We are often asked to address the dubious claim that bicyclists do not help pay for roads. We have long argued that since many of 57 million adult bicyclists in this country are also drivers, and that since much of the government’s transportation spending comes from property taxes, general fund allocations, bond issues, and fare boxes of transit systems, we’re all paying into the system. A new report is perhaps making our job a little easier.
The U.S. PIRG Education Fund recently released a report, called “Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding” that busts the myth that “user fees” paid by drivers pay for all road costs. The one-two punch of myth-busting boils down to these two points: 1. Gasoline taxes aren’t “user fees” in the way the phrase implies, and 2. highways don’t pay for themselves.
First, the user fee argument. A user fee implies a direct connection to the fee and the use, for example admission to a state park or a toll road. However, when you pay the gas tax, you may not ever use the highways or other transportation projects that the tax is helping to pay for. When the gas tax was first implemented to pay down the deficit and since 1973 the gas tax has been used to pay for many useful transportation projects beyond highways. It’s not a user fee.
Second, the highways-pay-for-themselves argument. The report explains that since 1947, expenditures on highways, roads and streets have exceeded the amount generated through the gas tax and other fees by $600 billion. The subsidy for highways is as significant today as it has ever been. Current “user-fees” pay for only about half of the costs of highway and road building and maintenance.
The report concludes that the misconception that roads pay for themselves through a direct user fee distorts our transportation planning, by making roads look cheaper than they are.
For cyclists, this is just another good reminder that all of us are paying into the road system, either as drivers or through general taxes. The roads belong to all of us.
Hat tip: DC Streets Blog
League Policy Director
Flusche joined the League in April 2009 and has a B.A. in history from Syracuse University and a Masters of Public Administration with a concentration in public policy analysis from New York University.