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February 13, 2018 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Donald Trump wants to raise the gas tax, previously unthinkable from a Republican, to increase the Highway Trust Fund which is chronically underfunded. As cars and truck become more efficient, what's the best way to fund road maintenance, repair and construction? Make Every Road A Toll Road

California, Washington and Oregon are all experimenting with a vehicle-mileage tax to replace gas taxes. But is it a bad idea to tax people for every mile they drive?

But what about literal toll roads?
In Virginia, the I-66 variable-priced HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes sparked a controversy when they first started, with commuters able to either drive as a HOV-3 (High Occupancy Vehicle with 3 people) or pay a toll to access the lanes. The toll prices changed to regulate traffic flow, with prices spiking as high as $34.50.
But are there really upsides? The Mythology of HOT Lanes


Virginia's $40 Toll Road Better Be The Future Of Driving

CONSIDERATIONS FOR HIGH OCCUPANCY VEHICLE (HOV) LANE TO HIGH OCCUPANCY TOLL (HOT) LANE CONVERSIONS GUIDEBOOK

HOT lanes can be thought of as congestion pricing, a way to communicate to drivers the cost of traffic. But what are the impacts on equity of charging to use a road, or be in a city? Is Congestion Pricing Regressive?
Income-Based Equity Impacts of Congestion Pricing—A Primer
Carpooling and congestion pricing: HOV and HOT lanes, Hideo Konishia, Se-il Munb, Regional Science and Urban Economics, Volume 40, Issue 4, July 2010, Pages 173-186
It is often argued in the US that HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes are wasteful and should be converted to HOT (high occupancy vehicles and toll lanes). In this paper, we construct a simple model of commuters using a highway with multiple lanes, in which commuters are heterogeneous in their carpool organization costs. We first look at the HOV lanes and investigate under what conditions introducing HOV lanes is socially beneficial. Then we examine whether converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes improves the efficiency of road use.
HOV/HOT Lane Vehicle Characteristics: A Case Study on Atlanta's I-85 HOV-TO-HOT Corridor, Katie S. Smith ; Vetri V. Elango ; and Randall Guensler
The conversion of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes was implemented in metro Atlanta as a pilot project and is under consideration for more widespread adoption throughout the metro region. Further conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes is a major policy decision that depends upon the likely impacts, including lane performance and equity impacts of the new HOT lane. This research effort collects revealed preference data in the form of observed traffic counts, vehicle license plate data, and vehicle occupancy data to study the impacts of the conversion.
Any benefits other than revenues and reduced traffic? Safety benefits of converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes: Case study of the I-394 MnPASS, Xinyu Cao, Zhiyi Xu, Arthur Yan Huang, ITE Journal (Institute of Transportation Engineers)
The study investigated whether the conversion of the I-394 HOV (high-occupancy-vehicle) lanes to HOT (high-occupancy-toll) lanes reduces the number of crashes on the mainline of I-394. Applying the Empirical Bayes method in the before-after data, it was found that the number of crashes was reduced by 5.3 percent. Using standard crash values recommended by Mn/DOT, it was found that the economic benefit of reduced crashes for 2006 and 2008 is about $5 million. This is substantial given that the tolls collected total about $1.2 million per year. After comparing the estimates derived from simple before-after approaches, it was found that these approaches tend to overstate the number of reduced crashes. Further, for the I-394 MnPASS, the HOV-to-HOT conversion was accompanied by designating access points. Therefore, it was unable to differentiate to what extent the safety benefits are attributable to the conversion.
Hmm.


Enforcement is expensive, difficult and dangerous; can we automate?
Passenger Compartment Violation Detection in HOV/HOT Lanes Yusuf Artan ; Orhan Bulan ; Robert P. Loce ; Peter Paul, IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems ( Volume: 17, Issue: 2, Feb. 2016 )

Would Congestion Pricing Work In LA?
posted by the man of twists and turns (121 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
No doubt tied into funding walls and/or concentration camps and/or nukes when the bill finally gets drafted, but I do love the idea of finally taxing drivers/truckers their fair share for infrastructure.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:56 AM on February 13 [10 favorites]


Well, I'm certainly glad that I'm a well-paid software developer who can totally make the arrangement with my workplace to work from home several days a week and not, for example, a retail worker who has to commute an extended distance to a store in a commercial development nowhere near affordable housing in a city with barely any public transit. This will definitely be fair and will definitely not wind up being a disproportionate burden on the lower classes who don't actually get to make a lot of choices about where they live and work.

I'm not in favor of driving being as big a part of our culture as it is, but until it isn't, please, people like me who have the luxury of choice should not get out of paying on that basis.
posted by Sequence at 12:01 PM on February 13 [125 favorites]


The city I live in is surrounded on 3 sides by toll roads, and the 4th side was considered for a managed toll lanes (not entirely tolled) but delayed by legislators. It's in sprawl-land, so the effect of tolls on land use choices has been basically nil. There is some effect on the poor - but it's really too early to tell. They mostly concentrate near the free road, but really not enough time has passed to generate data to determine impacts. As far as I can tell, the excess toll money isn't dispersed into other transit projects, but rather just growing and maintaining each individual tolled road.

So I don't have much faith in tolling changing the housing/construction game. Maybe in partially paying for infrastructure but that's it.

Anecdotally, this summer I got in a toll lane between Anaheim CA and someplace near San Bernadino CA at 5:00pm in what is rush hour traffic out of Los Angeles, and it was basically empty, which also conveys with what I've seen with local tolled lanes along side untolled lanes. Most people aren't as time sensitive as traffic planners think, so they don't spend extra on managed lanes when a free lane is one lane over, even if there is congestion. This conveys with the tolled lanes outside of Austin TX going bankrupt because nobody used it. I wouldn't have driven in it except it was very poorly marked.

So I don't have much faith in partially tolled lanes. It has to be fully tolled or a previously free lane converted to be cost-practical.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:03 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Back in the good old days, it was just some of the more zany factions of libertarianism that wanted all roads to be toll roads. Yes, there could be many benefits to it. In much the same way as there are many clear advantages to banning strong cryptography and stamping every internet packet with the social security number of its sender.
posted by sfenders at 12:05 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty firmly in the anti-toll and private road camp. One of the main functions of government is supplying roads, and I certainly don't like private toll companies operating (and profiting from) roads.

I'm also pretty firmly in the anti-toll for government roads camp. The toll is basically a regressive tax, to the elites the tolls are a pittance, to the poor the tolls are fairly significant.

Per mile taxation seems like a fairly wretched idea as well, again mainly in that it's likely to be regressive. The wealth can afford to move closer to a job and cut down their commute, the working poor often must commute long distances. A per mile road tax would hurt such people.

Gas taxes are also regressive, I'd vastly prefer we increase income tax and eliminate gas taxes. Like all other per use taxes the gas tax is going to hit the poor the hardest and the elites the least.

And, in the longer term, gas taxes are going to be increasingly less able to pay for roads as we transition more to electric vehicles. And, as that happens and gas taxes increase, guess who will be stuck with the older gas cars and paying those taxes? Answer: the poor who can't afford new electric cars.

It doesn't surprise me at all that Trump is proposing increasing the gas tax. It's a simplistic solution to a complex problem and it leaves poor people paying the bills while rich people get out of paying.
posted by sotonohito at 12:16 PM on February 13 [49 favorites]


But is it a bad idea to tax people for every mile they drive?

Guess what kind of tax charges people for every mile they drive?

A gas tax.

Why do people have to make taxation complex as well as expensive?
posted by GuyZero at 12:17 PM on February 13 [29 favorites]


One of the privileges of affluence is a short commute. The affluent can afford to live in the older, more central urban neighbourhoods, the young and the less well off increasingly live in satellite suburbs with 30 or 60 minute+ commutes.

Gas Taxes or mileage taxes are regressive. Tolls are both regressive and inefficient, two bad deals for your buck. For public infrastructure, where a monopoly is natural, a profit margin is a structural waste.
posted by bonehead at 12:17 PM on February 13 [12 favorites]


Guess what kind of tax charges people for every mile they drive?

A gas tax.


It's not just miles driven, though. Gas taxes can also be regressive because poorer people have older, less efficient vehicles. (But they'll on average drive smaller vehicles, too, probably.)
posted by BrashTech at 12:27 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


You can see the bumpy ride (har har) of toll roads in Texas through past articles from the Texas Tribune. A few examples:

The trouble with toll roads in Texas (Phineas Baxandall and Sara E. Smith, Oct. 5, 2014)
Texans aren’t so fond of toll roads.

A Texas Transportation Institute study released last month found that from a list of 15 potential ways to improve transportation in the state, building more toll roads was by far the least popular option. Over 1,000 citizens reportedly filled a public meeting last month in Rockwall to show opposition to a private tollway.

Ideally, Texas would only introduce tolls on roads when they’re the best way to collect needed transportation revenue. In states like Colorado and Virginia, toll rates are adjusted to encourage drivers to avoid rush hour and carpool more. London charges visitors who drive downtown a fee that keeps streets unclogged. These systems create public benefits that can outweigh any drawbacks.

But unfortunately, especially in Texas, tolls tend to be introduced for the wrong reasons. When elected leaders aren’t willing to fix major transportation funding problems, tolling can appear to create money out of thin air while actually wasting tax dollars and leading to poor decisions about what transportation projects to build and how to manage them.
In Legislature, Toll Roads Facing Strong Opposition (Aman Batheja, March 22, 2015)
Anti-toll sentiment at the Capitol is at its highest level in at least a decade as both Republicans and Democrats have proposed measures that would either tap the brakes on new toll road projects, or undo the state’s current tolling system entirely.
The problem is Paying Off Toll Roads Could Top $30 Billion (Madlin Mekelburg, March 30, 2016)
If Texas decided to pay off construction debt on nearly all of its toll roads tomorrow, the price tag would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 billion, according to a preliminary report.
Increasing the fuel (gas and diesel) tax makes some sense, because it's the easiest to apply, and it hasn't changed since 1993, and the taxes are not tied to inflation, which has increased 64.6 percent from 1993 until 2015 (which is like being stuck with the same paycheck for 25 years). Unfortunately for Trump (and anyone else who supports this), Paul Ryan is staunchly against raising the gas tax (Paulryan.house.gov link), despite the fact that gas (and diesel), but meanwhile seven states increased their state taxes on Jan. 1, 2017 -- those weren't the first to do so, and they definitely won't be the last, unless something changes at the Federal level. [Cribbed comments and links from my prior comment in the most recent mega politics thread]

Guess what kind of tax charges people for every mile they drive?

