Tag Archives: externalities

Sales tax for roads coming up short

(Photo: Mark Henle/The Republic)
(Photo: Mark Henle/The Republic)

The 0.5% sales tax that funds transportation projects in Maricopa county since 1985 is on track to come up a few billion dollars short by the time it expires in 2025.  The funds are used to pay for all manner of projects including local street improvements, bus pullouts (to make car travel faster), transit including bus and light rail; by most of all and by far the most dollars are spent building highways. From a sales tax. There are those who fancy that motorists are “paying their own way”, through from example fuel taxes and VLT (vehicle license tax) but that’s just not so. These funds have been shrinking for a variety of reasons not the least of which is the major component, fuel tax, has not increased in over over twenty years.

Continue reading Sales tax for roads coming up short

More Sprawl Costs

Az Republic story Liability for government-issued vehicles on the rise Stated some of the obvious; bigger, sprawly cities tend to have more driving by public-sector workers, invariably leading to more liability costs to cities/taxpayers. Just another socialized cost of sprawl and automobility.

The sidebar has some interesting dollar figures for a number of Phoenix-metro area cities (and Maricopa county), all were costs paid out by the municipality over the period from ~ 2008 through 20012. A small, compact city like Tempe clocks in at $806K, Scottsdale is up at $2M. Scottsdale at a population of ~ 221K people is somewhat larger than Tempe’s 164K; but certainly not nearly triple! But Scottsdale’s land area at 186 sq.mi. is way larger than landlocked, mostly built-out Tempe’s 40 sq.miles.

Phoenix is of course the 500 pound gorilla: $23M paid out, with 1.5M people, and a whopping 517 sq. miles of land area.

Statistically speaking, Chandler seems to have a quite-low payout ratio; $203K, 240K population and 58 sq.miles — so maybe Scottsdale is just an outlier 🙂

AAA: Cost of car ownership increases to $9,100 this year

The AAA puts out a report on the costs of operating a car each year, and are always fun… figure a ballpark of 60 cents a mile. It’s been my experience that car owners are in consistent denial, other than chronic moaning about the price of fuel, about the high costs of automobility. (and fuel ends up being only about 1/4th of the overall cost). And these costs only represent direct costs; socialized costs (pollution, policing, mayhem, free and subsidized parking, various non-fuel taxes, etc) are not even attempted to be measured here.

“A new AAA reports shows, on average, the cost of driving 15,000 miles a year rose 1.17 cents to 60.8 cents per mile, or $9,122 per year. Overall, that’s a roughly 2% increase on the cost of operating a car last year.”  usatoday

Why Seattle is safer than Phoenix

An op-ed written by one of the wsj editorial board staffers illustrates a certain strain of belief in have-your-cake-and-eat-too-sism. Kaminski, in decrying how the mayor Mike McGinn (whom he gleefully points out is referred to as mayor McSchwinn by his political foes. Get it? it rhymes with McGinn) of Seattle worked to block the building of some car-based project; later claims that “Seattleites say they want to save the planet from global warming, but in their personal lives they want safe streets…”.

The disconnect Kaminski, and others of his ideological ilk, is this; that somehow streets can be made safer by ever-expanding the number and speed of privately operated motor vehicles. But this is simply not possible. Faster and more always equals more dead; mostly more motorists, but also more dead peds, and more dead bicyclists. The numbers are stark; comparing e.g. Phoenix with Seattle (metro areas), the Dangerous by Design survey estimates Phoenix to be FOUR TIMES more deadly to pedestrians than Seattle. The number spills over not just in pedestrian deaths, but also cyclists deaths, and also to MOTORISTS deaths; see e.g. Beyond Safety in Numbers: why bike friendly cities are safer (for everybody).

Thus Kaminski rejects car-user-fees as hair-brained; yet motorists are the source of enormous externalities — economic impacts that aren’t paid for by their users — from air pollution (never mind ‘global warming’), to mayhem, to free parking.

By the way, McGinn has only been mayor for the past two years; I’m not suggesting that McGinn has made it safer. It was already safe, relatively speaking — due in no small part to its general overall “anti-car” culture.

Addendum

Seattle DOT (SDOT) puts out a fancy traffic safety report (every year, i imagine), e.g. here is  2011. Note the “speed studies”, p 7-7… their major streets are posted speed limits of mostly 35, with a few at 30, and one at 45. The 85th percentile speeds were running in the high 30’s.

