Part of the Bay Area News Group

enjoy your free ride while it lasts

By enelson
Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 at 11:22 pm in Carpooling, casual carpools, driving, Freeways, fuel, Funding, global warming, parking, tolls, Transit vs. driving.

While I’ve spent much of this week on the blog bickering over high-speed rail funding, I’ve noticed a thread emerge that speaks to all forms of transportation, especially the ubiquitous solo vehicle commute.

Time and time again, public transportation advocates, who are fighting for nickles and dimes in Sacramento in these days of $15 billion budget holes, tell me that driving isn’t free. Roads and highways aren’t free.

Yes, even freeways aren’t free.

Every year, state and local governments pay billions of dollars for the upkeep of our roads and highways. You know that guy in the orange vest you almost hit while sending text messages last week? He fills your potholes and he gets a much-deserved salary.

It’s a sad fact, however, is that there isn’t nearly enough money to maintain our bridges and highways properly. Some people have even suggested that this could help us understand why bridges fall down sometimes, but I don’t want to jump to hasty conclusions.

We Americans can’t seem to get our arms around the idea that such government expenditures require us citizens to contribute a larger chunk of our incomes, just as citizens in the rest of the developed world do.

But there’s no point in arguing about that. I don’t see that changing any time soon. Not to mention, I, too, like the idea of keeping more of my money and I’m starting to get anxious about my stimulus payment.

Over the last year, I’ve discovered that where transportation is concerned, both our government in Washington and I have come up with viable solutions. What’s really exciting about this is that the D.C. solution has both Republican and Democratic backers.

It’s probably no great surprise to faithful readers of this blog that I’m talking about tolls. It will start with what we in the Bay Area like to call HOT lanes, or high-occupancy toll lanes.

While making the rounds in Sacramento with transit lobbyists for the Transportation and Land Use Coalition on Tuesday, Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, called them “Lexus Lanes” with a chuckle.

I once called them that, too. But they may be our only hope when it comes to raising money for transportation, followed by tolls to enter urban areas, which London is already doing with great effect, and then tolls for just entering any interstate.

Transportation officials from U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters on down recognize the sorry state we’ve descended to when it comes to funding our network. They’ve been joined by environmentalists, who want motorists to feel what transit users have always felt: The financial pinch of deciding to go anywhere.

There is one thing that might stave off this trend in California, and that’s the likelihood of $7-a-gallon gas within the next few years. That will mean a huge surplus of gasoline sales tax, which is supposed to pay for transportation. Unfortunately, those much-needed funds are being tapped by our state government for lack of the electorate’s will to raise money for other programs.

So look for our national obsession with driving to become something of a luxury, like belonging to a country club or plying the Bay in a sailboat. If it’s any consolation, remember that “freeways,” will always be free. Free of intersections, free of stop signs and lights, except the one that says “ETC OK.”

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

4 Responses to “enjoy your free ride while it lasts”

  1. murphstahoe Says:

    to this I say “Amen”

  2. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    I love driving. Absolutely love it. So it’s not with any particular glee that I witness the death of cheap driving, but it’s a fact, and we need to get used to it, and shift our transportation priorities accordingly.

    I do have to disagree (don’t I always) about your assessment that our state will never agree to new taxes. That assumption has always been a bit overstated – both California and the US government raised taxes from 1990 to 1993 and it didn’t cause a revolution – and as our economy and infrastructure fall apart around us, polls show consistent support for some sort of tax solution to prevent California from falling apart.

    I think the media tends to not do real journalism any more; instead they tend to take a subject or an event and write about whether it conforms with their interpretation of conventional wisdom or not. That turns the media into defenders of the status quo, whether that’s their intent or not. So when you see me pushing hard against your flawed assumptions, that’s what’s behind it. Nothing personal.

  3. DensityDuck Says:

    It’s a bit odd for you to say that the government’s lust for gas-tax money is the fault of the electorate. I don’t recall being consulted in the decisions about how to spend that money.

    Also, cut the generalizations, please. I don’t have a problem with paying more taxes to support California’s infrastructure. I do have a problem with dumping more money down the same rathole we currently use. I would gladly pay a higher gas tax if that gas tax were earmarked for infrastructure maintenance and improvement.

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    DD, you’re right to call me on generalizing. I do it when I’m referring to the majority of the electorate, or at least the majority that passed Prop 13 back when I was a teenager and lived in another state. Now tax increases can be held up by slightly more than a third of the electorate, so, again, the generalization is inappropriate.

    As for earmarking gas taxes, I hate to break it to you that we have tons of earmarked gasoline sales tax receipts, but it keeps getting redirected to other programs. In fact, it was a deal with Gov. Reagan that earmarked for public transit any gas sales tax windfall in times of increasing gas prices.

Leave a Reply