A gas tax.


Except it doesn't -- and it doesn't get applied fairly. First, BrashTech noted how this can be a regressive tax on people with older cars, compared to newer hybrid and higher efficiency vehicles, which some could argue "don't pay their fair share." Then you have alternative energy vehicles, which get a free ride, and electric vehicles are all the rage:
Just about every car company pledged to electrify its lineup by some point in the 2020s, turning every model into at least a hybrid if not a fully electric car. So, following up on those promises, Mercedes, Nissan, Smart, and other carmakers brought sexy futuristic concept cars with them to CES.
That's where vehicle-mileage taxes come in. The problem is that they're much harder to implement, as helpfully recapped by RAND (the "experimenting with" link in the OP, below the break):
Drawing on recent programs, studies, and proposals, the RAND team assessed the eight VMT metering options shown in Table 1. The first three rely on odometer checks to determine VMT fees. The middle two use relatively inexpensive automatic vehicle identification (AVI) devices—such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags—combined with supporting infrastructure deployed along the roadways and/or at fueling stations. The last three options involve sophisticated on-board units (OBUs) that incorporate a connection to the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic (OBD) port, cellular communications, and/or a GPS receiver. Beyond metering options, the researchers also examined complementary options for collecting fees (with registration, with fuel purchase, with debit cards, or with automated billing), preventing evasion, and protecting privacy.
  1. Self-reported odometer readings -- Drivers report current mileage each year as part of annual registration process.
  2. Required odometer checks -- Drivers submit to periodic (likely annual) readings at certified stations as basis for assessing mileage fees.
  3. Optional odometer checks -- Drivers are assessed an annual fee based on estimated mileage for the vehicle class; those driving significantly less than estimate could submit to annual odometer readings.
  4. Fuel consumption-based estimates -- Vehicles are equipped with an AVI device that transmits vehicle fuel economy rating to the fuel pump; this is multiplied by gallons purchased to estimate mileage, and resulting fee is added to the price.
  5. RFID tolling on a partial road network -- Vehicles are equipped with an AVI device that communicates with gantries set up along the most heavily traveled segments of the road network to enable facility-based tolls.
  6. OBU with OBD II -- Vehicles are equipped with an OBU connected to the OBD port to estimate mileage.
  7. OBU with OBD II/cellular -- Same as above, but vehicles are also equipped with cellular communication technology to determine area of travel.
  8. OBU with GPS -- Same as above, but vehicles are also equipped with a GPS device to determine specific route of travel.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:30 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


The federal gas tax hasn't been raised in 25 years. Many states also haven't raised theirs in years. Transit fares are raised regularly in many areas, often with the excuse that gas taxes don't cover increases in transit operating costs.

Sure, any form of sales tax is regressive. But our failure to raise fuel taxes subsidizes driving (and all of its many associated negative externalities) at the expense of people who often can't afford to buy or maintain cars. Raising the federal gas tax may not be the most regressive policy option here.
posted by asperity at 12:30 PM on February 13 [20 favorites]


Why do people have to make taxation complex as well as expensive?

It's easier to conceal loopholes and wealth transfer schemes that way.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:32 PM on February 13 [39 favorites]


*inserts dumpsterfire.gif*
posted by Fizz at 12:43 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I see no issue with raising fuel taxation. It is pretty damn cheap right now compared to pretty much anywhere else. It will hit the poor more, though, but that argument will get nowhere because no-one in power right now gives a shit about that, sadly. It's a total non-issue for them. Although I will point out that luxury cars tend to be less efficient than base level cars, so it is self correcting to *some* (minor) extent.

I do find it interesting that not only are they raising this idea but also trying to come up with some safety bullshit to also encourage less fuel economical cars.

So one the one hand the GOP is kicking back to the oil companies by making sure more fuel is used, while at the same time considering taxing that increased usage. Double whammy.
posted by Brockles at 12:45 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


That's where vehicle-mileage taxes come in. The problem is that they're much harder to implement...

I realize not all states have this, but Missouri has required safety and emissions checks in order to renew vehicle registration, either yearly or every two years. Making an odometer reading a part of that seems fairly trivial.


I still prefer a gas tax anyway, in at least a token attempt to reward choosing more efficient vehicles. Not that operating costs seem to be motivating Real American Men (TM) to choose a Prius over a pickup truck that burns 5 times as much gas to go the same distance.
posted by Foosnark at 12:48 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]




I still prefer a gas tax anyway, in at least a token attempt to reward choosing more efficient vehicles.

Agreed. It at least encourages the populace to choose less total fuel usage either with vehicle choice or lifestyle changes (if they can). A per mile charge would be way harder to police and encourage gaming of odometers and all sorts of things.
posted by Brockles at 12:50 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


If we charge vehicles proportional to the damage they cause to the road surface, the heaviest big rigs should pay about 5,000-10,000 times higher tax than passenger cars. Commuters are subsidizing the crap out of the trucking industry.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:04 PM on February 13 [32 favorites]


First, BrashTech noted how this can be a regressive tax on people with older cars, compared to newer hybrid and higher efficiency vehicles, which some could argue "don't pay their fair share." Then you have alternative energy vehicles, which get a free ride, and electric vehicles are all the rage

So what? And I don't mean that dismissively. At one point the government was paying people hard cash dollars to buy these vehicles. As those subsidies go away, a tiny subsidy via naturally lower gas taxes seems fine. Once we have thousands of 18-wheel electric trucks beating up the highways we can move on to mandated odometer readings. It's years away.

All use taxes are regressive but the gas tax seems to me to be the least odious of the bunch. We need to incent people to use less gas anyway.

And the plus side of gas taxes is that they're pay-as-you-go. If we do odometer readings at, say, annual registration then you're going to hit people with thousand-dollar registration fees which is arguably worse for low income people. And no one is going to do monthly mandated odometer readings.
posted by GuyZero at 1:04 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Further conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes is a major policy decision that depends upon the likely impacts, including lane performance and equity impacts of the new HOT lane.

LOL. It benefits rich people and provides revenue in an (apparently) politically palatable way. Game, set, match. Let's not pretend that "equity impacts" matter in contemporary American politics. Welcome to the darkest timeline.

Anyway—I'm not sure that a mileage-based tax is in any way better than just raising the gas tax, and then continually raising it if and when Americans buy less gas, until we actually hit some part of the demand curve where it's literally impossible to fund the roads by raising gas prices further. Then we can consider milage taxes: when the last gasoline car is strangled with the hose of the last gas pump. If we're going to dream, that's mine.

However, I don't see that the implementation would really be all that difficult, so that's not a good counterargument. At least in most states there's already some sort of vehicle inspection regime, whether for safety or emissions, and even where there isn't, there's still a registration cycle. Those create opportunities where vehicles can be brought in to a trusted party (which could really be anyone including service stations who are licensed to perform inspections under penalty of perjury etc.) to note down the odometer reading. Odometer tampering is already a crime; it might make sense to raise the penalties for it to offset the new incentives to tamper, but I don't think you'd get much more tax avoidance than you currently get with fuel taxes (using OHV or farm fuel on-road, putting home heating oil in diesel vehicles, etc.). So once a year you note down the odometer reading and feed that to the DMV as part of the inspection, and in order to get your registration sticker you have to pay your tax; no tax, no sticker, then you have dead plates on the car, and then you get pulled over. Pretty straightforward.

I'm always surprised when I hear crazy proposals for mileage taxes involving GPS or other creepy technology; mileage taxes were first proposed in the 1930s and require at best punched-card levels of technology to implement.

Still, I'd personally support raising the gas tax until we kill petroleum as a vehicle fuel, and I think the idea of needing to tax based on mileage rather than fuel is ridiculously premature given the ton-mileage (which is what you care about in terms of road wear—heavy vehicles wear more than light ones) powered by petroleum vs. electricity. But in terms of ease of implementation, a mileage tax is entirely within reach.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:06 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


heaven forbid motorists should pay their fair share

I want everybody who benefits from roads who can afford to contribute to the roads to be paying for roads. Why do we operate under the assumption that the roads are there for the motorists? I sure as hell don't drive because I want to, and I've got more choice about it than most people. Rich people set up systems where everybody has to drive and then we tsk at people for driving. Why exactly is it "fair" for this burden to belong to drivers who don't have the option to be anything else instead of "fair" to charge the corporations that make all the money off this setup?
posted by Sequence at 1:09 PM on February 13 [12 favorites]


Oh, boy, regressive taxation! How about those who benefit the most materially from our public roadways, the ultra-wealthy and large businesses, start paying their due instead?
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:10 PM on February 13 [11 favorites]


I would be totally in favor of a toll to come inside the beltway to fund DC street repair. Our roads are shit and the constant influx of "ride-sharing" cars from the inner burbs aren't helping at all.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:11 PM on February 13


Then you have alternative energy vehicles, which get a free ride, and electric vehicles are all the rage

Electric cars are great for the tiny fraction of people who have them, for whom I suppose escaping from the gas tax amounts to a cherry on top of the enormous tax subsidies they still are given to buy them, but cyberpunk was all the rage too for a while and even decades later we still don't all have neural implants sticking out the side of our brains. Who knows what the future might bring? If it brings everyone electric cars I'd say that's a good problem to have. Let's see if it actually happens first before we go about sticking "tamper-proof" tracking hardware in everyone's cars, okay?

