Gas tax: It will stop regulations and wars

A week after reports that SUV – but not small car– sales had rebounded came the word that GM and Chrysler are utilizing tax dollars to fight the latest efforts to increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

Claiming that a vehicle could cost $6,435 more if new proposals are enacted, automakers worry about losing the single area where American manufacturers dominate: car bodies on truck chassis. Environmental groups, of course, are attacking automakers for the millions spent lobbying against higher fuel efficiency, leaving lawmakers again caught between allegedly creating American jobs and long-term environmental and societal good.

Yet our history is clear: CAFÉ standards have been a dismal failure.

Not only do Americans drive more once we purchase higher mileage cars, governmental requirements for more efficiency continually squeeze American automakers and push sales to foreign car makers who primarily compete in markets where high gasoline taxes produce overall consumer demand for efficiency.

It’s time the U.S. considers the economic “first best” solution and actually levy reasonable gasoline and diesel “user fees” on consumers. Italy, after all, with the highest gasoline taxes in the world– and no CAFÉ standards– has the highest-mileage vehicle fleet, as well as much more reasonable mass transit. Japan’s 123-million “test market” for fuel efficiency is propelled by gasoline taxes five times the U.S. rate.

Universally, countries which rationally tax auto fuel have better mass transit, more bicycle and pedestrian transportation, higher mileage car fleets, and less obese citizens. Even Australia, which has higher per capita car ownership and even more wide open spaces than America, taxes gasoline and diesel enough for citizens to consider options for most of their potential car trips.

Here, our governor is promoting taking sales tax revenue from schools and social services in order to make driving easier, and our supposedly “green” president stimulated highway repair and construction at a rate four times what he stimulated alternative transportation while his Cash4Clunkers program increased fuel efficiency less than a mile per gallon.

It’s time America and Virginia face the inconvenient facts. The largest economic emitter of greenhouse gases– and fastest growing– is American transportation, where we produce 45 percent of the world’s total automotive C02. In the largest single factor in our trade deficit, we send $613,000 per minute overseas to import oil and much of our foreign policy is driven by the need to protect oil importation. Individually, we use double the carbon the average European and six times Chinese consumption. During the lifetime of CAFÉ, American vehicle miles driven has increased four times population growth while we’ve subsidized highways at an annual rate of $145.3 billion, almost four times what we’ve spent on mass transit.

For every mile we drive, according to the Victoria Transportation Institute, we create 54 cents in costs to our society and economy. We drive some 2.9 trillion miles annually.

Yet Republican and Democratic local, state and federal administrations keep making driving “easier” under the political canard of countering congestion. However, the counterintuitive shocker is that when we build new highway lanes, in a very short time period we make congestion worse.

The phenomenon is called “induced traffic,” and most transportation engineers recognize that 90 percent of new urban freeways are overwhelmed within five years while the “relieved “roads are also carrying more traffic. One study of 70 urban areas across 15 years concluded:

"Metro areas that invested heavily in road capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than metro areas that did not. Trends in congestion show that areas that exhibited greater growth in lane capacity spent roughly $22 billion more on road construction than those that didn't, yet ended up with slightly higher congestion costs per person, wasted fuel, and travel delay.”

Build a new road, in short, and you beget more traffic while increasing the other issues which driving creates, from obesity to pollution to noise to foreign policy to decimated public budgets.

The Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia indeed noted 13 years ago that “it's a futile exercise to attempt to build your way out of congestion problems by adding more highways."

Yet, we keep trying.

The Catch 22 is that gasoline costs as little in real terms as it did decades ago when the United States actually produced most of the oil we used. Today, rational auto fuel user fees would insure auto makers build efficiency without the need for ineffective governmental regulators. A rational gas tax would revolutionize land-use planning, promote local economies, decrease congestion and greenhouse emissions and create demand for better alternative transportation modes. Electric car sales wouldn’t need to be subsidized to the tune of $7,500 per purchase.

Yet– even after two wars in Middle Eastern oil fields and the worst offshore oil spill in history– governmentally, both America and Virginia still act as if there’s an unlimited, easy-to-get-to oil supply which costs our society little.


A former journalism teacher at Virginia Union University, Randy Salzman is the transportation researcher who, back in April (before BP's blunder), penned the prescient essay predicting a massive underwater oil platform leak.


I am old school and my first reaction is to say if you want to be European then move there. But I know that way of thinking is over. Its difficult to move the USA mentality in the way of conservation and environmental awareness after years of glutton consumerism. Raping the land of all her natural resources is what made us the world superpower and giving up both goes against our heritage.

