Thursday, February 9, 2017

Vehicle Taxation by Mileage -- California Simulation

At a recent ASCE* web discussion board the subject was VMT taxation which is scheme where the usage of roads (mileage or Vehicle Miles of Travel or VMT) is used as a base to collect highway taxes in addition to or instead of the fuel taxes.

I'll discuss the pros and cons at another time. There are many and quite complicated pros and cons because of the means and technologies involved, the rates involved and of course the "big brother" syndrome, all which open a Pandora's box of social, political and taxation implications.

Meanwhile a user on the board posted a number of interesting pictures of his simulated VMT highway tax collection along with a sample bill, as shown below.

Clearly, the system knows the driver's exact route, his speed compliance and provides ratings for his braking and cornering performance. Too much info in the hands of the government, right?

In California they still exempt electric vehicles from taxes, but part of the the VMT tax justification is to address the disparity of EVs using highways but paying no fuel tax. This is another controversy.

An overarching question is this: Is a complex system for VMT tax collection and the necessary big government behind its oversight and administration worth it? How much of the extra taxes will actually wind up spent of highway maintenance and improvement?

(*) American Society of Civil Engineers 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

2017 Honolulu Rail: Advice to the Legislature

As the Hawaii Legislature is debating yet another round of requests by the "on time and on budget but no accountability in sight" mayor of Honolulu to extend the General Excise Tax Surcharge for rail, I offer these comments:
  • The best option since the expected costs for rail's construction surpassed $7 billion was to stop and demolish it. But that's a political non starter for the current regime.
  • The second best option to avoid a $10+ billion dollar hole is to stop the rail at Middle Street. This should be doable at a cost of about $8 billion. The Middle St. station is at the intermodal center of Honolulu, thus rail can seamlessly connect to a BRT circulator (Kalihi, Chinatown, downtown), and express buses to UH and Waikiki.
  • The recently floated Middle Street to UH on-street light rail option will get us past a $15 billion cost and will result in heavy in-town congestion and many accidents. In some places, the lane loss will be severe because of the need for space for stations. Honolulu is the most lane deficient city over one million population in the U.S. (e.g., lane miles per capita).
  • A rail system cannot operate without a rail yard. Mayor Mufi Hannemann started the rail out west because he could not find space for an in-town rail yard. Where's the space for a light rail yard anywhere between Middle St. and UH? We can't put it at Middle Street because the revised sea level rise and tsunami exposure maps have placed it inside an inundation zone.
  • Very few commuters will choose the proposed on-street light rail in town because car, taxi and Uber is door to door service and over twice as fast. Note that the rail EIS clearly states that in year 2030 with rail, all trips between Aiea and Ala Moana  will be faster by car than by rail. I should add that there is nothing that light rail will do in town that BRT would not do better with more flexibility, and cheaper.
The Legislature should not approve any extensions of the GET and it should pass a bill directing the city to handle current and future deficits with its own resources. This offers hope for some accountability and cost containment. The Legislature should also reduce the state share of the GET from 10% to 2%. These are the only reasonable actions by politicians who claim that care for the people.