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Fall 2016, Special Issue: Transportation Finance

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Introduction: Greatest Hits

Brian D. Taylor

Prior to the recent explosion of digital access to individual songs, greatest hits albums were a staple of the music industry. An artist with enough successful albums under his or her belt could repackage the best songs on each previous album into a greatest hits collection, which often then became a bestseller itself. Here at ACCESS, we have more than a few successful issues under our collective belt, so many that our first greatest hits album even has a theme: Transportation Finance. While it was hard to narrow it down, the six articles we chose for this ACCESS Finance Special Issue collectively consider creative approaches emerging in California and elsewhere to address our mounting financial challenges in transportation.
Categories: Special Issue: Transportation Finance|
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From Fuel Taxes to Mileage Fees

Paul Sorensen

For much of the past century, federal and state taxes on gasoline and diesel have provided the majority of funding for US highway construction and maintenance. Fuel taxes perform well in this role: they distribute the tax burden among drivers in rough proportion to their use of the road network, are inexpensive to administer, and offer a modest incentive to buy and drive fuel-efficient vehicles. Download the PDF.
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SFpark: Pricing Parking by Demand

Gregory Pierce and Donald Shoup

In 2011, San Francisco adopted the biggest price reform for on-street parking since the invention of the parking meter in 1935. Most cities’ parking meters charge the same price all day, and some cities charge the same price everywhere. San Francisco’s meters, however, now vary the price of curb parking by location and time of day. Download the PDF.
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Just Road Pricing

Lisa Schweitzer and Brian D. Taylor

Economists have long advocated road pricing as an efficient way to reduce congestion and improve the environment. Many critics, however, object to road pricing on the grounds that it unfairly burdens low-income drivers. Implicit in these objections is the idea that existing transportation finance methods burden the poor less, or at least spread the burden more fairly. Most of the equity concerns about road pricing stem from the fact that it is regressive; that is, poorer people spend a larger share of their incomes on tolls than do wealthier people. But in the US, road systems are financed primarily through fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, property taxes, and, increasingly, sales taxes—all of which are also regressive. Thus the relevant question is not simply whether road pricing is regressive, or even if it will burden the poor. The relevant question is whether road pricing will burden the poor more than other ways of paying for roads.

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For Whom The Road Tolls: The Politics Of Congestion Pricing

David King, Michael Manville, and Donald Shoup

It is almost universally acknowledged among transportation planners that congestion pricing is the best way, and perhaps the only way, to significantly reduce urban traffic congestion. Politically, however, congestion pricing has always been a tough sell. Most drivers don’t want to pay for roads that are currently free, and most elected officials—aware that drivers are voters—don’t support congestion pricing.

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The Private Sector’s Role In Highway Finance: Lessons From SR 91

Marlon G. Boarnet and Joseph F. DiMento

The gap between needed highway-construction funds and gasoline-tax revenues threatens to widen further. Hybrid vehicles are a reality; alternative fuels are on the horizon; and the gasoline tax—long the workhorse of highway finance in the United States—will inevitably decline in importance. So the search is on for new funds. Can the private sector help fill the gap? Only a few privately financed highways have been built in the US in the past half century. Among them, California’s State Route 91 (SR 91) in Orange County stands out as one of the mature examples. It began as something of a public policy long shot. In 1989, when state legislators debated a bill to allow a limited number of private highway franchises, even the bill’s supporters doubted it had a real chance of passage.

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Local Option Transportation Taxes: Devolution as Revolution

Martin Wachs

Ever since the widespread adoption of automobiles, Americans have preferred to pay for highways and bridges with “user fees”—that is, money collected from those who use the roads. Tolls and fuel taxes, which are roughly proportional to travelers’ use of roads, have been the most common user fees. However, revenues from user fees have been falling for three decades, as legislators become ever more reluctant to raise them to meet inflation. It has been easier to try new kinds of fees, such as sales taxes, to pay for transportation infrastructure. In the guise of urgent solutions to immediate problems, seemingly modest local tax increases are setting a national trend. Without deliberating or consciously adopting a change in policy, indeed without much discussion at all, we are gradually devolving transportation finance back to local governments and reducing user fees. Without knowing it, we may be experiencing a revolution in transportation finance, and we haven’t stopped to ask whether this is good or bad.

Download the PDF.

