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Low-income households drive much less than high-income households

Posted by on January 25th, 2016 at 1:07 pm

miles driven
Source: 1995 National Household Travel Survey via Purdue University.

We’ve explored this issue various times over the years, but you often hear people claiming otherwise so let’s share the information in a new way.

It’s relevant as the city gets ready to vote on a 10-cent gas tax that would go toward slowing the crumbling of Portland’s streets and improving their safety.

Who pays gas taxes?

Generally speaking, people who drive more pay more gas taxes. (No, this correlation is not perfect; vehicle fuel efficiency, which is largely a function of vehicle weight, matters too.)

The data is very clear that higher-income households drive more.

This is less true in “dense urban” areas (which refers in this case to everything denser than “suburban areas”) than it is in suburbs, small towns and in the countryside. But it is definitely also true in cities like Portland.

Generally speaking, urban households that make $20,000 to $40,000 drive 39 percent more miles than urban households that make less than $20,000. Urban households that make $40,000 to $60,000 drive 41 percent more miles than urban households that make $20,000 to $40,000.

If you get more income than that, your household’s driving tends to level off. But urban households that make more than $100,000 still drive 16 percent more, on average, than urban households that make $40,000 to $60,000.

Portland’s median household income is about $55,000.

Does this mean that a gas tax is “progressive”? No, not necessarily. Progressivity means “poorer people pay less as a share of their income than richer people do.” Because the United States is heavily auto-dependent (including Portland and especially including many cheaper parts of Portland) lots of poor Portlanders are still spending money on gasoline.

Although many poor people own and use cars, poor people drive cars much less because poor people do less of everything, including getting around.

But there’s another factor here. Although many poor people own and use cars, poor people as a group drive cars much less because poor people do less of everything, including getting around. Households that make more than $100,000 a year travel 39 percent more miles than households that make $25,000 to $50,000. Households that make $25,000 to $50,000 travel 36 percent more miles than households that make less than $25,000. (These figures are from a federal analysis of the 2001 National Travel Household Survey.)

In the United States, being poor generally means not moving around much. Getting places costs money.

We’ll go out on a limb and say that immobility is not good.

So as voters think about the “progressivity” of a local gas tax, one question to ask is “Would this money be spent in a way that makes it easier and/or cheaper for poorer people to get around?”

We’ll see how well the backers of this ballot issue will be able to answer this question.

Update 1/26: In the comments, BikePortland reader Soren links to a study of 2013-2015 credit card data, showing that (a) yes, rich people drive much more than poor people, and (b) gas taxes are still a higher burden on poor people than on rich people as a share of income, because income inequality is more extreme than gas use inequality.

gas tax regressivity

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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62 Comments
  • davemess January 25, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Do you have any data on household size (i.e.# of drivers, # of cars) and income levels?

    I’ll nest (repost) this comment here (since it fits more with this article) to keep the comments clean:

    I’m not doubting the report you cited, but it definitely has some caveats.
    1. it wasn’t written with the question of looking at income versus miles driven (That report (as far as I can tell) is looking to show that their method of estimating miles driven (VMT) is better than previous standards).
    2. It looks only at Indiana
    3. It only looks at licensed drivers. (I’m going to guess that more unlicensed drivers are in the lower income brackets)

    Regardless, this tax (which I am not against) won’t fund TRIMET, right? So I don’t really see how this helps get poorer Portlanders out of their cars? On thing though that seems to get overlooked when talking about gas taxes being regressive, is that gas stations in lower income neighborhoods (at least in the Portland area) often have lower gas prices.

    I’m still not completely convinced that some of these models apply as well in Portland. We have a lot more higher income residents who leave near (or in) downtown than a place like Indiana. We still have some rich suburbs for sure, but our city is not the typical US type where the poor have had to stay in the central core, and only the rich have fled to the suburbs. We have actually seen the opposite recently where many wealthier residents have moved back into the central city area, and the poor have been pushed much further out.

