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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tidbit Tuesday | Philadelphia’s Freight Centers

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.

Freight centers are among the most visible examples of the close relationship between transportation and the economy. This week, we took a look at Philadelphia’s freight centers, investigating what they are used for, how large they are, and how many jobs they generate.

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The chart above illustrates what the land at the city’s eight freight centers is used for.  Freight centers cover 9,200 acres in Philadelphia.  Light and heavy manufacturing uses accounted for total of 57% of freight center land. Examples of goods produced in these areas include clothing, furniture, ships, and steel. Goods produced at freight center are then shipped off to various buyers via rail, truck, train, or airplane. Unsurprisingly, a significant proportion– a third– of freight center land is devoted to transportation.

As the chart below shows, the largest freight centers in the city are located at Northeast Philadelphia Airport/Byberry Road, Schuylkill River West, and Schuylkill River East. The graphics above are based on data from 2009 — a difficult year for the economy. In that year, these centers hosted 67,610 jobs.

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The freight data above were collected in 2009 and published by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in 2012; DVRP’s study can be found here.

Complete Streets Slow Traffic to Increase Activity

A comparison between a Conventional Auto-Centric Street and a Complete Street (Courtesy VTPI.org)

A comparison between a Conventional Auto-Centric Street and a Complete Street (Courtesy VTPI.org)

Last month, the City of Philadelphia passed a Complete Streets Bill, which mandates the use of the City’s Complete Streets handbook when developing property in order to design streets that will accommodate all transportation modes and increase safety. Complete Streets represent a shift from conventional street design in that accessibility is prioritized over mobility.  This means that the ability to reach destinations by multiple modes of transportation is given precedence over the ability to drive farther and faster.

A recent report by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute explores and identifies even more benefits of complete streets. In addition to greater safety and equity of transportation modes, Complete Streets can: improve the connectivity between streets, encourage active transportation mode shifts, reduce local air and noise pollution, promote smart growth land development, conserve individual energy use, improve neighborhood aesthetics, and increase activity of an area.  The report argues that complete streets and these benefits not only improve overall transportation, but also improve neighborhood livability.

Reducing traffic speeds increases roadway traffic capacity (Courtesy VTPI.org)

Reducing traffic speeds increases roadway traffic capacity (Courtesy VTPI.org)

A key component to achieving these goals is Complete Streets’ ability to lower the overall speed of traffic, which in turn increases roadway capacity.  This means that even though cars are moving slower, more vehicles can pass through an area.  Although this might seem counter intuitive, when vehicles are traveling at slower speeds, they also travel with less distance between each other, allowing for a greater total traffic.  In fact, the report shows that lowering vehicle speeds from 40mph to 25mph will increase total vehicles by approximately 400 vehicles per hour.  Additionally, a road analysis shows that a street which provides space for multiple modes of travel will increase the total number of people moving through an area simply because automobiles take up the most road space per person. Indeed, the analysis shows that automobiles take up approximately twice as much space as pedestrians and nearly five times as much space as buses on a per person basis.

Philadelphia has already taken the first step to creating more livable communities by passing the complete streets bill.  The Complete Streets Handbook uses a step-by-step process to help developers integrate Complete Streets into new projects.  First, the handbook is used to identify the street type that a particular project is located on, then the handbook describes the various street design interventions that will complete the street.  Finally, the Complete Streets checklist is incorporated into the review process, ensuring that development plans account for a project’s impact on the street and encourages safer and multi-modal transportation that meet the varying demands of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

Read the Full Report –

Evaluating Complete Streets: The Value of Designing Roads for Diverse Modes, Users and Activities

Check-Out Philadelphia’s Complete Streets Handbook

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