Simply using yearly odometer readings is an interesting alternative, but I don't think it would last long. In many cars it's already easy to disable them, making payment of the tax effectively voluntary for a lot of people, mostly those with older cars. Newer cars, it'd provide a financial incentive to crack that one of the built-in anti-user security measures as is more routinely done for the latest iPhone. More cars would get a little of the kind of attention only those of interest to tuners tend to get today. All very fun, but not likely to end up with things in a good state.
posted by sfenders at 1:12 PM on February 13


i say we just solve the problem by banning cars

GORDIAN KNOT, MOTHERFUCKERS
posted by entropicamericana at 1:14 PM on February 13 [12 favorites]


However, I don't see that the implementation would really be all that difficult, so that's not a good counterargument.

Why not? It is incredibly difficult and far more expensive than .... just changing the percentage on the existing tax. It's a zero effort, zero cost change to the existing gas taxed system to add it there (assuming there already is a tax portion on the fuel). The administration overhead alone would mean a per-mile tax would be proportionally higher for the same desired government income. Checking, systems, policing, sending out bills, dealing with billing issues, banking costs from payments, missed payments policing etc. etc.
posted by Brockles at 1:16 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Increasing the costs of car ownership and use is probably unavoidably regressive, but also completely worthwhile and the right thing to do. Or rather, we should tax the hell out of this one particular dangerous, wasteful, inefficient, bad for the earth method of getting around and spend the proceeds (and a bunch more money) on better ways for people to move around, like buses, trams, trains, trolleys, safe and accessible walkways, etc.

I mean, Trumpublicans are not interested in any of that, so fuckem, but we shouldn't be afraid of making cars expensive.
posted by ghharr at 1:17 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


the heaviest big rigs should pay about 5,000-10,000 times higher tax than passenger cars. Commuters are subsidizing the crap out of the trucking industry.

Not really. If you taxed the commercial vehicles more, you'd just end up paying more for goods transported by road. So it'd be the same cost, just at your destination instead every time you go shopping. So commuters are subsiding Walmart groceries so you don't pay as much for groceries.
posted by Brockles at 1:18 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Brockles: "Not really. If you taxed the commercial vehicles more, you'd just end up paying more for goods transported by road. So it'd be the same cost, just at your destination instead every time you go shopping. "

There is a break over point though where say rail transport becomes more cost competitive when the trucking subsidy declines.
posted by Mitheral at 1:21 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


we shouldn't be afraid of making cars expensive.

We absolutely should resist that until there is a viable alternative. It is simply not possible to get through life without a car in vast swathes of the US. So you risk the less well off being unable to afford to get to work. Unless, of course, you spend this gas taxation on public transport and better urban planning first, THEN make cars more expensive.

You (the US) can't design and encourage a completely car-centric existence and then try and price away cars without it being a direct attack on the lower-earning half of the country.
posted by Brockles at 1:21 PM on February 13 [29 favorites]


There is a break over point though where say rail transport becomes more cost competitive when the trucking subsidy declines.

To some extent, but the rail network is declining and also not at all extensive in the US. So there's also a balance point of if you try and take too much by rail, you'll just spend the money there while they try and improve the network so it is actually good. Plus goods trains become more valuable to the railways by volume, so passenger rail gets compromised, so we are back to square one.
posted by Brockles at 1:23 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


The Federal government already has a special tax on heavy vehicles, the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, for road vehicles over 55,000 lb, which ranges between $75 for logging trucks weighing exactly 55,000 lb, to $550 for all other vehicles over 75,000 lb.
posted by Small Dollar at 1:24 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Why is it that the places with the worst public transit infrastructure always seem hellbent on the most tolls?
posted by lumpenprole at 1:37 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Build parking outside town. Make commuter buses free or cheap to people going to work or school. Put good bicycle lanes on all major routes into town and pay people to ride bicycles to work or school (to reduce traffic congestion, parking shortages, healthcare costs, air pollution, noise, and infrastructure costs).

Then put pressure on drivers by putting tolls on those routes and congestion charges downtown (whichever combination works best). Raise the tolls and congestion charges every year until people who don't have to drive aren't driving.
posted by pracowity at 1:39 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Build parking outside town.

This only works if wherever you live has a definable center and people move in an in/out pattern like London.

Here is American's Innovation Capital(tm) it's the war of all against all and there's no center and traffic moves in every direction at all times.
posted by GuyZero at 1:40 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Why is it that the places with the worst public transit infrastructure always seem hellbent on the most tolls?

These are places where the government hates paying for anything and hates investing in infrastructure. Not really that surprising.
posted by GuyZero at 1:41 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Odometer tampering is already a crime

Okay, but practically nobody has that much incentive to do it unless they're a used car dealer. With digital ones it should be substantially more difficult to change the reading than to drive with it one way or another disconnected, so maybe they're good enough in combination with the law to deter most everyone at present. But give each of a hundred million people a $100/month incentive to get control over their own digital device and I have a feeling that they'd find ways to make that law difficult to enforce. People are complaining about electric car drivers getting away with not paying a gas tax by the devious method of not using gas. If there are even rumors that it's possible to get away with bypassing the odometer for the driving you'd rather not pay for, that would quickly leave the authorities no choice but to impose something more intrusive like RFID transponders or whatever.
posted by sfenders at 1:41 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


You (the US) can't design and encourage a completely car-centric existence and then try and price away cars without it being a direct attack on the lower-earning half of the country.

Perhaps other people have better ideas than me but I cannot imagine anything other than increasing the cost of driving being effective at meaningfully reducing car usage (short of mass calamity or teleportation). And our current car-centric existence is itself already an attack on the poor. Car ownership is fantastically expensive for what you get, and I would bet that the poor are disproportionately affected by the externalities of car culture: pollution, displacement for highway projects, healthcare debt from car-related injuries, legal costs, etc.
posted by ghharr at 1:51 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Here is American's Innovation Capital(tm) it's the war of all against all and there's no center and traffic moves in every direction at all times.

Bicycle lanes. Free and cheap commuter buses. Congestion charges. Road tolls. Parking fees. Gas taxes. Eventual ban on internal combustion engines. America is not the great exception to everything.
posted by pracowity at 1:54 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]



Bicycle lanes. Free and cheap commuter buses. Congestion charges. Road tolls. Parking fees. Gas taxes. Eventual ban on internal combustion engines. America is not the great exception to everything.


I was really only commenting on a small subset of America in my comment above. America does think it's the great exception to everything but that's neither here nor there.

There are good reasons and bad reasons why many of those ideas will not fly in the US. I joke that in many parts of the US people drive to go to the toilet. Some parts of the US have the things you describe, many more do not. Paid parking for example is either:

a) obvious and been in place for ages
b) an affront to God and an abomination that will never come to pass

It all depends on the part of the US you're talking about. And as others have pointed out, gas taxes already exist universally but adding many of those things is regressive and only affects lower income people.
posted by GuyZero at 2:02 PM on February 13


I cannot imagine anything other than increasing the cost of driving being effective at meaningfully reducing car usage

My best hope is a cross between electric vehicles, Uber-style car sharing and autonomous driving. So people will take little car pods between places and these can dock into a train style arrangement for longer distances to save energy. Then once that is widespread in availability, triple the difficulty of the driving license to keep shitty drivers out of 3 ton missiles that will incompetently drive into the side of our new energy efficient cars.

Once all the idiots are off the road and only demonstrably competent people can manually drive a car, you can make the electric auto-driving cars lighter because they won't need as much crash safety, which makes them more efficient.
posted by Brockles at 2:17 PM on February 13


demonstrably competent people
No such thing. All humans are shitty drivers.

/derail
posted by klanawa at 2:18 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


not, for example, a retail worker who has to commute an extended distance to a store in a commercial development nowhere near affordable housing in a city with barely any public transit.

This. Like, if I wanted to take public transit to work - let’s leave aside disability access for a moment and pretend I had none - it would take me 2 hours and 30 minutes to get there, assuming the required mile’s walk didn’t let me miss any of the four buses I would need. I work in a major metropolitan city, and live within car commuting range.

If I account for picking up and dropping off the kid at school, we have a two hour 3-bus-change route followed by a two hour, 4-bus route for me to work, which leaves her and I leaving for school at 5AM for me to get to work on time, and leaves me with a staggering 8 hour and her with a 4 hour commute, with both of us not arriving home until 9pm at night, having walked 2-4 miles apiece.

That is not a reasonable ask.
posted by corb at 2:20 PM on February 13 [18 favorites]


No such thing. All humans are shitty drivers.

/derail


derail
Demonstrably and patently not true of 'all'. Removing the lower 50% of competency would likely remove a much higher proportion of accidents. With a greater percentage of autonomous controlled cars on the highway, the single biggest causes of accidents (lack of care for conditions and unpredictability of other traffic) is wildly reduced.
/derail
posted by Brockles at 2:23 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


LA Downtown congestion pricing can work. Public transportation to that area is very mature and can handle it. The rest of the Greater LA area's congested areas? Not so much. Maybe Santa Monica (but just barely). Culver City can't do it, nor can Beverly Hills. Downtown? Totally.
posted by linux at 2:24 PM on February 13


Or, sink more money into public transportation - buses, primarily - which will take cars off roads, which will relieve the infrastructure maintenance burden. And do a London: set up a Congestion Charge Zone so that people are less willing to drive their cars into the inner city/CBD (where the majority of people work, in any city). If you can reduce the number of wheels travelling over any given stretch of road by, hell, as little as 10%, you're reducing the cost of maintaining that road by a similar amount...which is a lot of money.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:25 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Per google maps, taking public transit here in San Antonio TX from my job to my apartment would take me one hour and forty eight minutes. And that's assuming the bus runs on time, which they mostly don't here.

I'm pretty lucky, apparently it'd only involve one transfer. I'd leave work at 4:39 and arrive home at 6:27. Driving it takes about 25 minutes.