    “Part of the reason for this is that even though many of them choose to own cars, poor and lower-middle-income people *make a lot fewer trips* of any kind, including with the cars they may own. ”

    I would be careful with using “a lot”. Again that was a national study, and even in the lowest income bracket the difference was still only an average of 1 trip a day. In the second lowest bracket you’re talking 1/2 or less trips a day.

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    • meh January 25, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      The move to the city core is not just happening in Portland. It is a nationwide phenomena. So Portland is pretty typical in that respect.

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    • maccoinnich January 25, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      “So I don’t really see how this helps get poorer Portlanders out of their cars?”

      From the project list that the Street Fund would go towards:

      – Safety projects at schools that feed Parkrose High School – ex. Sidewalk infill near Sacremento ES
      – Safety projects at schools that feed Centennial HS – ex. Infill sidewalk ES, pathwy connection to ES
      – Infill sidewalk SE 112th Ave: Market – Powell
      – Infill sidewalk NE 148th Ave: Halsey – Glisan
      – 122nd Avenue Safety Improvements
      – 82nd Avenue: Install larger pedestrian refuge islands, RRFBs, marked crossings
      – East Portland In Motion Separated Bike Facilities
      – 4M (SE Mill, Market, Main, Millmain) Greenway

      (That’s just a sample of the East Portland projects)

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      • davemess January 25, 2016 at 3:57 pm

        I don’t see improved sidewalks (though very important) having a major impact on getting lower income Portlanders out of their cars. They would still need places to walk to (if they actually wanted to walk to them). This would require a substantial increase in jobs near their homes OR a substantial improvement to public transit (which this tax doesn’t address).

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        • maccoinnich January 25, 2016 at 6:51 pm

          Not to sound too incredulous… but you’re posting on a site called BikePortland and believe that spending millions of dollars of bike and ped infrastructure (some of it explicitly designed to make it easier to get to TriMet) won’t do anything to change mode split?

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          • davemess January 26, 2016 at 7:08 am

            Fair enough.
            I think in an area as broken as East Portland, I’m not sure they will.
            Unfortunately I think East Portland almost needs a complete reset, which would be virtually impossible.

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          • Adam H. January 26, 2016 at 9:31 am

            I sort of agree. Improving bike infra in East Portland is certainly a goal we should be undertaking. Unfortunately, the swath of land between I-205 and Gresham is so spread out that even riding a bike in fully protected bike lanes would take some time. East Portland would really have to densify for bike infra to really make a significant dent in mode share.

            Luckily, there is a lot of open space and a demand for affordable housing! If we can legalize inclusionary zoning, I foresee avenues like 122nd having their mostly empty parking lots replaced with new apartment buildings with 25-40% below market rate units.

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            • Hello, Kitty January 26, 2016 at 10:59 am

              If the current housing market isn’t enough to convert those parking lots to apartments, why would that change with inclusionary zoning, which would make those same apartments even less profitable?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 25, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      I think these are all fair points, though if I had to guess I would say that the data year (1995) is a bigger potential problem than the location for some of the underlying household count data (Indiana). As I understand it, the Indiana data was used here to figure out how many households are in each income bracket, not the travel habits of each income bracket. So the insights here are nationally applicable to the question being posed here, unless I’m reading that wrong.

      I agree that “household size” is a lurking variable here. While writing this post, I paged through the report and googled a bit to see if I could get a quick sense of how household size correlates to income. I couldn’t track this down.

      But I also think we can all agree that a two-income household is generally a lot better off than a one-income household that has one fewer person in it, especially in a city where the price of housing is such a large factor in people’s budgets. So the idea that two-income households don’t count as being richer than one-income households doesn’t, for me, hold a ton of credence.

      Re transit: I’m not sure where you got to the suggestion that TriMet is the only way for a poor person to get around without a car. But in any case, you’re right that the proposed tax would not fund TriMet operations. Instead it would fund TriMet access, for example the several million dollars of further improvements to 122nd Avenue along the new north-south frequent bus line there or the new sidewalk along Capitol Highway to the huge transit hub on Barbur.

      The mobility difference by income is one trip a day out of four trips a day. That’s a big difference.

