Gas tax increases are not a panacea...

In our discussions of raising gas taxes for green purposes (demand destruction and R&D&I for other energy sources, namely, but there are other potential green policy outputs that have been discussed), people initially love the idea.  

However, the usual (and thusly validated below in a reader's question about a WA gas tax initiative) retort is that government will just use the increased revenues for purposes counter to the green agenda.

Reader Derek D. writes to the TOD mailbox:

I was wondering if you would consider a post to discuss the pros and cons of a gas tax initiative on the Washington state ballot, to be decided this coming Election Day.
Initiative 912 is a citizen initiative that would repeal a 9.5 cent gas tax approved by the state Legislature. The tax is to be introduced in phases, with 3 cents having been collected since July 1; the remainder of the increase is to be phased in through 2008.

At first glance this would be a no-brainer: of course, gasoline should be more expensive. However, the catch is that all the money raised funds transportation projects. As we all know in America, this means roads. The money would primarily be used to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct (an elevated 3-lane freeway right on the Seattle waterfront, that has always been an eyesore but is now a disaster requiring only the next moderate earthquake), the State Route 520 floating bridge (a four-lane freeway floating on Lake Washington that connects Seattle and Bellevue/Redmond that is hopelessly jammed with traffic and also on its last legs), and, right by my house, the perpetually snarled and unsafe interchange where one four-lane freeway (State Route 167) meets another four-lane freeway (I-405). Some of the money going to the reconstruction of I-405 is for "bus rapid transit", which attempts to mimic light rail along most of the freeway's length, and there are bits here and there also devoted to buses and light rail. But as you would expect, these are a tiny percentage of the total monies.

My initial inclination is to vote for the initiative and repeal the gas tax, as even though it raises the cost of gas, just about all the money goes to fund roads. But would raising the price of gas 9.5 cents be enough to compensate? I'd like to see what other readers have to say.

Well... a ~10 cent tax is one thing..

Was it in '73 when there were high prices and outright shortages?  What about in the early 80's when the prices were high?  What about next time?

The oil will never run it, it will just get to where it's no longer cheap.

Why not be ahead of the curve and decouple ourselves from being dependent on being able to buy gasoline or diesel from local gas stations?

Semi trucks, ships, and aircraft have nothing to worry about in the future.  They can run off biodiesel and alcohol.

For our cars and trucks, the options we have are:

You can make your own biodiesel.

You can make your own alcohol.

If your vehicle is diesel powered, you could run off either of those fuels.  If you vehicle is gasoline powered, you could convert it to run off alcohol.

The other option is battery powered electric.  Take notice this week of how many miles a day you drive.  It will be less then you think now.

Any car or truck could be converted.  Either do it yourself(easy), or have a place of business do it or even an individual do it.

You can make your own biodiesel.

You can make your own alcohol.

While you may be able to run your car or truck off biodiesel and alcohol, you cannot run the entire 210 millions cars and trucks that are in America off biodiesel and alcohol..

The notion that somehow, someway, the US will ever become "energy independent" is not a realistic notion!!

Well then battery powered vehicles and nuclear, hydro, and wind power is the way to go?

It is possible to have a fast electric vehicle.

It is possible to have a long range electric vehicle.

If anyone around here has any pull, try and get these people to sell their batteries at a reasonable price(they will change everything including hybrids):

Couple more fun links:

You can make your own biodiesel.

You can make your own alcohol.

Sorry for being a naysayer but this is definitely the wrong way to go. I remember as I child we used to go to our village and distillate our own brandy... With quite substantial effort we got about 20 gallons of it, containing roughly 9 gallons of alcohol. On the credit side - to get to my village and back we burnt around 5 gallons of gas, and we had to burn around half a load of wood in the distillation process... Well maybe the EROEI can be improved but you see my point.

Biodiesel In most cases is made from used cooking oil, but can be made from fresh cooking oil.  But can not at current production be made to fill the gap in all of our transportation needs.  Not even if the farmer uses it to fuel his tractors to farm the corn or the flax, or the whatever to make the veggie oil for his own and everyone elses needs. We don't have the farm land available for that effort.

 We are going back to the "Demand Distruction" due to high prices method here!  But its not what happens now that is so worrisome.  Give the Government a tax policy and they spend the money "WE" give them, but when we have distroyed enough of the Demand, that the Supply of money into the Tax Coffers also goes down.  Will we get Taxed somewhere else to fill the Gaps?  Maybe a Corn Oil Tax?

