Thank you so much for contributing your comments to the Fast Lane. The site’s been visited more than 31,000 times, and it’s been an exciting first week! I am happy the Fast Lane is fulfilling its mission as an on-line community where we can communicate with you in new ways. To that end, I want to respond to a few of the comments you made regarding my post on the gas tax.
Audrey said she “believe[s] we need to invest in commute options outside of driving solo, such as transit, carpooling, vanpooling and other transportation demand management efforts to maximize the overall system performance.” And H. Bartling wrote “The main question to ask with regard to congestion pricing is where the revenues are spent…In the places where it has been successful, the revenues are spent on mass transit and emissions offsets….”
I agree a diverse investment strategy is likely to significantly improve our ability to address congestion. But too often, politics, not good policy drives the decisions made in Washington. We at the Department are trying to change that.
That’s why our urban partnership and congestion reduction agreements with cities across the country place an emphasis on effective, systematic solutions, as opposed to funding a series of stand-alone projects. Such a system was in the works for New York City, where Mayor Bloomberg’s ambitious pricing plan would have generated $500 million a year for transit. We were obviously disappointed the New York State Legislature did not give Mayor Bloomberg the authority to go ahead with his proposal, as we were ready to support it with federal dollars. There is no question we need a new metropolitan mobility model—one that integrates high technology road pricing and effective transit.
Zane Royal wrote: “….I see you guys handing out money for this and that quite often. Where does that money come from? We have the most complex infrastructure in the world, but in need of improvement and repair. Can we afford to have a loss of revenue [from repeal of the gas tax]?” The gas tax was originally intended to be a form of highway use tax. Unfortunately, due to the growing influence of special interests, gas tax revenues have increasingly been converted into a political slush fund. When the gas tax was instituted, it was only done so because more direct charging mechanisms were not administratively or technologically feasible.
If we paid for phone service and electricity through indirect taxes, we would sit around for hours waiting for a dial tone and be reading by candlelight. The real policy question is how to best charge users to ensure sufficient capacity when we need it. The objective should be to develop an economic model that charges users the true cost of travel.
Thank you all again for contributing to the Fast Lane. We’ve got more exciting things on tap, and National Transportation Week is right around the corner!