      Dave, you’re always good at finding legitimate problems with seemingly every piece of evidence we offer that improving non-car transportation might be disproportionately good for poor people. I don’t have a problem with your doing that but I wish that you would spend a little of that energy tracking down a study that supports your apparent belief that poorer Portlanders drive cars a lot more than richer Portlanders. I have yet to see any evidence of this anywhere, but maybe I’ve missed it.

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      • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 2:51 pm

        I’m not sure where you got to the suggestion that TriMet is the only way for a poor person to get around without a car.

        The neighborhoods that lower-income people live in frequently lack sidewalks and safe bicycle infrastructure. Additionally, they are far less dense, so walking and cycling trips take longer. These neighborhoods were built around personal motorized transport, not walking. Sure, it’s technically possible to walk or bike, but it’s not safe, comfortable, nor convenient.

        This is one reason why low-income housing in the Pearl and other closer-in pre-war neighborhoods is so important.

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
          Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm

          I agree with all of that and I assume most people here would, but many thousands of low-income Portlanders in the central city and elsewhere continue to get around a lot of the time by biking or walking. I don’t think you meant to imply otherwise, but it wouldn’t be an accurate claim if you were.

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          • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 3:09 pm

            No, I agree with you. I was erroneously assumed we were speaking in the context of East Portland, but recognize that I had left out people living in the city center. The problem being many can not afford or do not qualify for housing closer-in. Which is why should be pushing for more low-income housing in transit/biking/walking rich neighborhoods as well as improving transit/biking/walking elsewhere.

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            • soren January 26, 2016 at 8:39 am

              I’m pretty sure that davemess does not favor a massive build out of multi-family housing in central portland. I, on other, would love to see every single twee old-pdx house torn down and replaced with multi-family housing.

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          • davemess January 25, 2016 at 3:54 pm

            But where do the majority of lower income residents live in Portland? Likely not the central city.

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      • davemess January 25, 2016 at 4:01 pm

        “But I also think we can all agree that a two-income household is generally a lot better off than a one-income household that has one fewer person in it, especially in a city where the price of housing is such a large factor in people’s budgets. So the idea that two-income households don’t count as being richer than one-income households doesn’t, for me, hold a ton of credence.”

        I’m more looking at the relationship between more lower income households being single income, (and there is data posted in your above links saying that smaller households are more likely to have less cars), and thus less likely to have multiple cars and/or drivers. I’d be interested to see the ratio of miles driven/drivers in a household for the different income brackets.

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      • davemess January 25, 2016 at 4:40 pm

        “Dave, you’re always good at finding legitimate problems with seemingly every piece of evidence we offer that improving non-car transportation might be disproportionately good for poor people. I don’t have a problem with your doing that but I wish that you would spend a little of that energy tracking down a study that supports your apparent belief that poorer Portlanders drive cars a lot more than richer Portlanders. I have yet to see any evidence of this anywhere, but maybe I’ve missed it.”

        I think this a really complicated issue, and sometimes you take research (often just a single or few data sets) and want to extrapolate it to “fact”. As a scientist, that is just problematic for me.
        I don’t know that poor Portlanders necessarily drive cars more than rich Portlanders, I just don’t think that it is a fact that they drive less based on a 15 year old study in Indiana.

        And good advice, I will continue to look for data that fits the situation better (although I think Soren’s links below are a great start).

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      • soren January 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

        “You’re always good at finding legitimate problems with seemingly every piece of evidence we offer that improving non-car transportation might be disproportionately good for poor people.”

        I’m making the same arguments and I think davemess and I disagree on just about every aspect of housing and transportation policy. This tax is being proposed by affluent Portlanders and may be put up for a vote to an electorate that is biased towards affluence. When a street fee was proposed there was an outcry of support for making it more progressive. Why is it that a gas tax does not generate a similar outcry? My guess is that many believe that a regressive gas tax is acceptable because it taxes carbon. The problem with this visceral “liberal” reaction is that it’s not rooted in reality. A 10 cent gas tax will have virtually no effect on Portland’s CO2e load but will disproportionately impact the poorest of the poor.