Don't talk to me about how Americans need to use more public transit until you've made public transit usable.
posted by sotonohito at 2:26 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]


A transportation system designed around private ownership of capital-intensive machines as a default baseline is inherently regressive. All of the taxes, registration requirements, insurance requirements, safety regulations, inspections, etc. - even the way patrolmen have leeway to ticket some offenders but not others - are also regressive.

I don't think there's anything good about being regressive; but if someone can figure out a way to make a highway-funding tax that wasn't regressive, it would be the first thing about the whole benighted paradigm that wasn't regressive.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:33 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


Don't talk to me about how Americans need to use more public transit until you've made public transit usable.
That's pretty much precisely what everyone is advocating here.
posted by Brockles at 2:35 PM on February 13 [11 favorites]


> i say we just solve the problem by banning cars

Red Barchetta
posted by cjorgensen at 2:38 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


The fact that a higher gas tax or a mileage tax would inconvenience me isn’t reason not to do it, but I work 32 miles southwest of our house and my wife works 12 miles northeast of our house. There really aren’t closer jobs open to us right now, and we are definitely on the low edge of lower middle class. Transportation costs suck enough already without making them even higher.

Can I suggest the radical alternative of taxing the hell out of the 1%?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:45 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


porque no los dos
posted by entropicamericana at 2:57 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


That's pretty much precisely what everyone is advocating here.

It seemed like people were advocating tolls, higher gas taxes, and mileage payments regardless of whether or not there was reliable public transit available. If these taxes would only apply to those with a reasonable public transit option for their lives and work, I withdraw my statement.
posted by corb at 3:00 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Maybe Americans could just, like, carpool more often if they have special circumstances that mean they can't leave their homes for any reason without using a private automobile.

It's good enough for Dagwood Bumstead.
posted by asperity at 3:01 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


people were advocating tolls, higher gas taxes, and mileage payments regardless of whether or not there was reliable public transit available.
For raising public infrastructure money, yes. The people that were advocating pricing cars off the road were also saying it needs replacing with public transport.

Also, it was tolls OR gas taxes OR mileage payments, I thought. I have no issue with one of them, because the money for better infrastructure (which may and should include public transport) has to come from somewhere.
posted by Brockles at 3:17 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


My observation of the pay lanes in the DC area is that they appear to be priced to ensure that the well off can exchange quite a bit of money to ensure that they're able to go ~55-66 mph while everyone else is stuck in a horrible crawl rather than maximizing safety and throughput while still generating some revenue to subsidize the road system.
posted by Candleman at 3:19 PM on February 13


I like this! First the internet connects us all and we all have fiber to our house. Then smartphones and DVR allow us to only consume content whenever we want and only what we want to the point where we lose social skills of tolerance with adversity, diversity, and the commons. Now, we can sit at home completely walled off from society while the poor have to battle it out on the streets until we replace their jobs with autonomous robots!

I mean... The dystopia thread was a few days ago (or go check out Altererd Carbon on FanFare today...), but sure! Lets design a beautiful highway and combine it with a use tax to cripple those who have not the means to afford it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:22 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Driving as a form of regressive taxation
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:45 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


So, an odometer tax is great until you realize you’re paying your state of residence for every mile travelled and not just the miles travelled in-state.

To sum up all arguments to date: transportation taxes are regressive and unfairly fall on the poor. While I agree with this sentiment, the fact is road maintenance needs to be paid for. Gas tax is the least unfair of all the options I see. It would be cool if a portion of the revenue raised could be directed back to public transit.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 3:56 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


The Federal government already has a special tax on heavy vehicles, the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, for road vehicles over 55,000 lb, which ranges between $75 for logging trucks weighing exactly 55,000 lb, to $550 for all other vehicles over 75,000 lb.

And per-mile taxes via the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA).
posted by mikelieman at 4:21 PM on February 13


Missouri has required safety and emissions checks in order to renew vehicle registration, either yearly or every two years. Making an odometer reading a part of that seems fairly trivial.

An added "benefit" of this is that instead of collecting $1 here and $5 there from someone when they fill up a bunch of times during the year, we sock them with a $200 bill once a year. If we're lucky, they won't be able to pay it (because they already spent that $1 and $5 on boring shit they need) and will lose their registration, and we can charge them another $200 to re-register their car. Or we can fine them $400 for driving an unregistered car, and then fine them another $500 for not paying the $400, and then put them in prison for not paying the $500.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:25 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


Funding multi-modal transit systems is the least regressive way to do it but that views looking at public transit as something other than a form of punishment for daring to be born poor or otherwise marginal.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:56 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


An added "benefit" of this is that instead of collecting $1 here and $5 there from someone when they fill up a bunch of times during the year, we sock them with a $200 bill once a year. If we're lucky, they won't be able to pay it (because they already spent that $1 and $5 on boring shit they need) and will lose their registration, and we can charge them another $200 to re-register their car. Or we can fine them $400 for driving an unregistered car, and then fine them another $500 for not paying the $400, and then put them in prison for not paying the $500.

Yep, that's definitely thinking like Missouri law enforcement.
posted by Foosnark at 5:39 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


The solution is of course to move to where you work, so you could if needed, walk to work. That way a bus system would be great and you could get up at 7:30 to be at work by 8:20.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:00 PM on February 13


If I account for picking up and dropping off the kid at school

Why would you do that instead of putting them on a school bus?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:38 PM on February 13


One of the main functions of government is supplying roads,

No. It isn't.

For most of the nation's history, Washington did not supply roads. The government secured easements for the public to travel on, but those easements were little more than dirt paths. Even today, plenty of rural Americans live on property that's reached only by gravel roads, and that number is increasing because of states and counties that can no longer afford to maintain paved roads.

Asphalt-on-the-last-mile didn't happen until the 1970s for a lot of the country.
And now that is beginning to roll back, because roads really are that expensive.

The government can decide to stop supplying roads. In parts of the country, that is what the government has decided, effectively.

In the rest of the country, we have to decide how much road. Should your house be reached by 4 lanes? 2 lanes? 1 lane? What kind of roadside furniture should go along the road? How much weight per axle should the road be built to take? SHould it be plowed in winter? Salted? Swept? Lots of options, and you have to make a choice. And figure out how to pay for it.
posted by ocschwar at 6:54 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


"This will definitely be fair and will definitely not wind up being a disproportionate burden on the lower classes who don't actually get to make a lot of choices about where they live and work. I'm not in favor of driving being as big a part of our culture as it is, but until it isn't, please, people like me who have the luxury of choice should not get out of paying on that basis."

I have been noodling around with the idea of taxing companies (with more than 50 employees, let us say) if more than 20% of its employees have a commute of more than 30 miles/1 hour/whatever, depending on the metro area. Longer commutes mean that employees are using more transit infrastructure (whether personal car or public transit), and it may also mean you are paying your employees too little to live where they work. Since you have employee addresses for taxes anyway, reporting miles away from work location is pretty trivial (time of commute more complicated!). You'd probably want to break out hourly vs. salaried employees (no paying your executives huge and paying your hourlies so little they have to live two hours away, and dodging the tax), and maybe further break-outs for large corporations. But basically the idea would be to incentivize employers to pay adequate wages so that employees can afford to live close to work, and if they don't, to use the taxes they pay to fund infrastructure and poverty supports. It raises wages to appropriate levels for the local metro, it creates disincentives for long commutes, it puts money into transit.

I don't know, there'd obviously be a lot of unintended consequences and gaming of the system, but it might be worth trying!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:01 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


Just from the pleasant, civil discussion above one can easily see why transportation is never funded in the U.S.

Here in Missouri we haven't raised our gas tax since the early 1990s. Very similar to the federal gas tax, it is not indexed to inflation, so not raising it for 25 years means that we enjoy a 2-3% automatic gas tax cut every single year.

No one even notices that.

But over 25 years of those automatic continual automatic gas tax cuts due to inflation, we work ourselves into a crisis situation where the entire transportation system is falling apart because it is underfunded.

But just TRY to suggest raising the gas by say 2 cents, 5 cents, whatever per gallon. (A 10 cent/gallon increase would put the fuel tax back where it was in the early 1990s.)

You'll be CRUCIFIED. And I am not exaggerating.

We have actually reached the point here in Missouri where people are PAYING MORE IN CAR REPAIRS due to rough roads than they would to fix the roads.

Yet still, no one can agree to pay the pittance to fix them.

To put the entire discussion above (and in Missouri over the past 15 years I've been involved in it) in context, the cost of fixing this issue once and for all is right around $8 per motor vehicle per month.

So think about all the $$$ you pour into your automobile each month and each year--fuel, insurance, car repairs, car payment, etc etc etc. Our family's dirt cheap cars cost us $200/month each, easy.

Add $8 to that and you could actually have roads to drive the thing on. Make it $10/month and we could add transit, bike lanes, sidewalks etc.

It seems a worthwhile tradeoff.

Anyway, as you get all frothy at the mouth over favorite pet theory on the gas tax, just remember that you're arguing about $10/month.

For a something that benefits everyone massively and which everyone uses probably 10 hours/week or more.

And that have a decent transportation system is one of the things that divides the great countries from the shitholes of the world.


$10 per month . . .
posted by flug at 7:10 PM on February 13 [14 favorites]


Brockles, if that's an evidence-based position, I'd love to read the evidence.

Of course, by evidence I mean academic research, not editorials in Jalopnik.
posted by klanawa at 7:15 PM on February 13


the idea of taxing companies (with more than 50 employees, let us say) if more than 20% of its employees have a commute of more than 30 miles ... But basically the idea would be to incentivize employers to pay adequate wages so that employees can afford to live close to work

I think the unintended incentive would be for employers to screen out employees for commute distance.
posted by JackFlash at 7:19 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


I think the unintended incentive would be for employers to screen out employees for commute distance.

Good. Or, if they see most commuters are commuting from community x, to relocate the base of operations to community x, where, hey, whaddya know, it’s cheaper anyway.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:25 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Also, the full external cost of roads & driving (ie, beyond what you yourself are paying for your automobile, the gas, etc) is about $1 per mile driven.

