actually shrunk from 2.9 percent of new vehicle sales to 29.9 ">by about 57 billion miles.

* And transit ridership jumped to 10.7 billion trips, the highest in 52 years, according to the American Public Transit Association, or APTA.  APTA put ridership increases at well over ten percent in Denver, the state of New Jersey, and Dallas.

But then. Gas prices dropped. In May 2010, gas was a relatively cheap $3.00 a gallon.  Americans began driving again. By March of 2011, we were once again driving towards the historic 2008 high -– we were back up to over 2.9 trillion miles traveled.

And SUV sales? Way up. It’s true, Prius sales had been rising in May 2010, by about 41 percent over the year earlier.  But SUV sales were up way more. The Chevy Suburban was up 100 percent over the previous year. The Chevy Equinox was up even more -– by 256 percent.

“This is absolute proof we have the shortest attention spans on the planet,” said Bill Visnic at the time, then a Senior Editor at Edmunds “Just two summers ago, you couldn’t give away an SUV.”

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Montreal Bike Share In Debt; Amtrak to Senate: Gateway Tunnel "Critical" for Region

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Senate Democrats want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the oil industry is fixing gas prices. (Marketplace). Meanwhile, their proposal to strip oil companies of tax breaks failed in the Senate yesterday (New York Times).

Politico writes: "Republicans have a messaging problem on gas prices. More Americans actually believe in UFOs and ghosts than blame President Barack Obama for causing their pain at the pump."

Montreal's Bixi bike share program, losing money and in debt, needs financial backing from the city. (The Globe and Mail)

Auditions for NYC's "Music Under New York" program were held yesterday; WNYC stopped by to take pictures -- and audio -- of the would-be subway performers. Take a listen!

CNN Money profiles the president of Alta Bike Share, the company behind the bike share programs in Boston and DC.

Workers move closer to their jobs, take transit, buy less, as a result of gas prices:  (New York Times)

Loudoun County officials are exploring what would happen if they withdrew funding for the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport. (Washington Post)

The Congressional Budget Office floated a mileage tax at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on “Financing 21st Century Infrastructure.” (The Hill)

Meanwhile, at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing for the Federal Railroad Administration's budget request, Amtrak president Joseph Boardman said the Gateway Tunnel is "critical" to high-speed rail service. He added:  "I think we're out of capacity in the Northeast Corridor...we have no place to put the New Jersey Transit trains that come into Penn Station." (Video below via Senator Lautenberg, YouTube)

The Freedom Rides turn 50 this year, and two original freedom riders talk will about that activism on today's Brian Lehrer Show. (WNYC)

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

In case you missed it on Transportation Nation:

-- high fuel prices squeeze Montana agencies (link)

-- DC wants to impose fees on intercity bus industry (link)

-- DC's mayor will announce new DDOT head today (link)

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: Tolls Can Pay for Transportation Bill

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation, May 19) Speaking at a community meeting in New York City's Chinatown, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday that tolls ought to be considered as an option to pay for the federal transportation bill. That bill has been stalled in a congress laden with (other) legislative priorities and a total non-desire to pursue any of the unpleasant options for paying for the $600 billion bill (gas taxes, vehicle miles traveled taxes, oil taxes, stock taxes, etc.)

In a discussion about what locals would like to see in the bill, LaHood became animated as he said "these are all good ideas." And then he added "The only problem we have in Washington, believe it or not, is finding the $600 billion to pay for it. " Pressed on sources of funding OTHER than a gas tax, Lahood said: "Another way is -don't run me out, okay? Tolling. Some places in the country are talking about using tolls. You can raise a lot of money by tolling." The crowd, (a New York City crowd, after all), applauded.

"Oh good! You like that idea," LaHood said.

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