        See Figure 7 in:

        http://igpa.uillinois.edu/system/files/Efficiency_and_distributional_effects_of_Illinois_gas_taxes.pdf

        See Figure 15 in (apologies for the source):

        https://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/institute/document/jpmc-institute-gas-report.pdf

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        • davemess January 26, 2016 at 10:26 am

          No, I think we both don’t mind unprotected bike lanes.

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          • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
            Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 26, 2016 at 6:48 pm

            Ha! Good talk.

            P. 21 of Soren’s second link is useful:
            https://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/institute/document/jpmc-institute-gas-report.pdf#page=21

            It
            (a) echoes the Purdue study and various other data showing that the richer you are, the more you drive, and
            (b) implies that gas taxes are nonetheless regressive because gas use doesn’t increase as fast as incomes.

            I’ll return to the final claim in my article: the equity impacts of a tax-and-spend policy should be evaluated both on the progressivity (or in some cases regressivity) of its collection and on the progressivity (or in this case regressivity) of its expenditures.

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        • 9watts January 30, 2016 at 9:19 am

          “When a street fee was proposed there was an outcry of support for making it more progressive. Why is it that a gas tax does not generate a similar outcry?”
          If I remember correctly, there were outcries about a whole lot of different aspects of the ever-changing monster once termed the Street Fee, but also known by many other names. My chief concern wasn’t that it wasn’t progressive enough (which version are we even talking about?), but that it did nothing to disincentivize driving, and since the proceeds were largely to be spent on things that car tires wore down, represented another subsidy to the car-bound.

          “My guess is that many believe that a regressive gas tax is acceptable because it taxes carbon.”

          Well failing to eliminate our release of carbon is going to render pretty much all other concerns moot in our lifetimes, so I think those you are criticizing might be forgiven in this case.

          “The problem with this visceral ‘liberal’ reaction is that it’s not rooted in reality. A 10 cent gas tax will have virtually no effect on Portland’s CO2e load but will disproportionately impact the poorest of the poor.”

          Here I think you are mixing up two things: (1) the fact that the tax is much too puny (I agree), and (2) that it does nothing to counteract the regressive potential you see here (I’m less strongly in agreement about the implications but agree in principle that more could and should be done to address these shortcomings).

          The City as I see them isn’t trying here to reduce CO2 emissions (remember the Street Fee?) but trying to raise a small amount of money. Is this a prudent set of priorities? No, it’s not. But that is a third problem you haven’t explicitly fingered.

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    • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      typical US type where the poor have had to stay in the central core

      This may have been true in the 60’s up until the late 80’s, but is far from the norm anymore. Virtually every major city on the coasts as well as most cities in the midwest are experiencing the complete opposite of this.

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      • davemess January 25, 2016 at 3:55 pm

        True, so I don’t know if research that was performed 10-15 years ago (some of it on data sets that are even older) really paints an accurate picture of the present.

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  • Paul January 25, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Lower income people drive less – why is this surprising? Speaking for myself, weekend ski trips in the car, cross country driving vacations (or vacations, period), and jaunts to Seattle for some shopping & dining are just not in the cards. I don’t have the money for such indulgences.

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    • longgone January 25, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      @Paul… Neither for me as well.
      Thus my choice to move out of a 900 dollar a month apt, and into a conversion van. Three of my coworkers have also done so in the past year. Another is working towards the same goal, with a far better setup than mine. I will kill two birds with one stone. No need to Bolt bus to Crater Lake! My car free 13 year Portland lifestyle is officially over. I cycle daily, but I’m full on back into owning a vehicle, and I love it. And on a nonsequiter of sorts, Trimet is no real bargin or friend of the poor any longer. It take nearly 125bucks or so to use the bus to get around per month. Ugh.

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      • Mao January 25, 2016 at 4:33 pm

        One month I did the math. To buy an all day pass for each day I needed to travel around 14 miles would cost me around 120$, to buy the monthly pass would cost me 110$ for a savings of 10$. Except if I didn’t travel for three or more days then the pass costs me money.

