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Tuesday Talk: Who should pay for transportation?

February 26, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

The prospect of $4/gallon gas is again fueling debate for alternative transportation systems—getting more people on bikes, public transit and in car pools. Policymakers are also pushing for more fuel efficient vehicles. However, fewer gallons of gas purchased cuts funding for maintaining our current infrastructure. The University of Minnesota is testing out a plan to charge people a fee for miles driven. We also use other non-transportation tax funds to pay for roads at the federal and local levels.

How should we fund a modern transportation system? Who should pay? Should we ask everyone — including cyclists and fuel efficient drivers — to pay equally for infrastructure?  

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  • Doug Jones says:

    February 26, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Need to make an adjustment to gas tax that adjusts automatically based on average fleet gas mileage.  So as the average mileage in the state increases the gas tax will increase to raise sufficient funds to fund infrastruture.

    No tax on bikes as we want to encourage there use.

  • Rick says:

    February 26, 2013 at 8:43 am

    It may be time to revisit collecting tolls on some of our roads. Some sort of usage fees ought to be a part of the conversation that doesn’t include just raising taxes.

  • Jay Richardson says:

    February 26, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Road repair funding should come from per-gallon fuel tax.  Vehicle license tax for private, non-farm vehicles should increase on a scale based on weight of vehicle.  Taxing bicycle riders and fuel-efficient vehicle drivers beyond fuel tax would be a mistake in that it would discourage these modes of transport.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    February 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Since they are a part of the common good, I’d say that everyone should support the roads and bridges, streets and alleys that we all rely on whether we drive, bike, walk or use public transit.

    This portion of support should be collected as part of each person’s or company’s income tax, but an additional tax based on miles driven and the weight of vehicles like 18-wheeler trucks should be levied as well.

  • Rebecca says:

    February 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

    We all should be paying a higher gas tax.  When I come back from Wisconsin I notice the price of gas is just about always lower here in Minnesota.  The U of Minn plan sounds too complicated!

  • Clark Bergman says:

    February 26, 2013 at 10:35 am

    I generally agree with Jay.  While fuel efficient cars, motorcycles, and bicycles benefit from good roads (I LOVE a smooth surface when riding my recumbent trike), we should encourage less fuel consumption.  Gas tax payments go up with miles driven and the weight and inefficiency of the vehicle. 

    So the gas tax alone can be used to encourage less driving and more efficient vehicles while collecting funds in proportion to wear and tear on the roads and the environment.

    Increase the gas tax to a level that provides enough funds to maintain roads.  Adjust it as conditions change.

  • Sandi Karnowski says:

    February 26, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Of course we need gasoline taxes, which could go up slightly, say 2 - 4 cents a gallon.  But everyone needs to understand, we all use supplies which are trucked in to wherever we live.  The roads need to be maintained, and all should pay.  Those of us who drive pay more because of our licenses and gas taxes. 

    Good roads and infrastructure also bring jobs to our communities.  We all know how important jobs are to an economy.  We would not be having the ridiculous conversations as are going on in DC right now if we had a booming economy.

    We like having Fortune 500 companies here in MN because they bring good paying jobs to our workforce.  If our bridges and roads were allowed to deteriorate as they did under Tim Pawlenty and the Republicans, these high paying jobs could vanish. High paying jobs pay for services in our communities, such as good schools, police and fire protection, and roads and sidewalks within our communities. 

    We all use these amenities, not just those of us who drive.  We ALL need to pay for all forms of transportation.  Those of us who have traveled throughout this country and abroad know what other areas offer.  I feel MN is so far behind other areas, it is downright embarressing.  I would love to take a light rail system, but living in a NW suburb I would have to drive downtown, pay to park and then get on.  Not too practical.

    Scott Walker killed the high speed train we could have taken to Chicago. Who wants to take a train through WI that is slower than driving?  Come on MN let’s get rid of Republican obstructionists and get our country up to speed with good transportation options for all.

  • John S says:

    February 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Here’s a proposal for Public Transportation:  In many places, public transportation is not heavily used because it is not that good, and one reason it is not good is that use of these poor systems is low and therefore not economical, requiring large subsidies to maintain the system. 