World events may do more to change America's gas guzzling habits than all the regulations we could enact. It's the old story, sometimes things have to get very bad before people will change.

At the Green Jobs conference in D.C. and just left a panel which included enviromentalists (Sierra Club, NRDC), government (Federal Highway Administration and congress), and labor leader.

All promoted a reasonable hike in gasoline taxes as a crucial step in dealing with U.S. oil dependency and the problems it creates. They primarily refer to the disturbing backlog in highway repair and the shocking number of bridges which are deficient before noting that money to build any green infrastructure -- like transit and bike/ped -- is more desperately needed.

As the labor leader put it, "we need to have an adult conversation." That to this point in time in America we believe in a "magic policy."

IThe complaints that American Auto Makers can't comete in the efficiency market is a poor argument in my book. And also a bit untrue. Ford has made some very competitive cars overseas, which never make it to America. I would much rather buy a well made US car that meets more frugal eneds than to have to buy an imported car.

Whats more, American Auto Makers can just get better about selling their trucks overseas. Ford does it all the time with the F150.

The Gas tax should have been instituted years ago when gas was cheap. It keeps those tax dollars in the US for US projects, isntead of going to overseas suppliers of oil.

Read a gas pump lately? isn't there already a $0.39 tax per gallon? It's a little sticker on every gas pump in the common wealth.
And isn't Japan and Italy smaller countries than the United States? You can ride a bicycle across either of those countries in a day or two, I don't think ya can do that here.
As of 2011, most, if not all, passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. employ a monocoque chassis (the body is the frame). There are only a handfull of passenger vehicles built with ladder frames.
I am not in favor of making anything necessary (i.e. gas, autos) any more expensive than they already are.
And as for the Comparisons of Japan and Italy, it's apples and oranges. I personnally would not want to drive a Fiat 500 on the interstate commute from Charlottesville to Richmond.
Thank you.

Yes, Italy and japan are smaller countries but Australia isn't and it taxes gas roughly three tomes the u.s. Rate and therefore has more mass transit and a higher mileage car fleet. The Aussies also have more cars per capital and wider spaces than we do.

Reason for referring to Italy was it has the highest gas taxes In the world which translates into people being willing to purchase efficiency. Reason for referring to japan is that nation,s car industry today dominates world markets. I could have chosen Germany too or Norway who very soon is likely to quit exporting oil to the u.s. Because the north sea fields have peaked.

Our federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, in real dollars compared to when it was last raised, just following our first fighting in middle eastern oil fields, at the close of the gulf war, that tax is 13 cents. In real terms the federal tax rate is less than the 1920s.

Every economist who has commented - including a Nobel prize winner -- says we must raise this user fee for national security and environmental reasons. The deficit commission, as part of it's just released report, says we need at least a 15 cent a gallon tax hike.

Please do not believe me. Do the research yourself.

And, please Hoover, if you are commuting to Richmond, contact rideshare through the Thomas jefferson planning commission. They will hook you up with others making that long commute and you will save, not only gas, but wear tear on car and make good friends. If you have an emergency and need to return outside the carpool, they solve that for you too with taxis or rentacars.


You obviously are unfamiliar with all of Fiat's cars, but that's hardly a surprise. You could choose the VW Gold TDI, which gives almost 50 mpg's. How nice to drive to Richmond on 3 gallons.

The commute to Richmond is dangerous because of the massive cars and use of 18 wheelers to transport everything, and letting them toodle along at outrageous speeds.Drivers in Italy and Germany are also required to meet far more difficult tests to obtain their driver's license.

Personally I have no problems with forcing the users of the road to contribute to it's care. We can invest in alternatives, and Americans will choose more fuel efficient cars as they have in the past, given the opportunity and pocket incentive.

The most funny part is to watch our deficit killing GOP Governor slavering to borrow billions to build more roads, and then hand those roads over to private companies to charge us user fees. User fees that will make a nickle raise on gas tax appear piddly.