That includes the cost of the roads, regular maintenance and upkeep, snow removal, emergency services, injuries and fatalities resulting, policing, dealing with the water runoff, pollution, cost of right-of-way used, etc etc etc. All those things you usually don't think of as expenses, but SOMEBODY is paying them.

So if you are paying less than $1/mile in taxes, #1 you're getting a hell of a bargain and #2 somebody else is subsidizing the difference.

So next time someone suggests raising the gax tax by 5 cents (which amounts to approx. $0.0025/mile) just think of that, and smile . . .
posted by flug at 7:31 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


I'm just here to be the big guy in the music video behind the one bringing truth, gesturing with amazement because how can you not see, whenever Brockles says something.

The dude designs racecars that win. He gets vehicular wear and tear on machine and track better than most anyone else. He can spot a con game from a mile off.

And, to reiterate, regressive taxes suck.

YES we should have full multi-modal mass transit! We don't. Getting there should not involve punishing taxes on the poor and middle class.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:39 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I have been noodling around with the idea of taxing companies (with more than 50 employees, let us say) if more than 20% of its employees have a commute of more than 30 miles/1 hour/whatever, depending on the metro area.

As long as nondiscrimination clauses are entered to eliminate the problem JackFlash identified, I think this has real potential as a solution, but the money needs to be earmarked for actual roads and transit and not just stuck in a giant pot that will be used for random people's pet projects.
posted by corb at 7:48 PM on February 13


Good.

No, not good. It means that the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich, because companies in expensive areas (which tends to pay pretty well) will eliminate people that aren't already well off from consideration.
posted by Candleman at 7:58 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


And do a London: set up a Congestion Charge Zone so that people are less willing to drive their cars into the inner city/CBD (where the majority of people work, in any city).

Neat, so the rich get to pay a negligible to them amount to drive where the plebes can't. That's the world I want to live in, all right.

Gas tax is the least unfair of all the options I see.

Maybe, but it's not the least unfair of all the options. The most fair has been said many times - get the 1% to pay their fair fucking share of taxes of all types, then a lot of these things that are being portrayed as "unaffordable" suddenly are. Roads is only one.

Also re the high tolls/bad transit linking theory - counter-example: Japan. Best transit, toll the fuck out of cars.
posted by ctmf at 8:00 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Best transit, toll the fuck out of cars.

Toll roads suck. They're a stupid idea.

I say this after waiting 25 minutes behind some moron who was searching their car for the change to get off the Kansas Turnpike two days ago. And after spending however much time queuing to pay my way through the Chicago tolls.

The price of gas fluctuates more in a week than any of the proposed taxes would be. Or just raise income taxes to pay for roads and get rid of the gas tax. Everyone uses roads after all - avocados for toast don't appear at your Manhattan Penthouse by magic.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:18 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Why would you do that instead of putting them on a school bus?

Allow me:

Because the school bus would drop off my five year old son six blocks away from our house at 4:00 PM when I am still at work. Sending him to school on the bus would mean putting him on the bus at 8:40 A.M., when I am already at work. I drive him to school and pick him up every day because he attends a before and after school extended care program, so I can go to work. There's no bus for that.

I hate having to drive to work (ish--i don't actually drive all the way in, I ditch the car at the kid's school and either bike or bus the rest of the way). Before I had a kid, I took public transit every day for literal actual decades. But getting the kid to and from day care, preschool and now school-school requires a car. I live under five miles from where I work, but the detours I have to make in order to get my kid to where he needs to go make the bus impossible. These conversations always get my back up because the assumption seems to be that there are only two kinds of people in the world: virtuous car-eschewers and evil, selfish car-worshippers. I would be delighted to go back to not driving, and I am eagerly looking forward to the day that my son is old enough to take up his latch key kid inheritance (this is a tight knit neighborhood so I suspect that once he gets old enough to be able to walk home from the bus and check in with the neighbors without it actually being a "here, babysit my needy child for free" situation, we'll be all set, but he's five right now, so, yeah.) Tax my gas, please, but don't make it impossible for me to work while having a school aged child.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:21 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


Electric cars may escape the gas tax, but they get hit with electric car fees in a lot of states. For example $200 a year in Georgia, $150 in Washington, $100 in California (in 2020). Georgia's 31¢/gal tax is about average for the US, meaning you'd need to drive your 19 MPG Suburban the average 12k miles for $200 in tax per year. Battery electrics drive less on average, so they're paying even more per mile. Of course, that's just Georgia, and just state taxes. If you figure it also counts for Federal somehow, and it's only $100 a year, it's more like fuel taxes on a Prius. That's still not a free ride, and it's unlikely to stop at 1/3 of the states given this "free ride" bullshit.

I think the best economic sense is to pay for your own chosen external costs. Whatever costs you cause or don't avoid by choice you should pay for through taxes if you don't pay for it directly. There are a lot for cars: Emissions (global and local), road wear (natural decay, tire wear, axle weight damage), petroleum (trillion-dollar wars, fracking, spills, refinery emissions), collisions (40k deaths, 2M injuries in the US), and others (making and disposing of cars, obesity due to sedentary travel).

As others have pointed out, that's regressive: poor people would pay more of what little they have. But whatever subsidy you'd like to give, if we would simply give in cash, we as a society would choose a better path. This is pretty obvious for more direct fuel subsidies in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela: of course people would choose a wasteful path given subsidized fuel. Just helping directly would be way more effective.
posted by netowl at 8:21 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


toll rates are adjusted to encourage drivers to avoid rush hour and carpool more

As if drivers "choose" when to be on the road - how about adjusting government office hours so they don't line up with 9-5 business hours? How about adding flexible school hours so they don't require parents to all be on the road at the same time?

How about subsidies for businesses that run 11-7 or 5-3 instead of 9-5, to reduce the number of workers on the road at the same time?

They say "encourage carpooling to avoid tolls" and I read "Hire an Uber to go across this road - it's cheaper than the toll."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:45 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


Right, for my crazy tax idea, you'd need like actual economists and tax policy experts to propose something with workable specifics, but in general I think you wouldn't want it to be a punitive tax (at least at first), but something more in line with the tax breaks companies receive for providing transit benefits to their employees. Those are a sweetener for employees and a nice tax break for companies, but not a tax break big enough that companies go out of their way to change any details of employment or location or compensation, and generally not a benefit large enough that employees make decisions about where to work based on the transit benefit. So you'd make it a pretty nominal per-head tax, ideally low enough that employers wouldn't change any hiring decisions based on employee hometown, but high enough to pump some cash into local transit when aggregated across many companies, and balance it (over time) so that it was juuuuuuuust a bit attractive to raise wages enough for employees to live closer.

Chicago metro has about 5 million employees, 542,000 of them in the Loop. A little over 100,000 people commute daily to Chicago from more than 90 miles away. DuPage County (which is not 90 miles away, but is far) has more than 150,000 car commuters into the city every day. Chicago's downtown employment is growing, but the employed PEOPLE are all in the suburbs commuting to the city -- the city's unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. Incentivizing companies to hire city residents (as opposed to GOP voters in DuPage county) is definitely something Chicago's interested in. Around 25% of jobs in the Loop are filled by Chicago residents. So let's start with $1 for commuters and $2 for commuters more than 90 miles away; so let's say 75% of jobs pay $1, for $406,500 in tax revenue; let's add another $100,000 for those folks with commutes over 90 miles, and that's half a million dollars, which is NOT NOTHIN, for a tax that functionally IS nothing. So let's say you pay $10/person/year for in-county but out-of-city commuters (50,000), $100/person/year for out-of-county commuters (250,000), and $500/person/year for 90+-mile commuters (100,000). That's a total of $75.5 million just from a negligible tax that's too small for any individual employer to shift hiring strategies. A tax big enough to shift hiring closer to the city would raise hella wages or hella tax dollars.

In googling up Chicago commute statistics, I learned that several cities actually DO have a "commuter tax" that taxes COMMUTERS for coming in from outside the city, to pay for infrastructure, and that Chicago's proposed version would have raised the city $300 million every year (the state leg nixed it). So it's an idea that's out there and that's been done, but shifting the tax to employers I think is a novel suggestion, which incentivizes city hiring and wage hikes that enable employees to live closer, and allows companies to aggregate their workforces, so that an individual employee who has to live in a particular suburban city because their spouse is a city employee isn't penalized, but large employers are, in the aggregate, encouraged to raise wages and hire closer to home. A knock-on effect, of course, would be that as more employees live closer to the employer, the city gets more sales tax and property tax dollars. (Plus cleaner air and all that good shit.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:48 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Just started a new job with a bad commute: 55 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes each way. Even though I drive electric, id rather not take up the road space, and there is heavy rail less than a mile from my house plus light rail right across the street from the job.

So hey, I'll take the train, even though it costs twice much per mile! Except the lines only meet up downtown, and the light rail doesn't get right-of-way through traffic lights... so it took 1 hour 40 minutes each way. Ugh.

If you want to make traffic go away, make transit faster and prioritize it, then tax that along with the roads to make your infrastructure money.
posted by davejay at 9:24 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


if that's an evidence-based position, I'd love to read the evidence.

That not all humans suck at driving? Of course it's an evidence based position.
posted by Brockles at 10:34 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Because the school bus would drop off my five year old son six blocks away from our house at 4:00 PM when I am still at work.

That's understandable, but corb is talking about a teenager so your reasoning obviously doesn't apply here.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:53 PM on February 13


If corb wants to address the particulars I'll let her, but I can think of a few reasons. Extracurricular activities are a big one. If a kid stays after school for a sports team or club, they can't take the school bus. And at least in my district, either your kid takes the bus every day both ways or they don't take the bus at all. When I was in high school I was lucky in that both my school and home were on major public bus lines so once I was old enough to ride the bus alone, no one needed to drive me due to extracurriculars, but I also attended high school in the third largest business district in the state of Pennsylvania.

