The Hidden Cost of Improved Fuel Efficiency

Increasing vehicle standards means decreasing gasoline usage--and tax revenues. A new report suggests that a wholesale rethinking of how we pay for transportation infrastructure may be in order.

The study, released by University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, points to a growing problem in transportation funding. Gasoline taxes have historically served as a user's fee, with taxes paid roughly proportional to miles driven, but with today's more fuel efficient vehicles, a mismatch between taxes paid and services consumed can occur.

The report suggests a better solution might be taxing vehicle miles traveled. Emily Badger writes:

'What's needed now is not a higher gas tax, but a whole new way of looking at how we pay our fair share for using public roads We shouldn't fill road coffers according to how much gas we buy, but how many miles we drive.'

Full Story: Transportation Theorists Rally Around Vehicle-Miles-Traveled Tax

Comments

Comments

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

Why not call the gas tax a sin tax?

thanks for posting, Lynn.
The article states,

"Part of the problem, says (transportation consultant) Jeff Shane, is treating the gas levy as a sin tax, an intentionally self-destructing fee placed on products (cigarettes, tanning beds) in the hopes that people will eventually stop using them (and with the understanding that their associated revenue will dry up)."

[I actually call it a sin tax - and why not? OK, how about a carbon tax? And yes, the less you use, the less you pay - makes perfect sense to me!]

"What’s needed now is not a higher gas tax, but a whole new way of looking at how we pay our fair share for using public roads. "

[well it worked well enough to build the Interstate Highway System half a century ago, and would still have been fine if our great leaders kept raising it to keep up with inflation!]

"The report’s authors home in on what has become the consensus favorite solution of transportation wonks. We shouldn’t fill road coffers according to how much gas we buy, but how many miles we drive.".......................

Here's what's wrong with that approach: How does one distinguish the Honda Fit from the Honda Pilot? One weighs substantially more than the other, thus causing greater road wear, and puts out much more CO2 per mile driven - yet Mr. Shane would charge them the same amount for driving the same distance?].

Burning 1 Gallon of Gasoline Produces 20 Pounds of CO2. Thus a gas tax is really a surrogate carbon fee. Why treat all gas burners the same?

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 4th Edition

Thinking about Grad School?

New! 4th Edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs just released.
Starting at $24.95

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $209
DVD Cover of The Story of Sprawl

The Story of Sprawl

See how America changed shape in this collection of historic films that visually document how sprawl evolved.
$29.99 for 2-DVD SET
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $16.95 a month