        That’s when I spontaneously decided that biking in the hottest part of summer was a good idea. My tan lines are nearly gone!

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  • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    We need to be investing heavily in improving public transport. Bike infra too, but I’m willing to bet that most people living in East Portland are not going to want to bike everywhere given how spread out everything is there, and how far they are to downtown. We need better light rail coverage as well as increased frequency for bus and rail. Five minute headways should be the goal for a frequent service route, not 15 minutes. If people know they won’t have to wait more than five minutes for the bus – including transfers – they’d be more willing to make that trip.

    Additionally, every single arterial should have dedicated bus lanes. This includes E and W Burnside, Hawthorne, 82nd, 122nd, etc. There’s no reason any road should have five lanes for motor traffic plus two parking lanes. It an inefficient use of space and reduces capacity for actual people. Even combined freight/bus/BAT lanes would be a good compromise and still a vast improvement over the current situation. If the bus is getting stuck in the same traffic, then why even bother? Why should bus riders suffer for the selfishness of people driving single occupancy vehicles? The bus already beats cars based on cost, but it needs to compete on travel time as well.

    The city seems so worried about equity, especially for East Portland, but so far only proposes solutions that assume everyone is and will be driving private automobiles (fixing potholes, paving unimproved streets). If we are so concerned with equity, we need to be vastly improving our public transport network and building out sidewalks so people can actually get to the bus stop. Cars are not equitable. The bus and train are.

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    • soren January 25, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      Any conversation about a gas tax without a conversation about further public transport investment is a deal breaker for me:

      https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/452524

      How does transit mode share vary by household income? (2011)
      L.T. $25,000    9.0%
      $25,000 to $75,000 4.4%
      G.T. $75,000    2.3%

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      • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 2:40 pm

        Agreed 100%, and as I pointed out in the last comment thread, we need to be be diverting a good chunk of so-called car “sin taxes” (registration, fines, gas taxes) towards improving things for people not driving, via bike infra and public transport. A gas tax that only serves to improve driving will only induce more driving.

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        • Reginald January 25, 2016 at 9:23 pm

          PERS.

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      • Reginald January 25, 2016 at 9:30 pm

        You just had the conversation you wanted. Per your own stats, wealthier folks prefer to not use public transportation. That’s all you need to know. People vote with their dollars. That’s how the system works here. People who have a choice don’t want to use public transportation.

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        • El Biciclero January 27, 2016 at 10:32 am

          But why? Is it mere classism, or if public transportation were vastly more convenient (and cheaper than maintaining private vehicles and/or paying for gas and parking), would they then use it? Do “people who have a choice” use taxis or ride-sharing (e.g., Uber) more or less than “people who don’t have a choice”? Why? Do people love the (often false) sense of control they have driving themselves? Would they rather leave the driving to someone else as long as they could come and go with comparable convenience compared to driving themselves?

          If I said, “People who have a choice prefer Burger King to McDonald’s”, what reasons would you assume there were for that preference? On the other hand, if I said “People who have a choice prefer Morton’s to McDonald’s”, would you assume different reasons?

          Why preferences exist is a very important thing to find out if we are trying to balance resource usage by influencing transportation choices.

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    • davemess January 25, 2016 at 4:46 pm

      The city hasn’t really done much of anything in paving unimproved streets, and even then paving unimproved streets does a lot more than just improve auto access.

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    • BeavertonRider January 26, 2016 at 9:27 am

      How do we know that they would make that trip if they knew the wait was less than 15 minutes?

      Put another way, how do we know that the lower wait time would encourage that additional ridership?

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    • Reginald January 26, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      AH,

      Quote: “We need to be investing heavily in improving public transport.”

      Alrighty, you go ahead and make a BIG check out to Trimet each month and send it in to them. I am sure they will be happy to receive it.

      BUT don’t volunteer to spend money for the rest of us. See how that works?

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  • soren January 25, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Portland demographics paint a different picture:

    Portland Central City Drive Mode Share: 42%
    Portland outside Central City Drive Mode Share: 81%
    East Portland Drive Mode Share: 81%

    https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/452524

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    • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Mode share does not take mileage into account. Those numbers paint a good picture of what mode each area was designed for, but not much else.