My larger point is maybe assume that people are doing the best they can with the resources they have before nitpicking their daily commutes.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:27 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]


just remember that you're arguing about $10/month.

Yeah I misplaced a decimal point yesterday and thought it was $100 that a typical hardcore gasoline addict might be paying. It's $10. Lower than you'd expect for an entrance fee to 4 million miles of roads.
posted by sfenders at 5:48 AM on February 14


THE POLITICS OF TRANSIT: TWO INTERRELATED PROBLEMS
Jacob Ambinder had a great piece on the failing politics of transit last week, well worth a read if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I particularly appreciate the way he gives a much smarter and more sophisticated response to Brian Rosenthal’s important reporting on the wildly inflated cost of the second avenue subway. A frustratingly common response seemed to be “Oh no it turns out UNIONS ARE BAD after all!” But the rampant featherbedding isn’t so much the problem as it is a symptom of a greater problem: that politicians and bureaucrats whose incentives to build good transit infrastructure efficiently are not as great as their incentives to do otherwise.
Politics Is Failing Mass Transit
This is the crux of the urban mobility crisis: not broken infrastructure, but a broken political economy—one that includes transit but extends to issues far beyond it. Many thousands of voters do care about having fast, reliable trains and buses, and good advocacy organizations work to support their cause. But the number of politicians who believe the quality of the transit their constituents use will affect their chance of re-election seems to dwindle by the year. Such has long been the case, of course, in the many cities that run public transportation in the grand tradition of American social safety-net programs—so minimally as to prod people to stop using them the moment they can afford to do so.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:52 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I think the unintended incentive would be for employers to screen out employees for commute distance.

This seems kind of chicken-and-egg for many organizations, and it shifts the burden for fighting poverty from government onto smaller organizations (both for-profit and NFP), who lack the economies of scale to do it well.

I work for a university, which is located in a city. Being where we are, we can serve a population that doesn't otherwise get access to good training, a good library, etc., and we also provide an extra set of Safety & Security Officers and Buildings & Grounds crews who aren't "official" city people.

But very few of the faculty or staff live in the city.

The university needs to attracts skill/educated workers, for its own purposes but also just to stay accredited (and thus even to be able to offer those things to city residents), and the area just doesn't offer applicants who qualify. So what should the university -- or any other comparable organization, like the diocese, the public library systems, etc. -- who needs to serve a community, but which community lacks qualified people, do? Does the university have to train & educate the entire local labor pool in order to have enough good employees? Isn't that kind of paternalistic?

I'm not a sociologist or economist, so I'm probably missing something, but won't big organizations will eventually grow to resemble the applicant pool, for good or ill? If no outside force provides training and education, then won't we get a "company town" around big companies, universities, hospitals, etc.? Small companies, who really ought to be the ones to hire their neighbors, will just bug out to another area; big organizations will be stuck by their real estate base, I expect.

I do want companies to train their staff, but I am not sure a tax like this is the best way. Still thinking & reading here...
posted by wenestvedt at 6:09 AM on February 14


I hate driving with a passion. Remember those Volkswagen commercials where they talked about fahrvergnügen, the joy of driving? I have none. At all. The day I can never drive again will be one of the happier days of my life.

But getting to that is going to take a major cultural shift in the USA because we've got a core attitude here that makes public transit awful.

In the USA the prevailing cultural attitude (subconscious, almost never spoken aloud or even in most people's awareness) is that public X is there for poor people who can't afford to buy private X, so pubic X tends to suck, be underfunded, and generally be looked down on. In other places the view is that public X is for everyone, but not in America.

That's why public schools, public transit, public libraries, the post office, and really any and all government, are generally underfunded, disdained, and held in contempt in America. The bus isn't for everyone, it's for people who can't afford a car. The post office isn't for everyone, its for people who can't afford UPS or FedEx, or whatever. The library isn't for everyone, it's for people who can't afford to buy books. None of that is true, but it is what a lot of people believe.

I compare US public transit to Tokyo public transit because Tokyo is the only non-US public transit I've had much experience with, and the difference is mind blowing. In Tokyo the bus was for everyone and as such buses reflected that both in quality of service, timeliness of service, and quality of the bus itself.

Because there's one other thing about America: poor people are expected to spend unlimited time on anything their betters have condescended to gift their undeserving poverty stricken inferior selves with. So anything for the poor (that is, anything public) is not timely and is built around the idea that anyone using it will tolerate any and all delays, slow service, and so on.

Result: in the USA public transit is a relentless nightmare. It takes forever because it's for poor people, and poor people are expected to spend infinite time waiting or the crumbs their betters deign to give them.

It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem. If public transit was used by people who weren't poor then it'd be better. But since it isn't better it isn't used by people who aren't poor.

There's also a problem with the fact that US cities are (for the most part) designed around cars rather than public transit which is going to make investing enough in public transit to make it workable pricey, quite possibly a lot pricier than it was building it in other nations.

Most of Tokyo, for example, pretty much grew up around the train system, as a general rule you find that Tokyo features an eruption of a shopping district, some office space, and so on around the train station, with residential areas dotted with occasional konbini and other necessities for daily life further from the train station. Buses are efficient because they're largely focused on a radial pattern moving people to and from the residential area to the core at the local train station and trips longer than a couple of kilometers are done by taking the (higher speed, higher density) train.

In San Antonio the city is laid out in a way that doesn't easily lend itself to that sort of train for long distance, bus for shorter trips pattern. Especially in the poorer sections of town. The problem of the food desert is part of a general problem that poor areas in America tend not to have any nearby shops and that to get any shopping done takes a trip that is annoying by car and a horrible undertaking by bus.

Which is why, when I see people advocating punishing poor people to "encourage" public transit I get my back up.

Put in the massive investment in public transit **FIRST**. Then we can talk about making driving more expensive to encourage people to migrate to public transit. If you want to make things cost more to encourage public transit, focus on the things richer people have (luxury cars, SUV's, stuff like that) not on the daily necessities for poor folks.

An extra $10/month isn't the worst thing that could happen, but there are people for whom that's going to hurt. I'd much rather see a luxury vehicle, or oversize vehicle, tax than a general gas tax increase, because that way the people affected would be the people most able to pay rather than the people least able to pay.
posted by sotonohito at 6:43 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


"So what should the university -- or any other comparable organization, like the diocese, the public library systems, etc. -- who needs to serve a community, but which community lacks qualified people, do?"

Presumably non-profits (engaged in their direct work) could be exempt -- and in lots of places, city government jobs require you to live within city limits anyway, so even if they were subject to the tax, it wouldn't matter at all; all their employees already live in city limits as a condition of employment. And of course you have a variety of thresholds -- an organization would have to have X many employees, Y% of them have to live Z miles away to pay, and it's a pretty trivial amount. Hard to imagine an organization with 5,000 employees would pick up stakes over a dozen of them living too far away and paying $10/year on each of them, or whatever. You could create tiers, based on size of employer (bigger ones pay more), based on percent of "expat" workforce (if 20-30% of your workforce is far away, you pay $10/head, if you're at 30-40%, $15/head, etc.), etc.

And this would work in some cities -- like Chicago, where large corporations want to be in the city near services and there's a huge workforce and a variety of transit choices. It would not work in Peoria, where it's trivially inexpensive to pick up and go build yourself a new building out in the farmland where you'd pay basically no taxes and you're still only 10 minutes by car from your workforce, all of whom commute by car anyway, and where transit options are next to nothing and used by very few employed people. It's already a struggle to keep employers in the city limits. In Chicago the employers are, and want to be, in the city, and you want to encourage them to pay enough to lower-level employees for those employees to live in the city and have shorter commutes and shop in the city and pay property taxes in the city, instead of taking their money to the burbs; in the alternative, you want them paying into the (drastically underfunded) transit system. In Peoria, development needs are radically different, you cross the entire metro in 20 minutes, everyone drives, and this would be a terrible idea.

Anyway, just as thought, might be a terrible idea, but occurred to me as we see people with megacommutes because they work downtown for big multinational corporations that pay them so little they have to live way, way out and commute 90 minutes each way, on a massively underfunded transit system. Companies are externalizing the costs of those very cheap employees onto the city and region, so it's just kind-of noodling around with the idea of how we can make those costs visible to the companies and try to move the needle a bit.

"And at least in my district, either your kid takes the bus every day both ways or they don't take the bus at all."

Whoa, that's nuts. Almost everywhere lets kids take the bus one way but not the other. (I'm sure they have a rationale, but this seems like it should be a solvable problem.)

Many districts have what are called "activity buses" or "late buses" for junior high and high school students; if school lets out at 3:30 and most activities run for an hour, the buses run at 4:45 or 5. (For activities that finish after 5, usually by 5:30 there are enough parents for pickups and carpools.) Normally one activity bus covers the area covered by 4-5 "regular" buses. They stop at the edges of neighborhoods and/or at community centers (libraries, shopping centers, etc). So kids have to walk quite a bit farther -- their high school bus probably stops on the corner; an activity bus might drop them at the edge of the neighborhood and they're walking four blocks -- but it provides a way for kids whose parents work to both participate in activities AND take the bus.

There are some problems with this model -- the state doesn't generally reimburse you for activity bus costs, or don't reimburse at the same rate as regular buses -- but it's not too expensive (the buses are sitting idle because they've finished p.m. routes, you only need a few drivers for an extra 90 minutes), so even impoverished districts often find it's a good use of limited resources (sometimes especially impoverished districts, since their students have far fewer options for transportation to allow them to participate in activities).

Anyway, if lack of bus transit is impeding kids' ability to participate in extracurriculars in your district, you might urge your school board to look at the activity bus model and see if it might expand access for kids with single parents, parents with two jobs, disabled parents, impoverished parents, disinterested parents -- any kid whose parents might not be able to drive to pick them up from extracurriculars, or might not care to. It's not a panacea, but IMO districts should always be working to expand access.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:01 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


That not all humans suck at driving? Of course it's an evidence based position.