    My idea to break into this vicious cycle would be to impose a substantial surcharge (say 50 cents per gallon) for fuel used in personal vehicles.  The twist here would be that for each gallon of fuel purchased, you would receive a credit (coupon – paper or electronic) that could be used to pay for the fare on any form of public transportation.  As people began to accumulate hundreds of dollars worth of these coupons, they would want to use them (or give or sell them to someone who would use them).  As long as the coupons are used, ridership on public transportation would increase, susidies could decrease, and the demand for improved systems would follow.

    I would exempt fuel for commercial vehicles (shipping, public transportation vehicles- including aircraft, farm vehicles and equipment, and vehicles used for business purposes) so that this could not be used as an excuse to raise all sorts of prices. 

    Obviously, this would work best as a national (not state) program. These public transport coupons would be more useful for everyday transport in urban areas where increased use of public transport would have the greatest impact…less traffic congestion, improved air quality, less need for government subsidies, and improved systems to cope with the increased demand.  But even for people living in non-urban areas, the transportation chits could be used for occasional conveyance for longer trips on trains, buses or even planes, or they could just sell the coupons. If you use the coupons, you’re getting your 50 cent surcharge back   In fact, you might even be saving some money by not using your vehicle for certain trips.  The point is, as long as the coupon is used by somebody, public transport use is increased, oil consumption would be reduced and who knows, we could finally start to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, a dependance that causes us to tranfer huge amounts of money to other countries, many of which are not really our friends.

  • Bruce Kittilson says:

    February 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Whatever else you do, do not use privately operated toll roads.

  • Mary says:

    February 26, 2013 at 11:57 am

    We need to raise the gas tax as it has not kept up with inflation and the rising cost of maintaining roads and bridges. An important point was made by Jay, to base licensing on the weight of the vehicle as the heavier vehicles damage the roads more in relation to miles driven.

  • Joe Merz says:

    February 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Elements of the infrastructure, such as a comprehensive transportation system, are necessary to a functioning society.  All members of society exist within, and depend upon, a well-functioning transportation system, whether they personally use its modalities or not.
    Therefore, at least some basic cost element of a transportation system should be paid for by everyone.  And, as well, the universal aspect of taxation for the system should be progressive, recognizing that the more one benefits from his/her society’s transportation system, the more they should be expected to pay for the system.

    Two elements of taxation to maintain and improve our transportation system are that it must be universal and progressive.  Combining this with the gas tax, various user taxes, and other possible tax sources can lead to the competitive advantage that comes with a well-designed and comprehensive modern and self-refining transportation system.

  • Frank says:

    February 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Considering that we All benefit from, and at some level utilize same, I think a combination of funding sources should apply to the big-umbrella topic of “Transportation.”  The amount of the gas tax should cease being treated as a political football, and expenditures for needed infrastructure should also largely be free from partisan considerations & infighting. Naturally, the “How” of all that is still a major challenge for officials & planners. I see that one of the major problems in smart-planning in recent decades has been the politicization of misc. issues related to transportation; e.g. dollars devoted to expansion of roads vs. networks of light rail & other mass transit, opposition to ANY new taxes (for Any public projects), suggestions that “freeways” need to be “tollways;” etc.

  • Hilary says:

    February 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    FHWA released new data showing that per capita vehicle miles traveled continues to drop.At the same time, demand and use of transit is increasing. In MN, the gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to roads. Given the more multi-modal patterns emerging, we need to make sure our funding for transportation also invests in all modes.

  • Bonnie L says:

    February 26, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    A surcharge of 50 cents per gallon for personal vehicles to be offset by coupon for public transportation? 

    Outstate Minnesota has little or no public transportation. 

    Those ‘personal vehicles’ towing their toys to the lake or cabin should pay more.

  • Ron Kuecker says:

    February 26, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Sorry, but it is probably time for very expensive and high use highways to go to a well thought out toll system. They are commonly used in other ststes with good success.

  • Ron Kuecker says:

    February 26, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Really, I thought it was George Bush`s fault !

  • Bill Graham says:

    February 27, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    The Legislature should enact a 3/4th to 7/8th cent sales tax dedicated to transit, to support both capital and operating expenses. It should apply in all seven metro counties, and they should consider adding Wright and Sherburne Counties as well.  It also should add at least a dime to gasoline taxes and possibly index them to price.  Taxing miles driven is an interesting idea but perhaps too hard to implement.