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    • Random January 25, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      “Portland demographics paint a different picture”

      What? You can’t extrapolate Indiana data to Portland?

      Who knew?

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 25, 2016 at 3:07 pm

        The behavioral data is national. It’s just the household counts by income bracket, I believe, that are Indiana-specific.

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    • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      That is to say, it’s not at the least surprising that East Portland has a mode share of 81%, given that it was built out in the era that universal car ownership was assumed. However, the question is: do people living in East Portland drive fewer miles, even though the car is the mode of choice 81% of the time? Michael’s graph suggests this to be the case.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      If “central city” were the same thing as “high income households” and “East Portland” were the same thing as “low-income households” then this would indeed be a different picture. But these are not the same thing.

      What these numbers suggest to me is that a lot of poor people in East Portland and elsewhere outside the central city don’t feel that car ownership is optional for them. I assume we would all like to change this.

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      • Adam H. January 25, 2016 at 3:24 pm

        Do you have a graph of income bracket broken down by neighborhood? i.e. what percentage of low income people live in city center vs. East Portland, vs inner SE, etc.

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      • soren January 25, 2016 at 3:28 pm

        Lots of gray affluence in the central city and lots of poverty in the outer eastside:

        https://clfuture.org/atlas-maps/median-income-census-tract

        And this phenomenon has only gotten worse since there has been an awful lot of displacement since 2010.

        What these numbers suggest to me is that a lot of poor people in East Portland and elsewhere outside the central city don’t feel that car ownership is optional for them. I assume we would all like to change this.

        A 10 cent per gallon gas tax will do virtually nothing to discourage car use. I would strongly support a genuine sin tax (e.g. a tax in the $2-4/gallon rance) because the associated economic disruption would force the state to provide realistic options for the poor.

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        • davemess January 25, 2016 at 4:42 pm

          https://clfuture.org/atlas-maps/percent-students-eligible-free-or-reduced-price-lunch

          I think this one is very relevant as well.

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        • 9watts January 30, 2016 at 8:40 am

          “A 10 cent per gallon gas tax will do virtually nothing to discourage car use. I would strongly support a genuine sin tax (e.g. a tax in the $2-4/gallon rance) because the associated economic disruption would force the state to provide realistic options for the poor.”

          Other countries have (nearly all) already gone down this path. It works. And before someone jumps down my/our throats, the $2-4 gallon tax would of course, and necessarily be phased in as opposed to dropped out of the sky, which some here might erroneously conclude from how you phrased it.

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  • rick January 25, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Why should Tesla get a huge tax break? A hand-built Dodge Viper weighs over 800 pounds less than a Tesla sedan and causes less wear on bridge supports.

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    • George Dorn January 25, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      I agree there’s a slight regressive notion to sparing rich Tesla owners, but to be honest, rich Tesla owners are funding research into much cheaper electric vehicles and the buildout of the necessary infrastructure to support that transition.

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      • BeavertonRider January 26, 2016 at 10:36 am

        Actually, this is not true. Tesla benefits to the tune of nearly $5 billion in federal government subsidies that include grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans, and environmental credits. And this ignores the state-level subsidies and incentives, like the more the $1 billion Tesla got from Nevada.

        So it’s not the case that Tesla owners are contributing significantly to Tesla’s R&D. It’s really private investors and federal taxpayers.

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  • chris m January 25, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    This becomes kind of tough to adjust for because of the geographical cost of living and probably needed inflation adjustments for 1995 data, but I think you kind of recognize one of the weaknesses in your own argument when you say:

    But there’s another factor here. Although many poor people own and use cars, poor people as a group drive cars much less because poor people do less of everything, including getting around.

    Poor people tend to consume less, but that doesn’t mean consumption taxes aren’t regressive (particularly when compared to other taxes). 1. People who make less than about $12 an hour have very little need to travel much distance for work because most of the jobs they have are available in all parts of the city, so they experience a smaller skills mismatch by being unable to go somewhere else, and their wage premium is wiped out by the cost of driving. I would also imagine a subset of the population under 20k is on disability, unemployed, or marginally employed and therefore drives very little for work.