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THE ACCESS ALMANAC: Transportation Finance

Martin Wachs

If you read about the future of transportation, you likely will be overwhelmed by a flood of contradictory good and bad news, especially in California. The good news is that there is boundless promise of growth and change in personal mobility, mostly in the private sector. The current pace of innovation in transportation is faster and farther-reaching than at any time since the invention of the automobile. Automated vehicles are evolving rapidly, new apps are helping us find our way and lowering travel costs, social network transportation services are booming, and the hyperloop promises to increase future longer distance mobility. We are on the verge of blending new technologies to provide instant automated point-to-point mobility for people and goods.

Previous Issue: ACCESS 48, Spring 2016

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Anne Brown

In this issue of ACCESS, we cover all kinds of transportation: airplanes, cars, public transit, and running. There’s even a nod to ice-skating.

Download the PDF.

Categories: ACCESS 48, Spring 2016|
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Going the Extra Mile: Intelligent Energy Management of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Kanok Boriboonsomsin, Guoyuan Wu, and Matthew Barth

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have generated significant interest for their potential to decrease dependence on imported oil and to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. While hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) rely on their internal combustion engines to recharge their batteries, PHEVs generally have larger batteries and can be recharged by plugging into an outside electricity source, such as a standard home outlet (Figure 1). As a result, PHEVs are potentially more efficient and cleaner than HEVs, in part because more of their energy can come from clean, renewable sources.

Download the PDF.

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Manage Flight Demand or Build Airport Capacity?

Megan S. Ryerson and Amber Woodburn

Airports can manage air traffic congestion in two ways: 1) add infrastructure or 2) manage flight demand. The environmental and economic implications of these options, however, often conflict. New runways have significant financial and environmental costs, but they can also stimulate economic development and increase a city’s appeal to businesses. Managing demand saves construction costs and encourages fuel efficiency but may limit opportunities for regional growth. Our research finds that airports in the US underestimate or ignore these tradeoffs and, as a result, frequently fail to consider managing demand as an alternative to building new runways.

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A Driving Factor in Moving to Opportunity

Evelyn Blumenberg and Gregory Pierce

In 1992, the US Congress authorized the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) housing voucher program to operate in five large metropolitan areas: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. The MTO program represented a radical departure from standard housing assistance programs, which clustered participants in very poor neighborhoods that offered few opportunities. Running counter to previous policy, MTO used an experimental framework to assess how moving households on assistance to low-poverty neighborhoods can affect their employment, education, and household income. Under the program, residents were randomly assigned into three groups. The first group received housing vouchers that could be used only in neighborhoods with poverty rates under 10 percent. The second group received similar housing vouchers but with no neighborhood restrictions. The third group did not receive vouchers but remained eligible for public housing and other social programs.

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Investing in Transportation and Preserving Fragile Environments

Martin Wachs and Jaimee Lederman

In the early 1970s, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) owned large tracts of environmentally sensitive land near Beach Lake in the Sacramento River Valley. The land, acquired in anticipation of future projects but deemed no longer necessary, was to be declared surplus property and sold according to department protocol. One enterprising staff member, however, was thinking differently. He urged Caltrans to hold on to the land and use it for environmental mitigation credit to offset damage from future transportation projects in other areas. In an unusual move, the agency adopted his creative proposal, and the experiment paid off handsomely. In the following decades, the land fulfilled mitigation requirements for 49 separate projects in 14 counties with documented cost savings to Caltrans of over $25 million.

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Cutting the Cost of Parking Requirements

Donald Shoup

At the dawn of the automobile age, suppose Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller had hired you to devise policies to increase the demand for cars and gasoline. What planning regulations would make a car the obvious choice for most travel? First, segregate land uses (housing here, jobs there, shopping somewhere else) to increase travel demand. Second, limit density at every site to spread the city, further increasing travel demand. Third, require ample off-street parking everywhere, making cars the default way to travel.

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  • RunCommuter


Robert Cervero

As a transportation researcher, I sometimes get asked what falls into the Census’s “other” category of how people get to work—hoverboarding, rollerblading, kayaking? In Ottawa, three percent of commuters ice-skate to work in winter months. In other cities, notably big, dense ones with awful traffic and jam-packed subways, an increasingly popular way to commute is running. Lacing up running shoes and hoofing it to work is arguably the most active form of active transport and helps meet the Surgeon General’s recommended 30 or more minutes of physical activity per day. Combining two things we need to do—exercising and getting to work—can pay off. Research shows active commuters cut their odds of obesity by 50 percent.

Download the PDF.

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