Out-Gunned and Under-Taxed

Is funding trails and transit with a tax from buyers of gasoline and diesel fuel appropriate?


Scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark

by Nathan Caldwell, Trails, and Transit Coordinator, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

I am a long-time bicycle rider and hiker, and professionally work to get more biking and walking on public lands. My opinion continues to be that the bike/ped community got reductions in the programs because they don’t contribute directly as bicyclists and pedestrians to the funding. Until some sort of way is devised for them to be “taxed” and have the funds go to FHWA for redistribution, the opinions and action of opponents of funding bike/ped facilities with gasoline taxes won’t change.

Expounding on and documenting the economic benefits of trails during this reauthorization struggle was the wrong strategy with this Congress– sort of like bringing an assortment of swords and knives to a gun battle (think of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark with Indiana Jones and the big Arab guy with a huge sword). Guess which side just won.

The argument now is not one of the economic benefits of trails, transportation options and walkable communities. Those benefits have been clearly established. The argument now is if funding trails and transit, etc., with a tax from buyers of gasoline and diesel fuel is appropriate. One very logical argument against funding bike/ped facilities and programs is it that by building more bike-ped facilities with gas taxes reduces the need to drive, and therefore the amount of tax money available overall.

That’s sort of what is happening to gas tax revenue now anyway. Since Americans are driving less, and younger people are choosing not to own cars if they live in an urban area with good bike trails and transit, and if Americans do drive, they are driving more fuel efficient vehicles (overall) so the Highway Trust Fund revenues are only expected to last through 2014, the length of MAP-21. The role of increasing bike/ped use in the decline in gas tax revenue has not been documented specifically yet, as far as I know.

MAP-21 is supposed to last two years, beginning October 1, 2012. SAFETEA-LU lives until September 30, 2012. Maybe this is the time for the bike/ped community to get its act together, and take a comprehensive look at how ALL transportation should be funded, and how the bike/ped community can contribute directly to that funding, so the next transportation reauthorization funds bike/ped facilities at the levels they deserve.

About the Author

  • Nathan Caldwell