Research Rest-Stop | How does the public feel about higher taxes for transportation?

The transportation funding crisis has recently made the news (see here and here), although it is not a recent phenomenon.  For the past several decades, revenues from both the state and federal gas taxes have declined in relation to inflation, while transportation infrastructure continues to age and major upgrades become increasingly pressing (MTI, 2014). Faced with failing infrastructure, governments are forced to seek new means of funding transportation. The question is how?

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), based in San Jose,  recently published research investigating public support for increased taxes to fund transportation. Researchers surveyed the public’s reaction to three tax scenarios: (1) raising the federal gas tax rate, (2) creating a new mileage tax, and (3) creating a new federal sales tax. They surveyed 1,503 randomly chosen individuals nationwide in spring 2014 to test public support for the three tax options.

In general, the researchers found that a majority of people would support higher taxes for transportation. There are, however, some conditions. Respondents favored a gas tax increase over all other options, but only if they believed that revenues would be used for projects related to transportation maintenance, safety, and improvements such as upgrading to a newer technology. A gas tax to fund transportation improvements with environmental benefits, such as addressing local air pollution and global warming, was also well supported. When a gas tax increase was proposed without a clear purpose or with implications to driver’s annual costs explicitly cited in the survey questionnaire, researchers saw support for the tax decrease. In addition, a phased tax increase received more support than a one-time increase when no other information about tax purposes was provided to survey respondents.

MTI researchers found that in response to a proposed mileage tax, respondents much preferred variable rates tied to a vehicle’s pollution level over a flat-rate. In fact, a flat rate mileage tax was the least supported option of all. Interestingly, support for a new federal sales tax fell in the middle.


The Mineta researchers also investigated whether certain characteristics made individuals more likely to support higher transportation taxes.  They found that people who use transit and consider transportation as a key priority are more likely to support higher transportation taxes.


The study also suggests that the demographic subgroups most likely to support higher transportation taxes are Asians/Asian-Americans and blacks/African-Americans, registered Democratic voters, youths (18 to 24 years).

Additionally, the research explored public opinion on three options, shown below, for funding expansions and improvements specifically to public transit.


Research revealed that not all respondents were familiar with how transit is funded. In fact, only half of them were aware that fares do not cover the full costs of running public transit.

During the five years that MTI has been conducting this annual survey, it has found that support levels have not changed much. Public support for transportation taxes has generally risen slightly, with the largest boost in support for a variable-rate mileage tax.

Key implications of the study are that the basic concept of a gas tax increase or a mileage tax is not popular, but that modifying tax structures and linking taxes to safety and environment benefits can increase support. MTI highlights the fact that respondents of the youngest age group (18-24 year old) were much more supportive of any transportation tax option. They suggest that if this is reflective of a generational shift, rather than views at different life-stages, increased taxes for transportation could receive more public support in the future.

MTI’s questionnaire asked about support for tax proposals described in only general terms. Therefore, the results cannot indicate support for or against any specific proposal that may be put forward to fund transportation. The research instead indicates the public’s likely preferences and patterns of support vary in relation to how new taxes are both structured and how their benefits are described and “framed” in public debate. For more details about the research findings, visit here.

Tidbit Tuesday | Philadelphia Emergency Routes

On Tuesdays, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

Do you know which route you would take in the (very unlikely) event that you were asked to evacuate the city? Emergency management organizations generally recommend knowing nearby emergency evacuation routes to enable efficient and speedy travel in case of a city-wide emergency. This week, we took Emergency Route GIS data from OpenDataPhilly and looked at which evacuation routes in Philadelphia are designated for different transportation modes.

As some background, the Philadelphia  Managing Director’s Office of Emergency Management (MDO-OEM) began its planning process for evacuations in 2007. Working with more than 100  stakeholders, including the Streets Traffic Division, MDO-OEM designated evacuation routes for four mode types. These routes are illustrated below.


What would travel conditions be like during an emergency evacuation when people are leaving at once? Using 2008-2012 American Community Survey data, we cross-referenced the evacuation routes for private vehicles with private vehicle ownership data (see below, left). We also cross-referenced non-separated surface transit evacuation routes with private vehicle ownership data (see below, right). The thickest lines in the two maps below represent where the highest volumes of traffic are expected for drivers and transit riders if people are leaving at once to their nearest roads or emergency transit services.


You can find more details about your specific evacuation routes and close-ups of the map here.

While a city-wide evacuation has (thankfully) never occurred, the City generally experiences one “snow emergency” each winter season. Last winter, there were several snow emergencies. The record for the maximum snowfall during a 24-hour period earlier this year was the third highest during the last 15 years.

During a snow emergency, 110 miles of City Snow Emergency Routes, shown in blue below, receive priority for snow removal. These routes are plowed the fastest, ensuring that critical routes are opened as soon as possible. Snow emergencies also mean that vehicles and dumpsters on snow emergency routes must be relocated so the City can clear snow from curb-to-curb.


Remaining streets will be plowed after priority routes are serviced. More details about snow emergency routes can be found here.