Sure go ahead and TAX gasoline, why not!  Just remember you voted for it!  And if you cut the number of cars on the road ways, do you really need those roadways in the first place??

You can make your own alcohol.

And by making alcohol, you make other problems worse due to the high losses (greater than 50%) in the conversion.
And with the "big oil" government currently holding D.C. hostage we can fully expect all the money from any additional gas tax to go toward building more refineries and drilling in Alaska.  These aren't necessarily bad things but I'd much rather see the money go toward alternatives like pebble bed nuclear reactor development and giving auto buyers incentives to go for more efficient vehicles.  Somehow I think those kinds of projects will get short shrift.

Not that Halliburton isn't fully deserving of all those no-bid contracts.

A couple of good articles for anyone interested in the pebble bed reactor:

If anyone doesn't like nuclear, the alternatives are coal and natural gas..

Don't worry about the nuke waste... that's what Yucca Mountain is for.  I saw a truck with 2 containers on it going down the highway the other day..  Maybe it was headed there?  It was headed west on I-40..

Apparently the nuclear wastes can be minimized far more than now if we were to actively recycle them just as we do other materials.
This is one of the primary reasons why a gas tax has to be made in such a way that all the money is returned to the taxpayers, equally regardless of consumption.

This gains great taxpayer support and saves us from the inevitability that the government will screw up when given that much money.

They could use it to accomplish great feats, but that just won't happen.

They could be incredibly corrupt with it, or be dumb and sponsor initiatives that will fondle consumption.

Or most likely they will use it for entirely non-related items, leaving programs like social security or defense dependent on American gasoline consumption, and thus forcing the government to encourage consumption to maintain revenue.

The only solution is to simply return the money equally, using the tax as a purely redistributive measure, in effect taking money away from the big consumers and giving it to the under-consumers.

The majority of state's constitutions limit funds collected from gas tax to transportation uses, typically road-oriented, but in some cases, they can use the funds for bike/ped, rail and ferry projects.

Federal gas taxes, alluded to in one of the comments but not under consideration in I-912, go into the Highway Trust Fund which supplies the money to state (and then to the local jurisdictions) for use in roads and transit project.

If you are going to vote for I-912, then be sure to write your state legislator and lobby to get the state constitution changed to allow gas tax money to be used for non-auto purposes. So the next time this comes on the table, and it will, it can be used for more than optimizing the system.

An aside, Wash. DOT has a FAQ on the gas tax.

True, increasing the gasoline tax will curb a certain amount of non-essential consumption.  However, let us not be naive and expect the federal government to do anything useful with this increased revenue. It will never get spent on alternative energy because several hundred pork barrel projects will take first priority. In the chummy atmosphere of Congress, the operative principle is: You vote for my useless pork-barrel project, and I'll vote for yours. The result is useless pork-barrel projects all around.

I agree that it is a good thing to try to curb gasoline consumption, but I am loathe to make the federal government richer and more powerful in the process.

If the government must be involved, I think that cash incentives for things like hybrid cars, solar energy, and other energy-saving measures are preferable to an increased gas tax. These incentives would take money out of the bloated federal government instead of putting more money into it.  

It makes me sick when I think about what could have been done with just 10 percent of the $300 billion price tag for Bush's Iraq fiasco. The priorities of our rulers does not give me confidence in the future.

As I said in a previous post, the true price of gasoline must include some significant fraction of our $400 billion annual defense budget, as part of that can be attributed directly and indirectly to maintaining a massive military presence in the Middle East.

I understand the pork problem, but I don't see an attractive way around it.

Incentives will spur conservation by those most able to afford it, and least in need of incentives. The over-stretched middle class probably won't take even a generous incentive if it requires a lot of additional investment--as solar or hybrids would. And, sadly, incentives won't take money out of the government-they'll run up the national debt.

I've concluded that sustained high prices are the best incentive to conservation. And there are only 2 ways that prices get high: 1) governments (federal, state or local) increase taxes or 2) producer countries, oil companies, refiners, and/or resellers make higher profits. Or both.

Choose your poison.

Hmmm... I don't know Seattle. If the tax is repealed, will the projects be built anyway? If the floating bridge or the waterfront freeway deteriorate to where they must be closed, does the whole place simply seize up? Is letting them go a serious option?

If the projects must and will be built, shouldn't the tax be raised so at least the user pays, which is almost always sound economics on its own merits?

Maybe you mean to imply that they ought to build transit. But is that a serious option either?

