An interesting article from Governing, “Transit and the Power of ‘No’,” looks at the funding structure of transit projects. The piece highlights how often the budgets of shiny, new transit projects do not factor the long-term costs, and soon falls into disrepair. The author was making an argument that a) for transit to be effective, it needs to be safe, attractive and reliable, and b) we have to fund transportation as a system, and not as the individual components of roads, transit, bike paths, airports, and so on.
This article fit well with the current debate on the House of Representatives’ “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012” that seeks to “slash transit funding,” as well as pedestrian, cycling and all non-road related surface projects. The logic behind this move is that the 18 cents the government collects on each gallon of gasoline should only go to road projects. Currently, the federal government dedicates two cents of that 18 to transit projects.
The argument that the gas tax is a user tax and should fund improvements to the resource used misses the point that transportation is an inter-connected system. Money spent on transit actually helps roads. Look around on your next commute. How many vehicles have more than one person? How many huge vehicles are hauling only the driver? The private vehicle is an example of how we confuse convenience with efficiency. All those cars, moving all that metal and burning all that fuel are doing so to move 1-2 people on average. When only a few choose transit over driving, removing those large-area/low-occupancy vehicles from the road, there is more room for the other vehicles and less wear on the road.
In other words, for all the die-hard drivers in our audience, funding transit projects with your gas taxes means fewer cars on the road making for a more pleasant driving experience. Also, stripping the dedicated transit funding from the gas tax assumes that people who drive, never use transit. That’s just not true. Not where I live. By which I mean: in my house. I own a car, a bike and a bus pass and I am not afraid to use them. When I fill up the tank of my car, I like knowing that some of that tax is going to fund the other modes of transportation that are available to me. When the gas tax (a use tax on the wane, considering the increase in fuel efficiency) only funds roads, we will only have roads. When the gas tax funds all transportation, we have options.