 

Sales tax shortfalls delay highway plans

What? a sales tax to build freeways? Why yes, it’s true — sales, and other general funds are often used to build roads and freeways. Though this particular tax (the prop 400 one-half percent general sales tax) supposedly goes to pay for all sorts of transportation projects — including light rail, local street improvements, buses, roads and freeways — the largest amount goes to build or expand limited-access freeways. These freeways in particular aren’t even open to bicyclists; but, along with everybody else, must pay the sales tax. Oh, and it’s not as though bicyclists are left out; bicycle and pedestrian improvements combined get 2% of the funds.

What about fuel and other specific use taxes (like the VLT… for more, see Road Taxes)? They’re simply not enough. Automobility does not generate enough tax revenue to sustain itself, thus these subsidies to drivers paid from general funds. Not to mention any of the litany of externalities caused by driving — free parking, pollution, mayhem, etc.

Some Valley freeway projects will be delayed up to five years by a sharp downturn in revenues prompted in part by the recession, regional transportation officials say.
Proposition 400, approved by Maricopa County voters in 2004, imposed a countywide half-cent sales tax for 20 years to fund regional transit projects – freeways, streets, buses and light rail.
maricopa-county-proposition-400-funds-shortage.html

40 YEARS of sales taxes to build freeways

Here are a few of the ins-and-outs of this tax, as you can see it started in 1985, was renewed for another 20 year run starting in 2005 — in other words it is more or less permanent; see e.g. this AzRepublic article (my emphasis added):

Q: What does Proposition 400 do?

A: It would extend for another 20 years a half-cent transportation sales tax in Maricopa County that was first approved in 1985 to fund freeway construction. Without voter approval for an extension, the tax expires at the end of 2005.

Q: How much would be spent on each type of transportation in the MAG plan?
A: Of the $15.8 billion dedicated to program funding, $9 billion, or 57 percent, would fund freeways; $2.7 billion, or 17 percent, would fund the regional bus system; $2.3 billion, or 15 percent, would fund light-rail expansion; and $1.5 billion, or 9 percent, would fund arterial streets.
The remaining 2 percent would fund air-quality programs, bike and pedestrian routes and planning activities.

The 2010 Five-year update

Apparently there is a mandated audit to be performed every five years by the AZ Auditor General, here is the detailed report. The AZ Republic did a news story timed with its release, though it didn’t say much.

The detailed report has some pie charts that don’t exactly match up with the Q&A; for example it shows, in percentages exactly 3 components: Freeways 56.2, Transit 33.3, and Arterials 10.5% One guesses that the 2 percent catch-all (which includes bike and ped planning) is snuck in somewhere. The report gives no details on the ancillary activities. Oh, and I learned a new acronym: RARF, the Regional Area Road Fund is where the prop 400 sales tax monies go. (the HURF, Highway User Revenue Fund, is where motor fuel taxes and vlt goes).

The light rail came off pretty well; noting the thing was built on schedule and just slightly under-budget. Peer-city comparisons were generally favorable.

 

Eighth ozone pollution advisory of the season (already)

…the season apparently just started in April 2011. Pollution — nobody wants to pay…  Our state politicians want to block more stringent new-car standards. And meanwhile complain that the excessive number of alerts/advisories is caused by tightening air-quality standards.

State officials posted the Valley’s eighth ozone pollution advisory of the season Tuesday, a fact clean-air activists noted repeatedly as they argued against a plan to repeal Arizona’s vehicle-emissions rules barely six months after they took effect. Arizona’s plan to cut clean-car program criticized by activists

Are Cars Dangerous?

Superhuman-sized objects moving at superhuman speeds are dangerous. Inherently. But who bears this danger? Motorist liability insurance is one supposed motivator; in theory motorists are supposed to bear the cost of the risks they are inflicting on others, but has many limitations (see e.g. The Disneyland Model). In reality this risk-spreading ends up socializing the costs of driving — paid for by others, subsidized, also called an externality. Thus we get more driving, because it is artificially cheap, and more traffic death and destruction.

It is worth pointing out to nervous cyclists that the large majority of traffic death and destruction is done by drivers of automobiles to other motorists (see, e.g. the chart here). This is to be expected, of course, since the large majority of traffic is motoring.