    But once you get into the area where people can earn a wage premium by commuting, they pretty much all jump at it, and all pretty much drive the same amount to capitalize. That means you are taxing everyone the same amount (except the poor) despite the fact that the rich benefit more from the wage premium for the commute. So while this analysis sees the tax as “fair” because the poor will pay a relatively small share, of the people who really pay a lot, the rich will pay the least. I’m not sure the fact that the poor wouldn’t pay too much mitigates the unfairness, especially considering we don’t know how the funds will be spent, and given the amount of sway the rich are likely to have in directing the funds. I’d feel put out if I were in one of the middle brackets for sure.

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  • Reginald January 25, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    No, we do not “all” want to change the fact that poor people feel car ownership is desirable. Car ownership IS desirable. ALL people, in all locations can live car-free if they choose – it’s supposed to be a free country – thus, we have 5% or so who choose to be car free. As gas prices increase over the years that number will go up. I’d prefer to focus on how we can encourage a better economy where there are fewer poor people and let them decide for themselves what they choose to do with their own money.

    I wonder how much of an increase in gas sales will be seen at gas stations located just outside the city limit if such a tax passes? That will be interesting. 10 cents/gallon isn’t much but it might make a difference to those stations.

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  • Reginald January 25, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    As far as the title of the article goes I would just say:

    Ya think?

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  • Ellie January 25, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    Both the argument against gas taxes and increased parking fees use the added burden on poor people as a reason not to increase associated costs, but it is mostly a red herring, an excuse to avoid extra taxes and fees for higher income earners. However, bike activist and urban planning activists due similar things. I often wonder how many activists have ever really struggled with poverty or even personally know anyone who has. One of my biggest frustrations with a certain sort of bicyclist is that they seem to think that since they do not find public transit useful, it isn’t important.

    When I was broke and living in SE Portland. I barely rode my bike, and I certainly didn’t use it regularly for transportation. I lived with roommates in the only place we could find that we could afford and was willing to rent to us with our limited, inconsistent incomes. Though we were living toward the outer edge of inner southeast Portland, in one of the more bike-able parts of Portland, it didn’t matter. Though I tried finding work close to where I lived, I had limited work experience and skills. I took whatever jobs I could get. I was working as a waitress in Beaverton and picking up part time work walking dogs and tutoring where I could find it. I took public transit everywhere, because I couldn’t afford a car and biking was completely unrealistic when I was could be traveling 30 or 40 miles a day and showing up sweaty or soaked by the rain could have gotten me written up for unprofessional appearance. I spent a lot of time on buses and the MAX, and any improvements in public transit coverage or frequency would have been appreciated. While this is my personal experience, I think it reflects the lives of a lot of other people as well. Instability in where you live and work is very common when you’re at a certain level of poor. People in these circumstances are not necessarily in a position where biking as transport is reasonable and infrastructure concerns take a backseat. There are more pressing issues like moving due to rent increasing again or hours getting cut at work.

    I was lucky. I have since gotten a good job, where I have steady hours, and I don’t have to try to cobble together multiple part time jobs to make ends meet anymore. I have a stable income. If my group at work is between projects and I don’t have much to do, I don’t get sent home without pay like I did working at restaurants. I also make enough that I can choose to live close enough to work to comfortably bike everyday, and I know that if I need to I can also choose to take public transit. For me, biking is now a smart, economical transportation option, but that is very much the result of privilege. This is why poorer or underfunded communities do not always like the addition of bike lane to their communities, and why they are often seen as a part of gentrification.

    This isn’t to say that I don’t I agree that poor people drive less, or that we shouldn’t raise parking fees or add a gas tax because these things will hurt poor people. I just wish these conversations seemed to recognize the reality of what it can be like to be poor. Sometimes you live where you can find a place, and you work what jobs you can get. Sometimes this means spending hours on public transit because you are going across town between jobs. It can also mean that a car is the only practical way to get around because you need to be able to get places quickly or at odds hours, if you get called in. If people are really concern about the poor, they should be lobbying for improvements to public transit and affordable housing.

