The Four E's--State Transportation Investment Challenges | Invest & Innovate | Steve Levy | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Invest & Innovate

By Steve Levy

E-mail Steve Levy

About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

View all posts from Steve Levy

The Four E's--State Transportation Investment Challenges

Uploaded: Aug 2, 2015
One environmental goal is reducing vehicle travel. Achieving this goal has macro environmental benefits in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants and micro impacts such as reducing traffic congestion and local parking needs.

But achieving these goals comes with a variety of monetary costs depending on the strategy and, as such, raises the challenge of prioritizing investments. Residents tend to have different perspectives on the environmental/efficiency tradeoffs ranging from thinking that almost any cost is worth the benefits to the opposite point of view.

But, however successful we are in reducing vehicle use, cars will remain a, if not the, major form of transportation for a long time. And we know, from a variety of sources, that our roads are in need of repair. recent TRIP report and California road repair dollars.

The disrepair of our roads costs residents money and makes it harder for people to travel safely and for goods to move on our roads. We are not talking road expansion here, simply maintaining what we have.

How to raise the funds is a question facing the legislature and the Governor has called a special session to deal with transportation funding. how to pay for road repair.
In the past most repair funds have come from the gas tax. It does incorporate the equity and efficiency criteria of "user pays" at least to some extent. But with greater fuel efficiency and the growth of electric vehicles, gas use is no higher than a decade ago and gas tax revenues are not nearly enough to pay for the needed road repairs.

There is another, and perhaps better way, to incorporate the concept of user pays. That is by making revenues relate to how much we drive or vehicle miles travelled. There may not be much difference in the two measures historically but as electric vehicle use expands and gas efficiency improves, vehicle miles travelled will grow faster than gas usage and become a better measure of our road use.

There is an interesting wrinkle that surfaces a potential conflict between environmental goals and economy, equity and efficiency goals.

Current policy favors the purchase and use of electric vehicles. We received a tax credit on our Prius plug in and also got stickers from the state for car pool lane use. Over time these benefits will get stricter and phase down but many are still available.

But we pay not gas tax even though our car uses the roads. So one of the new legislative proposals is to have a modest tax on electric vehicle owners. This is in addition to the possibility of moving to a vehicle miles travelled basis for car use taxation.

Personally we are fine with these changes but I am sure there are a variety of perspectives throughout the state.

The fact that there are four E's and that residents have different priorities reminds us that some of the challenges we face will probably need compromises among competing priorities in order to find meaningful solutions that have enough support to be adopted.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

A mileage tax makes the most sense...the more you drive, the more you use and wear down the roads. But implementation becomes the tough part. I don't think anyone is going to allow some sort of GPS tracker (which has been proposed) in their cars (privacy issues of course). Perhaps there will be a need for an annual odometer reading at local DMV offices - a drive-through process. Perhaps the state could also authorize private firms such as AAA, State Farm, etc. to help out...a reading at insurance policy renewals for example.

I wouldn't doubt that there would be some debate over what is fair. Certainly what a person making $25K vs. $300K should pay. But that could be solved through integrating the fee into the State income tax process.

And of course, there should be a weighted factor when it comes to lightweight vehicles vs. SUVs, trucks, RVs. Private vehicles vs. Commercial vehicles. Automobiles vs. motorcycles. Private trailers (boats, travel trailers) vs. Commercial freight trailers.

The only missing factor here is how to tax vehicles that are registered in other states? Personal vehicles from Arizona for example (all over the SoCal beach communities during the summer season) or a Texas trucking firm that moves between LA and Dallas. And don't forget the freight haulers from Mexico...

Challenging - yes. Is there a solution to all of this - yes, again.

Posted by Techie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Aug 5, 2015 at 11:46 am

How much could be raised by expanding HOT lanes and bridge tolls? (HOT lanes are HOV lanes where solo drivers can pay to use empty space in carpool lanes.) That way, you still have a free option for price-sensitive drivers, but you also have the option of at least one free-flowing traffic lane for either HOV drivers or people who need to get where they are going quickly.

One interesting thing I've read about HOT lanes is that use is actually pretty widely dispersed across income levels: poor people have less money, but they are also more likely to lose their jobs if they can't get to work on time, so they will pay a couple bucks to jump in a toll lane if they are running late. Professionals have more money, but they also have more flexible schedules, so they are more willing to just sit in traffic and play with their phones.

Posted by Carl, a resident of Southgate,
on Aug 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Tax electric vehicles and fuel-efficient vehicles at licensing time. The criteria should be average mileage by a class of vehicles, not air pollution or climate change. A more specific fix would be wireless transponders, but that would create an enormous bureaucratic mess.

Posted by Eric, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Aug 7, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Seconding Crescent Park Dad, a mileage tax seems to be the best solution to replace a gas tax. For privacy concerns, I've long thought that California should have the annual or biennial odometer checks done at the existing infrastructure of smog check locations. Those businesses already exist and are already licensed by the state to perform that automotive service. It should be a fairly simple matter to add odometer checks. Minimal additional infrastructure & training would be needed since they are already set up to transmit data to the gov't.

Posted by Carl, a resident of Southgate,
on Aug 7, 2015 at 5:09 pm

"California should have the annual or biennial odometer checks done at the existing infrastructure of smog check locations."

That would work on paper. The problem is that the smog check station would need to deliver the bad news. I wouldn't want to be one of those guys. Also, there would be a black market in turning back the odometer, like the used cars salesmen like to do. I still think the licensing fee, based on averages for a particular type of vehicle is the easiest way to go...not perfect, but at least the state has the responsibility and power to enforce.

Posted by Stephen Levy, a resident of University South,
on Aug 9, 2015 at 1:03 am

How do readers feel about the state of our roads in the region?

Are you experiencing bad roads and repair costs?

How would you suggest paying for ongoing road maintenance? The posters above have made some suggestions and I outlined some of the statewide debate.

Posted by Carl, a resident of Southgate,
on Aug 9, 2015 at 11:34 am

I remember travelling on toll roads in New York State, which were very well maintained. Much better than the public roads. It's another approach, user based.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 11, 2015 at 2:40 pm

I'm all for toll roads. Especially with FasTrak - it's a no-brainer.

They have them in many states (MD, NY, NH, MA, PA, etc.) back East and it works very well out there.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,549 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Page 15
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,082 views

By Laura Stec | 10 comments | 991 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.