Comment of the Day: The Pay Way

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE PAY WAY “ALL new highways should be toll roads. Every last one of them. If you use it, you pay for it. If you don’t use it, no harm to you. You don’t HAVE to drive it. YOU decide by your actions if you wish to pay more. Nothing makes more sense economic equality-wise than that.” [Thomas, commenting on TxDOT Presents Toll Lanes Down the Middle of 288]

20 Comment

  • And no more public parks while we’re at it!

  • Uhmmm, kinda like the Federal Highway Tax on gasoline and diesel?

  • Ok, I’ll bite, but only if all buses and toy trains charge enough the riders to cover their own expenses. Would that make a train ride $100 each way or something? Also, no more government grants, tax breaks, or free security for any art event, you pay full price if you use it.

  • it’s safe to say that there’s been vmany points throughout recorded history where transit funding has been implemented in the manner you mention. it’s also safe to say that all of these funding systems were overturned by the prevailing governments upon analyzing the cost/benefits of various funding schemes in tandem with the required planning/funding incentives required for governments to entice residents and businesses to allocate vast sums of money for future growth and development. additionally, it’s not like toll roads would ever operate on a capitalist market base in order to properly allocate resources, they are public/private partnerships with complete control over their designated regions and future planning.

    however, i fail to see how this is really much of an improvement over our tried and tested system of gas taxes. with gas taxes, everyone pays their fair share for use and the wear and tear they add to the roads.

    also, you can pretty much ring the death knell for retail shopping as we know it and god knows what replaces all that excess capacity. this would really transform society beyond our expectations in ways we couldn’t accurately foresee.

  • But, but, but, with gas taxes my massive, obese black SUV with gold trim will be responsible for a greater share of highway costs than your Honda Civic! And that’s just not fair!

  • But…But…But I drive a Honda Civic so I’m more Earth conscious than you! (or just poorer)

  • The complaint there is that tolls are an aggressive tax on the poor and middle class. It’s expensive to live near downtown, where you can walk or take surface streets to work – so people with the means can do it. But those without are relegated to living out in the suburbs; often in places that suffer from very poor transit service.

  • Everyone in Houston uses the highways in the area. Even if you don’t have a car you use them. Almost everything you eat and everything you buy is delivered on a highway. Without them people would start dying in a matter of days and Houston would have to be abandoned.

  • Broke mf’ers can’t afford tolls so their opinions are moot. Heck, they will probably end up living in future toll frontage apartments, trololo

  • @Mike and @joel,

    Again I will note that gas taxes pay zero percent of local and arterial roads in Texas, and nationwide only cover around 50% of highway costs. With gas taxes not being raised since the early 90s, they have seen a 40% decline in value with respect to inflation while vehicles have gotten more efficient yet heavier. We’ve massively underinvested in our roads leaving a large debt to a generation of people who aren’t yet driving. Personal responsibiilty! It is a horrible system that covers nowhere near the cost of the roads, not to mention the indirect externalized costs such as health care.

    Those subsidized Amtrak riders pay as much operating costs as car drivers. Heaven forbid we ask cars and trucks to actually pay more than 50% the costs of building and maintaining the roads they destroy, let alone enriching foreign despots, causing gridlock and asthma and heart attacks, increasing the state and national debt and keeping government larger than it needs to be by crashing into each other all the time — thereby forcing police, firefighters, and other government services to always be on call and responding to their silly emergencies.

    Tolls on all roads would be regressive on the poor, but raising the gas tax by the inflationary amount and pegging it to future inflation would be a fair first step until someone can propose a workable vehicle miles traveled/axel load/peak hour transit solution.

  • @commonsense,
    I don’t see how that’s relevant. Do you also want all transit riders to be forced to wear funny hats in order for us to have more toll roads? If people are willing to pay for something, let them!

  • @Walt,
    Yeah, kinda, but more responsive to drivers’ needs, more responsible for the state and local government budgets, and a more efficient use of taxpayer money. Other than that, they’re exactly the same.

  • To ZAW: There are many, many areas well within the city (some very near Downtown) that are still both very affordable and with decent transit service (by Houston’s admittedly low standards). For some reason many people seem to (willfully?) overlook them. Sure, the housing in those places may not be in the best shape and you might have to shop at a lower-tier grocer, but that doesn’t make your statement any less incorrect.