MOTUnes Monday | Destination Anywhere

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities showcases a song related to transportation, energy, or sustainability. This week, we’re riding with the Commitments to anywhere the train goes.

Tidbit Tuesday | Residential Recycling Diversion Rates

On Tuesdays, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

To build on last week’s post about litter, we decided to take a look at residential recycling diversion data provided by the Streets Department. One of the main ways we can reduce the amount of waste going to Philadelphia’s landfills is by recycling.  But have Philadelphians gotten better at recycling over the years?

Tidbit Tuesday_Recycling [Converted]-01

The maps above show the residential recycling diversion rates for each recycling district during fiscal years 2001, 2005, 2009, and 2013.  A residential recycling diversion rate indicates the ratio of material recycled (in tons) to material sent to landfill (in tons) by residents in a given fiscal year. This means, for example, that in the recycling districts shaded the darkest blue above, over a year residents recycled roughly a third of what they threw away, by weight. Importantly, these figures do not include any commercial or construction & demolition recycling in the public and private sectors. They also do not include any waste to energy processing. As the maps show, in the past 13 years, residential recycling diversion rates have increased throughout the city. In 2001, only residential districts in the Northwest and Northeast had recycling diversion rates above 7%; in 2013, almost every recycling district had a rate of at least 14%.  Of course, these data tell only part of the story of waste management in the city. To dig into these data, and others on city waste, check out the recent EcoCamp data release here.

MOTUnes Monday | Chattanooga Choo Choo

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) brings you MOTUnes Monday, a selection of some of our favorite transportation related songs. This week, we’re taking the Chattanooga Choo Choo to Terminal Station in Tennessee.


Tidbit Tuesday | EcoCamp Streets Litter Index

On Tuesdays, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

Clean streets are one of the key factors that promote walkability. How clean are our streets? This week, we looked at Streets Litter Index from EcoCamp data recently released by the  Philadelphia Streets Department. West and North Philadelphia have among the highest street litter indices in the city, as do other highly populous areas, as seen by the similarities between the Street Litter Index map and population maps below.

Over the past 5 years Philadelphia’s streets have generally become cleaner, as shown by a comparison of litter indices collected in the autumns of 2008 and 2013.  Read more about the Street Department’s UnLitter Us Campaign here.


To get a better idea of where litter ends up, what types of litter are most common, and who pays for cleanup, we took a look at the 2009 National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study. As illustrated by the charts below, transitional areas, such as train stations, accumulate the most litter, since they often require that people discard items such as cigarettes and food prior to entry. The most prevalent form of litter is cigarette butts. Nationally, the cost of cleanup mainly falls on businesses, who contribute 79.5% of the funds required to remove litter.

Trash Talk-01

More Streets Department EcoCamp data can be found here.

City Departments Release 15 Environmentally-Themed Datasets for Hackathon

Originally posted on PhillyInnovates :

MyPark, an app built at the EcoCampPhilly Hackathon

Stormfighter, an app built at the EcoCampPhilly Hackathon

What can we accomplish with a little collaboration? A lot. Last week five City departments released a total of 15 new data sets in support of Azavea’s EcoCamp event. Among those contributing were the Streets Department, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), Parks and Recreation, and the Water Department.

EcoCamp is a series of events “promoting sustainability and the environment through technology.” Held June 20-22, the events included workshops, an “unconference” (where sessions are led by conference attendees), and a hackathon, a contest for teams of civic hackers to develop software or other technology-driven solutions to the city’s challenges.

The departments’ new datasets were all environmentally-themed. City departments worked hard to release data for EcoCamp. Mining, scrubbing, and releasing data for public consumption are tedious tasks but these efforts are important. Not only does releasing data work…

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MOTUnes Monday | My White Bicycle

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities showcases a song related to transportation, energy, or sustainability. This week, we’re riding along with Nazareth.

MOTUnes Monday | Sea Cruise

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities showcases a song related to transportation, energy, or sustainability. This week, we’re taking a sea cruise with Frankie Ford!

Tidbit Tuesday | SEPTA Daily Ridership

On Tuesdays, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

This week, we looked at the most recent transit ridership data published by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) this spring. The graph below illustrates SEPTA’s daily average weekly ridership by mode. Buses, with over a hundred routes across Philadelphia, constitute the majority of transit mode share. The two subway routes — the Market-Frankford Line (MFL) and Broad Street Line (BSL) — account for one-third of total daily ridership.

Let’s take a look at routes and ridership spatially. The city’s trolley lines and some bus routes, such as Route 23 and Route 47, have very high ridership and are depicted with thicker lines in the third map. The two subway lines, which have an average daily ridership of 320,000, are similarly prominent. The Market-Frankford Line has the highest ridership per day of any route in the city, with almost ten times as many daily riders as Route 23 bus, which has the third highest ridership (after the Broad Street Line).  Not surprisingly, these high volume routes correspond spatially to the SEPTA routes that provide 24 hour service, shown in the middle below.

More SEPTA route statistics can be found here.


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