If 'not all humans suck at driving' was an evidence based-position, then insurance companies would assuredly offer low cost insurance to the best drivers, because they would never be paying anything out for insurance claims so identifying them and offering them discounts would be a thing. The closest we come to that is the keyfobs attachments that monitor your driving for a discount, which is not at all the same thing.

IE: there is no evidence that being a good driver lowers insurance costs, so there is no such thing as a 'good driver'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:06 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


My kids' school starts at 7:30am and they have late school (paid, but the cost is less than daycare) until 5:00pm. Yet another way that nice schools offer services that average schools can't match.

bus at 8:40 A.M.

A kindergartener year old starts school at 9:00am? That's crazy.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:09 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


There are larger problems that some comments above have hinted at. Land usage and urban planning are so biased towards individual car usage that it's hard to veer away from that without massive upheaval.

One thought though. My understanding is that auto manufacturers lobbied in many parts of the U.S. to knock down competitors (mass transit) and build up road transportation as we know it today. Why not tax them a little more too?
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:10 AM on February 14


I say tax new car sales - not used car sales - but new car sales. If you are the first one on the deed - be it yours or a lease - you pay more. Period. Tax should be based on weight, gas mileage, and price of the vehicle. Follow it up with a first year mileage assessment tax. Then don't tax the car again past the gas tax. The tax should be steep enough to cover national infrastructure and funding state infrastructure as well.

Want to see people get more out of their car? Tax replacing it. Want to see folks think hard about whether or not they need the biggest and the best? Tax their price tag. Want to see companies be smart about telecommuting and field sales? Tax them putting cars into the field.

The problem, this tax addresses is that it puts the onus on those that replace cars and can afford a premium. This tax would put consumers at risk away from making mistakes by leasing unaffordable 'aspirational' cars. This car focuses on reusability and maximizing the use of an automobile. This addresses the 'I drive an electric car' loophole which prevents the consumer from paying for their expected share of the road via the gas tax.

This taxes corporations based on the tonnage of their vehicles at the time of purchase - meaning that the damage a dump truck does to your road has funded the ruts that it has cost. This makes sure that companies, cities, and towns buy what they need - and not just to fill up the budget line item.

And if you have more cars than people in your house? Well - you're either a collector, or you are filthy fucking rich and should be able to afford the cost of your luxury indulgence.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:31 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


then insurance companies would assuredly offer low cost insurance to the best drivers

They do, but they say it as making bad drivers (with more claims) pay higher rates. Same thing.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:39 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


His school is 9-3:50, and he does attend additional on-site before and after care that we pay for, but there's no bus. Buses are a limited resource and school start times are staggered so that the least amount of buses can be used to transport the greatest amount of children. And I think the reasoning for starting little kids later is that the ones who do ride the bus would be out waiting for it in the dark during the winter.

I was just talking to a colleague the other day about having to drive his kid to school. His son spends part of the week at his house, part at his ex-wife's and there's no accommodation in our busing system for kids who go one place some days but another place on others.

I think I may have misspoke earlier, I think you can do morning or evening bus separately but you can't do like, Mondays and Tuesdays but not Wednesdays and Fridays. If your kid has a doctor's appointment or whatever you have to write a note that explicitly says they're not getting on the bus home that day, because otherwise they will be expected to ride the same bus M-F if they are present at school.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:47 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


then insurance companies would assuredly offer low cost insurance to the best drivers

They do, but they say it as making bad drivers (with more claims) pay higher rates. Same thing.


Yeah, I spent five minutes trying to work out if the original comment was sarcastic, because that is precisely how the insurance industry works. They just word it differently - they add a premium for the younger driver, bump your premium if you have had an accident (presuming that means you are a lesser skilled driver and are hence more prone to accidents) etc., etc. They work on a principle of all drivers are a mid risk once they get over 25 (so therefore overcharge for all good drivers) but just double load all the bad and young drivers with extra premiums. So they work EXACTLY as you state. They just don't bother giving genuine discounts to good drivers because they don't actually give a shit about being fair, they just want to make money.

The closest we come to that is the keyfobs attachments that monitor your driving for a discount, which is not at all the same thing.
You know that's not really what that thing is for, right? They just want people to have those (and give a discount accordingly) because it vastly increases their data they can use to deny a claim - eg if you are over the speed limit, they can back out and say you shouldn't have been driving illegally. That's what those are all about. Insurance companies only care about charging you the highest premium they can get away with, and how they can get away with any claims when they happen.

there is no evidence that being a good driver lowers insurance costs, so there is no such thing as a 'good driver'.
As mentioned, there is plenty even just within the insurance company. And another aspect of that is you would only get so many discounts for being a good driver because you still need to share the road with the TERRIBLE drivers , so the premium reflects them causing an accident the good driver may become involved in.

Premiums are high because there are so many shitty drivers. Also, I coach race car drivers for a living and there are a LOT of them. There are a lot of excellent drivers who do track days (and a lot of shitty ones). The vast majority of the motor racing activities worldwide prove there are 'good drivers'.
posted by Brockles at 8:08 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


Guess what kind of tax charges people for every mile they drive?

A gas tax.


I drove 18,500 miles in 2017 in my Chevy Volt, charged for free from my home PV array and free at my office. For those times I had to use the gas ICE, I used a total of 81 gallons of unleaded gasoline for the entire year.

I certainly am not paying my share of road usage.
posted by Qubit at 8:23 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The vast majority of the motor racing activities worldwide prove there are 'good drivers'.

I don't see how ability to control an automobile at high speeds has anything to do with a driver's interest in driving safely and non-threateningly around people walking or riding bicycles. I'm sure plenty of the drivers I encounter every day who drive dangerously around vulnerable road users have excellent technical skills that they're choosing to abuse.

Near-misses don't do squat to anyone's insurance premiums (often even a direct hit won't—if you want to kill someone with no consequences, use a car), but they sure do a lot to make our streets unpleasant for anyone who's not in a car.
posted by asperity at 8:24 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The vast majority of the motor racing activities worldwide prove there are 'good drivers'.

I doubt there is necessarily a very strong correlation between good track drivers and safe highway drivers. Driving "skills" are only a small part of safety. It doesn't take a high level of technical skill to pilot a car on the highway safely. Hundreds of millions of people do it every day. More important to safety are behavioral choices -- driving drunk, driving while distracted by phones, driving aggressively, driving at excessive speeds.
posted by JackFlash at 8:31 AM on February 14


I doubt there is necessarily a very strong correlation between good track drivers and safe highway drivers.

There is an excellent correlation. Vehicle understanding and operation, awareness, planning, strong understanding of speeds and conditions, understanding and allowing for other cars behaving erratic (because they are all at the limit of grip), managing of mental workloads and priorities (they use radio comms etc) are essential skills for a race car driver. ALL of which are necessary for a good driver on the street, just at vastly reduced speeds, which allows quite a bit more planning time. They also understand what is involved in how to control a car enough that they are stricter on driving distractions than most types of people I have come across. A common sentiment from drivers (amateur and pro) is that they feel safer on the track because there are many less idiots on cell phones, drunk and driving outside conditions and their skill level than there are on the road - which directly demonstrates a better awareness of all the dangers you list than the people doing them.

It doesn't take a high level of technical skill to pilot a car on the highway safely. Not a high level, no, but it takes more than most people appreciate, which is why people have these stupid fender benders that are so many of the accidents. Understanding stopping distances of you and the vehicles around you, for instance, likely effect on road surfaces and conditions on those stopping distances. All of it directly correlates.

Seriously, to hold that position that the skills are directly comparable is baffling to me and must come from a lack of understanding as to just how much a race car driver has to know and do, but you've expressed a total lack of appreciation and understanding of it several times before. It's not just about wiggling the wheel and feeling it through your underpants. That's a tiny fraction of what is involved.
posted by Brockles at 8:44 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I certainly am not paying my share of road usage.

Everything you buy at Whole Foods or Costo already has the tax for that built in. Everything you have delivered does too.

I'll never understand this "fee based" approach to basic necessities. Nobody ever asks if I've paid my fair share of, say an aircraft carrier, or a politicians salary. We just set a tax rate and pay for those things. Roads should be treated the same way.

After all, we already have a (loosely) means tested method for balancing out the tax burden that alleviates some of the regression. Why do we need all this folderol and hauling of coals to fund the roads ? Raise the tax, pay for the work.

The neo-liberal love for means-test-this, and GPS-track-that is bizarre and stupid. Take the money out of my paycheck and let me use the damned road.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:51 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


But if you don't have metrics how do you measure success?

This is Economist's Disease: better a completely misleading indicator than no data at all. Don't count externalities like the limited ability of people to deal with choice, the asymmetry of choices forced on the ratepayers, and the ways the owner classes use the psychology of choice to prey on those who have no choice by to pay them. Especially, don't count profits as waste in a monopoly situation when there is no choice of services. But still, they have their "valid" metrics with which they can "objectively" prove their "success".

This is the cancer at the heart of PPP, fee-for-service and user-pay/co-pay models: you "choose" to pay more, and they tell you you're saving money.
posted by bonehead at 9:42 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


My larger point is maybe assume that people are doing the best they can with the resources they have before nitpicking their daily commutes.

School bus systems are one of the only forms of public transit that many Americans are willing to support. Having a school bus system that reliably takes “but I have to drive my kid to school” out of the equation is an enormous factor in how many working adults will even consider a non- driving commute. So “oh but school buses don’t work” is a massive piece of the discussion and since we’re discussing in detail many proposals to influence commute behavior, the idea that this one should be just accepted as a fact of life is bizarre.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:01 AM on February 14


(And if she didn’t want to talk about why her commute requires a car she didn’t need to set herself up as a detailed example of a commuter that needs a car. It is a disingenuous form of discussion to present sympathetic anecdotes as argument and then say they are too personal to debate).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:13 AM on February 14


So “oh but school buses don’t work” is a massive piece of the discussion and since we’re discussing in detail many proposals to influence commute behavior, the idea that this one should be just accepted as a fact of life is bizarre.