Let's not blithely dismiss laws and regulations as behavior-changing tools. It took such things to get the lead out of motor vehicle gasoline, to make cars safer, and to make auto emissions the vastly cleaner plumes than they were just 30 years ago. But I agree that a gas tax (or some other kind of user fee) is also needed, not just to properly internalize the cost (to society) of each person's using a car and serve as an incentive to use more resource- and societal-cost-efficient modes of travel, but to maintain the infrastructure of the roads on which we drive. Our roads in Virginia, which has one of the lowest gas taxes in the country, are pathetically under maintained. It speaks volumes that when you cross into NC on 29 it feels like you are crosssing from the third world into modern civilzation. Notice the paved shoulders, the roads free of deer carcasses, the absence of dead trees dangling over the highway or barely cut off just at the guard rail. We get what we pay for in the old dominion, and that ain't much.

The reason that Europe has had a well developed mass transit system, particularly trains, is because most of the people could not afford cars to travel to the cities to work, shop and conduct business. The lords and ladies that had investments needed to get the rural dwellers to consume their products. It was also convenient for them. Look at any movie set in Europe before 1960 and you will see the typical car, invariably owned by somebody wealthy. It had nothing to do with a gas tax.

Mr or Ms. Eye;

In the early 1960s, Copenhagen was well on its way to become Houston. They had (and still have) a freeway built dead into the city with plans to spread it across five artificial lakes built four centuries ago by a king who envied Paris and life along the Seine River. In a stroke of genius, a local architect figured out how to illustrate to the people what they were losing to the car if that half-loop was built. He strung blue helium ballons along the route with tiny signs on the tether at the bottom, explaining what the citizens were about to lose. Arising, so many people demanded that the freeway halt that it did and today you can walk the ramp should you so desire. Almost overnight, the concept of bike/ped became part of Copenhagen's planning process. Today, almost 50 percent of the people commute by bike and there are five major shopping streets closed to traffic. Bike lanes are eveywhere; there are even bicycle signal lights. To build that infrastructure, and yes mass transit too, they financed through taxes on gasoline.

In 1979, Perth, Australia had decided to elminate commuter rail and build freeways in all directions. A decade later, freeways were going everywhere and only one rail line was still in operation. But a group similar to C-ville's railway proponents titled "Friends of the Railways," managed -- through political pressure -- to get a percentage of gas tax receipts dedicated to revising transit. In December 2007, Perth opened it's fourth new commuter rail with 67,000 first-day riders and 90 percent approval ratings -- and the city is decreasing vehicles miles traveled an average of 14 percent a year. The cost of roadway repairs is down from projections due to that decreased traffic and that money is going to transit and even newer bike-ped projects.

No, in both (and other cases) it is not just the gas tax but really only in Amsterdam amongst cities in Europe or Australia, has the gas tax not played a major part in reviving alternative transportation. London, with its congestion charge, is another example -- except that the city charges $15 to drive into it -- and combines that income with gasoline taxes to build bike-ped and better transit.

Please, Mr/Ms Eye, do this research yourself. Do not trust me. What you and others will find is that we Americans are dooming ourselves due to our continued state of denial. Everybody blames everyone else for the congestion they are stuck in. Everybody hopes there's some technological fix that will come to save us. But the realitiy is our driving must be curtailed. If we wait until either Peak Oil or Global Warming or the Arabs start selling all the oil to other countries, it will likely be a disaster. Last summer we saw the disaster caused by our oil companies trying to get us the oil we demand to put in our cars.

We can, however, change as other nations and other cities have before further disaster. To have the money to change, we need a rational gasoline tax.

Increasing gas tax to curb wasteful, socially isolating, and dangerous behavior by U.S. motorists is a great idea. Unfortunately, the brilliance of the idea has zero to do with the probability of it being pursued. This policy has zero chance of being implemented because it is a frontal attack on the bottom-line of the two most powerful industries in the U.S.—the auto and oil industries.

These corporations and corporate interests in general, have deftly executed the pincer maneuver on our government. The government is being doubly enveloped by corporate spending on political campaigns ads on one side, and well placed corporate lobbyist on the other. Without overwhelming popular support, resistance to this corporate force is futile—which is exactly what this proposed tax policy would attempt to do. This tax policy would be beneficial to Americans, but could not garner that requisite popular support. Instead we should focus our efforts on a different strategy.

The only way smart policy—like the one mentioned in this article—stands a chance against the corporate pincer maneuver is to completely remove corporations from the political battlefield, as it were. “We the People” should not translate to “We the People (i.e.: humans and corporations)”, (see corporate personhood). “We the People”, by popular movement, need to amend the constitution to make clear corporations have no rights to politically participate in our democracy (i.e.: "rule of the people”). After that moment, smart policy will no longer have to skirt around interests of our corporate overlords, but will only need to directly address the interests of the American people.