By Steve Levy
The Four E's--State Transportation Investment ChallengesUploaded: 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.