School buses work as they were designed to work, at least in this part of the world, which is largely for families that are intact, have permanent stability, children who all use the closest physical school to their geographical house, and one parent who doesn't work and will be at home when the school bus arrives, and if the children have extracurriculars, the parents can drive them. And there's a lot of focus around cars built in -the expectation at the high schools seems to be that after age 16, the children will drive themselves and their parents will give them a car. None of these assumptions work or have worked for the past few years with my familial situation.

I have seen different setups - when I was in New York, schools had before-care breakfast time that stretched from an hour to two hours before school officially started, and public transit was sufficient to get kids to school before moving on with your day. But those kinds of setups are not super common in the rest of the country. When I moved and dropped a kid off a mere forty five minutes before school opened - in a school with a 'breakfast program' that only lasted twenty minutes - I got personal calls from the principal about how my child wasn't allowed to 'loiter on school grounds'. So while I know it can and has been done, this is far from universal, and often falls apart when it gets to high school, which is pulling, outside of major metropolises, from a larger and broader area.

The specialized high schools, if your kid is into math or art or science or what have you, draw from an entire metropolitan area and its surrounding exurbs, but do not bus from that entire metropolitan area - they bus from specific sites and assume that parents will either drop off at those sites or drop their kids at a single bus that reaches those sites. This works and is super simple if you have a car - it's not even that far, drive-wise - but if you don't have a car, is pretty much impossible because the transit lines mostly work to bring people to work hubs from residential areas, not to bring people from residential areas to residential areas. That's why we have 2 hour multi-change bus rides to bring people ten miles.

These aren't Problems Of Idealized Transit. You could definitely design transit lines that would work far better and reach more people - but they weren't planned for years ago, so things exist in that space. The schools were not placed in convenient locations to transit hubs - they were placed fifty to a hundred years ago, when transit wasn't even a concern. The commuter trains, which are fast, are placed along the old rail lines, which existed to move goods quickly to distribution centers - so your current commute exists according to the needs of 19th century railroad barons. It's no wonder the system has serious problems.
posted by corb at 10:29 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Getting there should not involve punishing taxes on the poor and middle class.

Making car ownership essentially mandatory to participate in society IS a punishing tax on the poor and middle class.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:30 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


School buses work as they were designed to work, at least in this part of the world, which is largely for families that are intact, have permanent stability, children who all use the closest physical school to their geographical house, and one parent who doesn't work and will be at home when the school bus arrives, and if the children have extracurriculars, the parents can drive them.

So school bus routes are an unchangeable law but hey let’s set up a program that taxes employers based on commute distance and has a cool subsidy option to reduce discrimination, that sounds tractable.

Are you kidding? Let’s talk about the design of school bus routes.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:52 PM on February 14


That not all humans suck at driving? Of course it's an evidence based position.

OK, then there must be some evidence... I mean, as far as the insurance thing goes, sure, some classes (eg. young men) of people have to pay more because they suck as a class, but nobody's insurance rate is zero.

The vast majority of the motor racing activities worldwide prove there are 'good drivers'.

I knew it would eventually come that. You do know that it's a category error to compare driving on public roads and driving on a closed circuit, yes? They don't have kids, animals, busses and parking lot traffic to contend with. Yet, the best race drivers in the world routinely crash.

I actually read a paper once (I wish I coult find it again) that claimed to show that race drivers are worse at driving in public than the general population because they bring their focus and aggression into an environment to which their skills are entirely unsuited. There's a significant amount of research to show that skills courses do not improve driver safety because they teach drivers how to, say, recover from a skid, but do not cultivate a cautious mindset that would allow them to avoid a skid in the first place.
posted by klanawa at 1:26 PM on February 14


nobody's insurance rate is zero.

Why would your insurance rate be zero ? Other drivers exist.

In point of fact, every accident or claim I have had over 25 years of driving was because of the other driver. Two of them, the driver was uninsured, and absent my own insurance, I would have had to pay myself.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:39 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I mean, I don't have to explain why being a bad driver and crashing don't have a 1:1 correspondence do I? Have we all had some basic exposure to the notion of probability?

Still a derail tho, so apologies for that.
posted by klanawa at 1:46 PM on February 14


The people who grow your food necessarily live in the countryside. A mileage tax (or a gas tax) is a farm tax. However, it might be offset by farm subsidies for certain politically favored types of farms.

As for the derail on insurance rates, we have nowhere near enough data to determine the bug rate of self driving car software. All we know is that all software has bugs.
posted by monotreme at 1:58 PM on February 14


The people who grow your food necessarily live in the countryside.

i would really love to know how many of the ~3 million farmers in this nation of 323 million people get their goods to market in the trusty ol' chevy pickup and how many ship their corn to conagra via rail to be reprocessed into garbagefood
posted by entropicamericana at 2:20 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


They don't have kids, animals, busses and parking lot traffic to contend with. Yet, the best race drivers in the world routinely crash.

*sigh*. They crash because they are pushing the limits. Anyone that pushes the limits on the road is a tool. Driving within the limits of conditions and driver/machine is far, far easier than driving at those limits. So saying race car drivers crash so no drivers are good is nonsense.

You do know that it's a category error to compare driving on public roads and driving on a closed circuit, yes?
Of course. Don't be facetious. I was showing an extreme example to prove that 'no drivers are good' was an erroneous and facile statement.

I actually read a paper once (I wish I coult find it again) that claimed to show that race drivers are worse at driving in public than the general population because they bring their focus and aggression into an environment to which their skills are entirely unsuited.

You need to find that, I think, because ten minutes reading and a modicum of common sense and knowledge would likely blow that nonsense wide open. A good driver doesn't bring ANY aggression to the road. Being a race car driver doesn't mean you always drive with aggression. Trying to drive like a race car driver on the road being worse than not? Of course. But extrapolating from there is just rubbish. Also, I'd LOVE to see their pool of statistics that support this 'worse' claim.
posted by Brockles at 2:27 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I get an explicit good driver* discount on my insurance. If I show you my bill stub, can we end this derail?

* which is really the same thing as every other company, they've just changed "normal, risky, riskier" on the graph to be "good, normal, risky" and called me good. It's semantics.

Speaking of semantics, "there are no good drivers" is a dumb argument, because "good" is relative to other people, and "guaranteed not to get in a crash, no matter what everyone around them does" is not a possible thing. Many drivers are in fact above average.
posted by ctmf at 6:21 PM on February 14


Many drivers are in fact above average.

By definition, half of them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:39 PM on February 14 [4 favorites]


Extreme outliers can make that not true.
posted by ctmf at 11:32 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


By definition, half of them.

Only assuming people are normal.
posted by bonehead at 10:47 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


If you taxed the commercial vehicles more, you'd just end up paying more for goods transported by road. So it'd be the same cost, just at your destination instead every time you go shopping. So commuters are subsiding Walmart groceries so you don't pay as much for groceries.

That's not a good thing; you're distorting the market for transportation when you cross-subsidize like that. Subsidies are not always a bad thing, but they should be done carefully and consciously, with an eye towards what particular behavior and end is being encouraged, and this doesn't seem to be either. Unconscious or hidden subsidies are almost always bad.

Making trucks bear the full and direct cost of the damage they do to the roads would increase the cost of goods transported by truck, without a doubt. That would mean that goods would cost more the further they've been transported by truck. Which would mean goods produced locally, or transported by other means, would be comparatively cheaper. That's not a bad end result at all. You'd need to be cautious not to make the change overnight, because the economy currently makes some pretty dumb assumptions about transportation costs, but in the long run you'd have a net efficiency gain, and the economy would overall be better prepared for higher fuel prices, which is likely to be the case in the future.

One of the major barriers to getting anything productive done in the public sphere in the US is the idea that if it increases the cost of anything, then it must be bad and wrong. That's just not the case, and we need to refuse to accept the existence of a simple cost increase somewhere as a valid argument against a policy; it's almost always a good thing to have the prices of goods reflect the actual cost of production and distribution, inclusive of as many externalities as we can capture. That's the only way that the market economy works as a resource-allocation mechanism. Right now we have huge segments of the economy that depend on vast externalized costs, with the entirely predictable result that they turn into exercises in fobbing as much cost as possible onto the public rather than driving efficiency.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:03 AM on February 16 [6 favorites]


On the one hand gas taxes probably are regressive, but on the other, the arbitrary cost of poor road infrastructure in terms of repairs, breakdowns, people getting fired for not making it into work, childhood asthma from living near congestion, etc... etc... all seem to fall disproportionately on the poor. A hell of a lot of the poor in my community ride really crappy bikes over even crappier roads, and yet they're paying for a chunk of the cost of the infrastructure they aren't using up in the form of income taxes. We should have more gas taxes and turn around and increase the EITC or have universal basic income to make up for it. Subsidizing private transit just creates huge incentives for baking inefficiency into our economy in the form of overly centralized industry.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:50 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I don’t know what the original intent was but somehow “good driver” got turned into “perfect driver”. Even the best driver in the world can/will get in an accident: coming around a blind curve or over the top of a hill, animal crossings, other drivers. The only way to never crash ever would be to go 20 miles an hour everywhere so you could literally stop on a dime.

*no one’s insurance would be zero because your insurance also covers theft, weather damage like falling trees or hail, fire, etc. it doesn’t matter how good of a driver you are, you’re going to pay for that. Also, the way insurance works is that the people who don’t use it subsidize the people who do. The worst drivers are not paying their actual risk cost,even though they do pay more. Good drivers who never claim are the ones covering that (it’s the same principal behind the “death spiral” everyone was so worried about with Obamacare)
posted by LizBoBiz at 9:35 PM on February 16


Even the best driver in the world can/will get in an accident: coming around a blind curve or over the top of a hill, animal crossings, other drivers. The only way to never crash ever would be to go 20 miles an hour everywhere so you could literally stop on a dime.

exactly. one of the many, many reasons we need to rethink the way we build our streets. mistakes should not cost lives
posted by entropicamericana at 6:21 AM on February 17


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