My Gas Tax

Do you think America needs better public transportation? Me too, but our local, state, and federal governments lack the vision to plan it and the political will to fund it. I’m not talking about maintaining current service levels during the recession, nor am I referring to a 10 or 20 percent increase in funding. I’m talking about investment in the system we need for our future. Currently the federal gas tax is 18.4 cents, a figure which hasn’t risen since 1993. Massachusetts adds an additional 41.9 cents. In Europe, taxes can amount to over 70% of the cost of fuel, but in America they make up only around 25% of the cost. Unless we pay more at the pump, we cannot reduce the collective miles we drive, nor can we afford bicycle lanes, trams, trolley buses, or trains.

In light of my representatives’ inaction, I have created my own gas tax. For every gallon of gasoline I buy, I will contribute 50 cents–nearly doubling the taxes I currently pay–to an organization that promotes more sustainable transportation options. I haven’t chosen the group yet, but I am thinking of Reconnecting America, the National Complete Streets Coalition, and the LivableStreets Alliance. I invite you to join me in my small effort towards creating a more sustainable and liveable America.






4 responses to “My Gas Tax”

  1. Arthur

    They could go anywhere with them then.
    Unfortunately, public transport has its limits. Suburbia can never be effectively covered, with so many suburbs and so little funding. My town has busses, but stops are few and far in between. Cars are still a necessity, frankly, in suburbia. Is that a bad thing? Perhaps, but its here to stay. Progress in this area won’t be with the ‘what’, so to speak, it’ll be with the how. Once we run out of gas, we’ll have a successor lined up. Plug-in electrics sound promising but require an ENTIRE over-haul of the electrical system.
    Obama’s rediculous raising of the CAFE standard is just that-preposterous. 44mpg isn’t a reasonable goal. Compacts are simply not family cars, and getting an entire fleet at 44mpg by 2020 may be feasible, but not without HUGE cash investments, that we frankly don’t have the money to make. to a degree, innovation can’t be rushed beyond its sustainability.

  2. Alex, low-income people, living and working mostly in cities, stand to benefit the most from expanded transportation.
    I asked Tom Friedman about how the gas tax could work politically, to which he gave me a pretty sensible response. His pitch was something like, “We’re already paying, it’s just that our money is going to Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela. Call me old fashioned, but I want my money invested in my own country.”
    Also, assuming that the cost gets passed to them in increased fees assumes that they will be using gasoline or diesel fuel. Elsewhere in the world, trains and buses are electrified. Take a look at the Green Line and Silver Line if you’d like local examples. I took a train from Stockholm, Sweden to the Arctic Circle in Norway on a 100% electric line. The Arctic Circle. It was electrified in 1923.

    Art, The secondary goal of a gas tax, from the perspective of a future urban planner, is to change the structure of our built environment. Commuting from the exurbs is only possible because of cheap gasoline and cheap automobiles. Considering that half of America’s buildings were built in the last 50 years and that by 2030 half of America’s buildings will have been built after 2000, we don’t need to accept the idea that some people have to live in car-dependent environments. In the early 20th century, America had one of the greatest systems of public transportation in the world, if not *the* greatest. Just take a look at this old trolley map:
    There’s a reason why older Americans love trains–at one time, they could go anywhere and everywhere with them. America was just as large then as it is now. Americans are stubborn. That’s why you need to hit us where it hurts the most–the wallet–and why a gas tax is the most effective method of getting us to drive less, lay tracks, build stations, and live within walking and bicycling distance of public transportation.


  3. Art

    Your generosity is note-worthy Sahar, but doesn’t attack the problem at it’s root. In your defense, however, the problem is only so combattable. That is to, say if your prime target is to get people to drive less, well, you’re mandating drastic compromises in their life. Not all people live in areas with public transport adequate to take them where they want to go, when they want to. There’s also the safety issue, again only pertinent to some localities, and the convenience issue. Some people would have to drive to get to/from the station, and need a car for that.
    The biggest differentiator between America and Europe, per se, is size. This matters in terms of commute. Most europeans don’t commute more than 20-30 miles, allowing them to use a noticeably smaller amount of gas. The second factor that plays into that is the general anti-consumer nature governments other than our own have regarding cars. In addition to a high fuel tax, cars in europe are taxed up to EIGHTY percent. Eighty. Meaning people have to buy ridiculously small, chintzy, weak cars. If that doesn’t sicken you as a consumer, well, then…
    That said, yes America would stand to benefit from a better mass transport system, but the degree of efficacy it would have would be limited and not worth investment. Why? Like it’s citizens, America is big. And we’re stubborn

  4. alex

    i see where you’re coming from, but in the short-run doesn’t a gas tax disproportionately hurt lower-income commuters who would need to pay more money for gas to get to work, or get increased fuel costs passed along to them for public transit fees?

    plus the fact that it’s political suicide for a politician to say they want to raise people’s gas prices, even though it’s surely what’s best in the long-run.

    but then again, I think it was keynes who said that in the long run, we’re all dead.