After what happened with the Red Line in Los Angeles ($4 million apiece subway cars and $500 million a mile, could have bought every rider a very expensive car and had great gobs of money left over) is anybody ever going to build transit again in any sort of serious way, despite the cost of freeways?

Look at the lackadaisical desultory 50-year-long non-effort on New York City's Second Avenue Subway. Over those five decades, they bonded it at least four separate times that I know of; they squandered all the bond money on "holding the fare down"; and now they've got countless billions in debt and a grand total of, what, six stations on a line to nowhere? If the country's most transit oriented city has basically only torn down lines over the last 50 years - Third Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, the IRT el in the Bronx - does't that say something? Who can afford to build transit under today's political conditions, and today's rules and regs? Who would ride it if it billed honestly, and charged $5, $10, and more a ride, as it really costs?

The reason mass transit does not work for USA is cheap gas and enormous subsidies to cars in the form of roads, highways etc. The highways are built with federal funds, mass transit is local and that's why it is easy to push a finger - see how uneffective it is... If you calculate the real cost of both in terms of pollution, trafic congestions etc. you will see why every other country with a little more long-term view has invested heavily in it.
Floating bridge - We have only two bridges crossing a 20 mile long lake that lies between most of the area's population and many of the area's largest employers (including Microsoft)  Half-hour delays to cross these bridges at rush hour are the norm now.  I pay 30% higher rent to live on the same side of Lake Washington and consider it a bargain to avoid that commute.  If we lost the 520 bridge a bad commute would become impossible.  I'm not sure if that is a bad thing in the long run...

Alaska Way Viaduct - The concern as I understand it is that it is an old multilevel freeway that might pancake and kill hundreds of people in the next large earthquake.  It needs to be removed or replaced.  

Mass transit doesn't mean just subways.  Buses and light rail, and carpooling require less investment.  
I've been thinking about organised carpooling.
Via mobile devices you just point your start and final destination and you wait for an available driver at designated car-pool stops. The "matching" driver is also notified real time about the people waiting for him/her. The fee is automatically charged on your account and part of it goes to the drivers account.

Imagine what savings in terms of traffic, gasoline, toll road and parking lot fees and added benefits (including increased social contacts) such a system can give. In addition some people can do it for living thus reducing unemployment.

Wouldn't this be simpler?

"It's a Gift" (1923) Snub Pollard plays an inventor with a bevy of Rube Goldberg contraptions. He rides to work in a bullet-shaped vehicle that he propels by using a giant magnet. When a car passes in the direction that he wants to go, he holds out the magnet and away he goes, speeding down the road in his bullet-mobile.


Nice :)
The technology pieces are all there to do this...on-demand carpooling. It's not Buck Rogers gee whizzery. I've been toying with another developer on a google maps mashup for carpooling, implementing a subset of the requirements outlined at What's missing is the cool factor...that carpooling is as cool as wearing an ipod. If people thought carpooling was cool, the technical pieces could fall into place very quickly to facilitate it.
Frankly, unless you work in a whole lot of security, what you're describing sounds more like hitchhiking than carpooling.  I'd be nervous getting in a stranger's car, and I'd never want my wife to have to do it.
Given that everything will be tracked to the last meter, this is more of an irrational fear like the one you feel the first couple of times you jump from a cliff in the water, or buy things over the internet.
Knowing who killed my wife or daughter wouldn't be much comfort.
I did not get it at first that you fear traffic incident not something else.

Well first it would be a matter of free informed choice, like the one you make going into a bus, taking a cab or jumping into an airplane. I do admit that the idea is pretty weak at this point but my idea is that at some point of time in future we will be forced to try anything that works. And this one definately could work and I may suggest it would work pretty well. It is the perception of "one car, one driver" we are so used to that actually stops us.

FWIW, my wife's daughter and her husband have both started carpooling to work, and there have been articles about that sort of thing in the local rag.  I think that sort of thing will happen by itself.  

In college, I used to post ads to bring anyone back and forth for a given holiday weekend.  That is closer to what you are suggesting, many people do it, and I suppose one could research how risky it is to travel that way.

Busses? Aargh. Yeah, they're cheap, but as they're nearly always run - stopping at every corner - they take all day and all night to get anywhere. Useless. And in newer areas that don't already have dense transit coverage, you'll never get a bus that doesn't stop at every corner past the disability lobby.

