BART San Jose extension funding chart from http://www.svrtc-vta.org/
My armchair analysis was received with some consternation by Rebecca Long, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s legislative analyst, who knows more about how transportation is funded in this town than anyone should have to.
I suggested that Peters’ support of user fees (tolls, basically) for highways could make the term “freeway” obsolete, and didn’t really explain why “freeway” is already a misnomer. I also may have been unkind to the idea of single-vehicle toll lanes known as HOT lanes, sometimes called “Lexus lanes” because people who are willing and able to pay can scoot by traffic jams on them.
But hear Rebecca explain it (She did not pick the links, however):
There are a few points in there that I think might confuse the reader.
First, you point out that some transit critics claim that highways are
“free” but you don’t explain why this is a misconception. Highways are
subsidized, just as transit is – but in this case, it’s not fares but
the gas tax and sales taxes that constitutes the public investment or
“subsidy” – to the tune of tens of billions of dollars annually. By
calling them “free” but not explaining that they are not in fact free,
you just perpetuate this anti-transit viewpoint.
Second, you talk about “regressively providing transit.” I’m not sure
what you mean by the use of “regressive” here. Regressive in the context
of taxes usually means that poor people get a raw deal. A flat tax, for
instance, is regressive. Sales taxes are regressive because everyone has
to pay them. User fees are less regressive because you don’t HAVE to pay them.
I suppose transit fares could be argued to be regressive because they aren’t indexed by income, but fares (a direct user fee) are far less regressive than sales tax, which everyone who buys anything is
forced to pay, whether or not they benefit from the expenses funded by
the sales tax. However, when evaluating whether or not a tax/fee is
regressive, you have to also consider the expenditure plan and in the
case of the Bay Area sales tax measures that are dedicated to
transportation, all expenditure plans dedicate sizable amounts to
transit, which benefits lower income riders.
Finally, I would point out that the argument that HOT lanes are
regressive is flawed in the sense that HOT lanes do not make anyone
worse off, unless of course they clog up the lane, but that would be bad
implementation more than anything else. And the revenue from HOT lanes can be used to fund additional transit services, reducing the need for fare increases.
Ok, ok. I’ll concede that I hadn’t thought these issues through as thoroughly as one might. I certainly should have clarified the “free” freeways notion.
While it’s true that gas taxes pay for highways, and that means drivers, by and large, pay for their upkeep, it’s also true that we depend quite heavily on regressive sales taxes for transit improvements. Backers of the BART extension to San Jose were more-or-less counting on voters to pass a sales tax measure to get their project built. The voters, however, made other plans by rejecting it June 6.