  • Planner – don’t get me wrong, I live very close to my work (by Houston standards) in a neighborhood that was developed in the late 1950s. I couldnt dream of moving way out to the ‘burbs.
    But there are reasons for people overlooking those inner neighborhoods. First, there’s the square footage concern: people want more space for their money. Second, housing quality really matters. Most people want a move-in ready home. Third, the schools. In many cases, living in an affordable house in an inner neighborhood, means spending a lot of extra money to send your kid to a private school (though to be fair, HISD has a wonderful array of magnets that help with this concern.) Fourth, undesirable neighbors, beat up apartment complexes, semi-legal game rooms, pain clinics, personal care homes, and the like. Finally, crime and (more important than actual crime statistics) the perception of crime. All of these factors combine to be a strong deterrent to living in inner neighbors for middle class families.
    I am hugely in favor of changing these things to draw people back into inner neighborhoods. But it doesn’t change the fact that turning our highways into toll roads would place an unfair burden on the poor and middle class.

  • From Local Planner: “There are many, many areas well within the city (some very near Downtown) that are still both very affordable and with decent transit service (by Houston’s admittedly low standards). For some reason many people seem to (willfully?) overlook them….”
    Quote of the day please?

  • Mike: I blieve the reason that it’s still “fair” that an SUV pays more gas tax per mile dirven than a tiny car (due to MPG differences) is due to the fact that the SUV is likly doing more damage to the roads per mile due to it’s weight.
    If weight is a big factor in MPG, and weight is a big factor in road damage, then a gas tax is the best way to devide up payment responsibility. More so than a toll even.
    I’m very much against new or higher taxes, however I do support “use” tax because no matter how ‘anti tax’ you might be, we still live in a society that needs basic government services and roads/bridges. I have no problem with a gas tax to support the building and maintaining of roads. Of all taxes, that’s the most fair (IMO). The problem is when the states general budget gets low and they raise gas tax to fund the rest of government (looking at you California)

  • I agree with Cody that a surtax on large vehicles is fair. You don’t have to be rich to get a fuel efficient car. If you’ve got $2000 you can choose between a used SUV or a used subcompact. A tax by weight for cars is a lot more fair than automatically having to pay toll every time you get on a highway.

  • I agree with Banger, you hit it on the head. We in no way cover the cost of our freeways, but are constantly hearing what a waste of taxpayer money our rail/bus service is…really? Everytime we plow down taxable property to build more lanes/new freeways we are loosing taxable land that helps pay for schools, fire, etc. Anyone care to factor the lost future revenue from that tax base loss into the cost of roads equation? At least with a toll road those who are using it are paying for it. And as the cost for maintenance goes up, so does the price of using it. Go for it Harris Co.! Lets become the toll road capital of the world!

  • @ Cody – Actually, California’s gas tax is only a couple cents more than what ours would be if adjusted for inflation. And many of their roads aren’t any great prizes, either (I’m looking at you, 5, 505, and 80).

  • Cody, that is a good point about weight, but I think that the gas tax is not much better in accounting for this weight difference than tolls. Tolls do account somewhat for weight too, and actually account for it about the same for the largest vehicles, as they charge more for vehicles with more than 2 axles.

    Some non-hybrid large SUVs can get 20 mpg compared to 40 for a compact which is maybe 40% of its weight. However, road damage is apparently proportional to the fourth power of weight. So instead of damaging the road 2.5 times more, the SUV would damage the road 39 times more, yet only pay double in gas taxes. A hybrid SUV would pay about the same gas tax as a 40 mpg compact, yet damage the road about 40 times as much.

    The effect is even more noticeable for 18-wheelers. A fully-loaded trailer is 80,000 lbs. – so about 16,000 lbs. per axle vs. 1,200 lbs/axle for a compact car – a factor of 13. So the 18-wheeler would do 31,600 times more damage but only pay about 5 times as much in gas (assume 40 mpg vs. 8 mpg). For comparison, 5 axle trucks on the Sam Houston Tollway pay tolls which are 5 times higher than 2-axle cars ($7 vs. $1.4). So gas tax vs. tolls for large trucks is essentially the same.