Organized carpools? It's not worth taking a chance on getting mugged or carjacked just to save a few bucks. Nor is it worth risking trumped-up sex-harrassment (or assault) charges to save a few bucks. Remember the Great Day Care Witch Trials of the 1990s? Not only that, but even aftrer you solve those two issues, you still have to get past the taxicab lobbies in our thoroughly corrupt big cities. Fat chance; the world owes them a living no matter the cost - look at all the years and years the hacks helped delay transit to Chicago O'Hare and to New York's Kennedy Airport. Fuhgeddaboudit.

I've compared a sharply higher gasoline tax to chemotherapy--which is designed to kill all fast growing cells, especially cancer cells.  In effect, the suburbs are cancerous growths that will soon become unsustainable.  The faster that the suburbs are killed off, the better off we all will be.  

And the best way to kill off the suburbs is to sharply raise the cost of getting to and from there.  What one does with the money is another matter, but in my opinion sharply higher gasoline taxes are intrinsically beneficial.  

In addition, I suspect that if we plot gasoline taxes versus obesity rates worldwide, we will find an inverse relationship, i.e., as the gasoline tax goes up, obesity rates fall.

The Way We Eat Now
 Ancient bodies collide with modern technology to produce a flabby, disease-ridden populace.

by Craig Lambert


The old order Amish of Ontario, Canada, have escaped much of that advertising, and the TV viewing as well. They have an obesity rate of 4 percent, less than one-seventh the U.S. norm. Yet the Amish eat heartily, and not all health food: pancakes, ham, cake, and milk--but also ample amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. It seems that the secret to the "Amish paradox" is their low-technology lifestyle, which entails vastly more physical activity than its modern correlate. David R. Bassett, a professor of exercise science at the University of Tennessee, gave pedometers to 98 of these Amish adults and found that the men averaged 18,000 steps per day, the women 14,000--about nine miles and seven miles, respectively.   The Amish men averaged 10 hours a week of vigorous activities like shoveling or tossing bales of hay (women, 3.5 hours) and 43 hours of moderate exertion like gardening or doing laundry (women, 39 hours).

"The Amish are not freaks," says professor of anthropology Daniel Lieberman, a skeletal biologist. "They are just anachronisms. Human beings are adapted for endurance exercise. We evolved to be long-distance runners--running a marathon is not a freak activity. We can outrun just about any other creature.

Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health


working link:

The only way this can be prevented is by law. If (or when) Peak Oil is recognized as national problem then a law must be passed to initiate migration off oil.  

Imposing gas tax to finance it is the most straightforward decision when it comes to it. Of course the problem is with recognizing and admitting PO - until then because of society inertia, partial gas tax initiatives like that are doomed to finance the wrong way not the right one.

And here is another shining advertisement for transit, whether it is busses, trains, "bus rapid transit" (what an oxymoron!), or anything else. The trouble is, if you have any sort of serious job, you can't stay home from work just because your TWU local feels that they aren't paid enough.

And no matter what they're paid - especially in ultra-handsome fringe benefits - it's never enough. So really, if you want to keep your job, you need a car as a backup (certainly, if the strike is on, taxis will be utterly unavailable come Monday morning in Philly.) And if you do have a car, you really must drive it in lieu of other transportation, because it it will rust, deteriorate, and eat loan and insurance payments, whether you drive it or not.

BTW it's nice of Philly city to provide bike racks, which they should have been doing anyway - but, on the other hand, is it really a good idea to bike in one of the most dangerous (criminally) central cities in the country? Even if you aren't robbed of your bike on the first trip in to work, will anything of your bike really be left in the rack at the end of the workday?

The chain that attaches the front tire to the bike rack, and the frame with the back tire that were chained together.

 But I see your point, Thats why a lot of bikes go in elevators so well.  Its fun riding with one.

Our cities were built at one time for people to walk to work, but not much any more.

We should all become Amish!

 Oh yeah, Someone on another thread, said tax the car tags with the miles driven since last car tag renewal.


With 24 years of public transit experience behind me I know it is the collection of fares more than the number of stops that slows buses down.  Elimination of bus fares could increase average speed by as much as 35%. Farebox revenue which covers less than 20% of operating expense is the only funds that local managers have control over and they won't give that up.
Routes and schedules are designed for an average speed of 15 mph which is not that much slower than average city street speed of cars. When we went to a designated stop system from an every corner system the disabled community liked the idea since it sped up their commute times.
 Wheelchairs can be a problem when the lift is poorly designed like they were in the 80s. In the 90s more and more use of powered wheel chairs became a problem because restraint systems were designed for 1950s style chairs. Power chairs have a variety of designs non of which are compatible with unpowered restraint systems. There needs to be a standard design of powered chairs so they can be quickly restrained.