Here are a couple of  recent, local incidents… out of control “accidents” all —

Girl critically injured, was standing on the sidewalk, May 6, 2011: Deette Lynn Perry, 54, was arrested Friday after she was discharged from the hospital, where she had been admitted following the May 6 incident, Sgt. Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said. Perry was in a 2004 Nissan Altima near Thomas Road and 23rd Avenue when she drove onto the sidewalk and struck a 17-year-old girl, Martos said. Police suspect Perry was impaired by drugs, Martos said. The girl suffered a fractured pelvis and severe head injuries, Martos said.

Another:

Tourist killed at Phoenix intersection The Arizona Republic, Glen Creno – Aug. 19, 2010

An Australian tourist crossing a Phoenix street was killed late Tuesday when a sport-utility vehicle slammed into him, authorities said Wednesday…The SUV was moving so fast the victim was dismembered by the impact. Witnesses told police the vehicle apparently ran a red light…Ramzy Khalil, 29, of New South Wales, Continue reading Are Cars Dangerous?

Road taxes

From time to time, we will see a recurring theme to the effect of “bicyclists don’t pay gas tax so they don’t deserve to use the road”. (for a good roundup of this and other similar issues see bicycledriving.org) There are certain elements of truth to this — bicyclists don’t purchase gas, it’s true. And there’s also an implication that motorist are “paying their way”, but that’s just not true. Gas taxes (and other direct taxes on automobiles) nowhere near cover the costs of building, maintaining, and operating roads. And that’s not to mention the (much larger) costs associated with death/mayhem and pollution impacts on human health and the environment. And none of that is to mention other more intangible costs like defending sea lanes worldwide; and propping up unsavory regimes so that oil can continue to flow freely. Continue reading Road taxes

Summer Ozone season kicks off

Here is the obligatory pollution story:

Maricopa County’s ozone season starts today with a fresh burst of heat and sunlight, two key ingredients needed for unhealthful levels of the smog to form.

Temperatures could rise to nearly 100 degrees today as a strong high-pressure system creates the ideal conditions for ground-level ozone. The other elements – vehicle exhaust, power-plant emissions, gasoline, paint and industrial solvents – are always in abundant supply.  Read more…

My gripe? While I agree that vehicle exhaust is always in abundant supply, I don’t imagine power plants contribute any significant amount of pollution to the Phoenix area. The closest big power plant is Palo Verde nuke which is by definition smog-free. There are a bunch of small-scale power plants within the valley but they tend to be natural gas fired, which is very very clean smog-wise. The nearest big coal plant, which are among other pollutants very smoggy are hundreds (?) of miles away.

I wonder how much of smog is contributed other than from vehicle exhaust (and fueling)?? I doubt very much.

 

Expect extra-dirty air

You have to read between the lines to even get the hint that much (most?) of this pollution comes from vehicle use — both from entrained dust (dust that is kicked up by cars/trucks whooshing by) or emissions (NOX -> ozone, and fine particulates from combustion, particularly from “clean” diesel engines. )

Experts warn of poor Valley air quality The Arizona Republic. A familiar brown cloud is settling over a cool, dry Valley, prompting air-quality experts to warn that residents could be in for a particularly dirty winter.

Bad air expected for Valley through the holidays Bob McClay/KTAR PHOENIX — The Valley’s brown cloud season has arrived, with poor air quality that irritates respiratory systems … Mark Shaffer with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. …said the high pressure creates an air bubble that collects ozone below 5,000 feet.

For those of you who don’t follow such minutia, the Phoenix area is what is termed a “Serious Non-Attainment Area” for various forms of air pollution. This leads to, of course, some amount of human misery especially via various lung diseases, but it also brings the specter of loss of federal funds if the air isn’t cleaned up. Some local (state, or maybe county?) agency must produce a plan to clean up the air to the satisfaction of the EPA; that plan (critique here dated 9/13/2010: EPA Disapproves Air Quality Plan for Phoenix ) was rejected in part because “EPA has determined that the SIP (State Implementation Plan) over-emphasized emission reductions needed from construction-related activities and de-emphasized emission reductions from other sources”, you know,  other source like, for example, those produced as a result of using motor vehicles.

EPA Disapproves Air Quality Plan for Phoenix