    I realized that this is a bit of a tangential rant from the original post, but I felt compelled to add something about what it is actually like to be poor in Portland. So many of the comments here seem to be about hypothetical poor people.

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    • BeavertonRider January 26, 2016 at 10:45 am

      Thank you for sharing. This was enlightening to read. The anti-car people here insist that your car be taken away to suit their desire for…well,I dont u dersta d what they want (no cars; some cars, but only for those they believe should have them; okay with private ownership but they get to determine when you can drive; punish car owners via taxes or other government penalties?) Im not really sure what the goal is.

      Cars have a critical role in this nation’s history, culture, economy, etc. Too many people, to satisfy their own selfish desires, insist on demonizing and punishing car owners, not just tax them, but punish them. This explains why you see posters here arguing, nonsensically imo, that streets and street parking are really subsidies to car owners. It’s an absurd argument unless you’re attempting to figure out a way to hurt those who drive and that inclides hurting poor people.

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      • 9watts January 30, 2016 at 8:26 am

        “The anti-car people here insist that your car be taken away to suit their desire…”

        I don’t know anyone who does this.
        When I mention taking away the cars it is always as a thought experiment about the safety benefits of removing one mode, and it is in the context of admonitions to people not in cars to adorn themselves with more retroreflective tape and lights and such.

        No one is imagining or working on or sponsoring efforts to establish a Soviet style car-zapping authority and to suggest they are is paranoid.

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      • 9watts January 30, 2016 at 8:30 am

        “Cars have a critical role in this nation’s history, culture, economy, etc.”

        Are you seriously concerned that this is being overlooked?
        What consequences are you worried about if we somehow failed to give cars their proper due?

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    • Reginald January 26, 2016 at 6:34 pm

      E,
      You said: ” If people are really concern about the poor, they should be lobbying for improvements to public transit and affordable housing.”

      I have a better idea – how about getting government off the backs of employers so they can hire more people at a higher wage so there are fewer poor people. Can you imagine the morass of regulations you would have to comply with to hire someone? – not to mention the time it would take to understand the regulations and the dollar cost to comply. Then after you do hire them, you’re at risk of being sued for violating some obscure law. It would be a nightmare.

      Another idea on affordable housing is to get government off the backs of home owners who want to rent out a tiny house in their back yard, etc. Also, reduce the insane fees charged to build a home. The list of government impediments in the way of people who would like to make a product, or hire some employees, is very long and onerous.

      That’s how you help the poor.

      On your commute to Beaverton – I think I could commute by bike to Beaverton from most of Portland with just a few mile bike ride on either end by taking MAX. I do agree that public transport can be really slow and that’s one reason those who can afford to drive do it.

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      • Ellie January 26, 2016 at 11:49 pm

        I have heard your idea many times before, and I don’t think it is a better idea for helping the poor. Do you really think reducing government regulations will lead to higher wages? I don’t see that happening. You can look at other states and see that this is not likely the case. I am pretty aware of the level of regulations that are involved in running a business, and I am sympathetic with the frustrations people feel when they see all the government regulations and expenses that get piled onto the other expenses of starting a new business. Yes government regulations absolutely hinder certain types of business and innovation, but they also help and enable others. Further, government regulations provide a lot of protections to people who might not be in position to protect themselves. Poor people are particularly vulnerable. It is important to question government regulations and policies. Bad policies need to be changed, but I absolutely do not support any form of general government deregulation. I don’t think significantly reducing government regulation would be likely to generally benefit anyone but those who already have a certain amount of power. There are lots of other states and countries with fewer regulations. Poor people are generally worst off in those places. Many employment and labor laws exist very specifically to protect poor people. Reducing government regulations will on average be much more likely to harm than help the poor.

        As for commuting between Portland and Beaverton on bike, I am sure you could do it, but at the time I couldn’t. This was before the addition of the Green and Orange lines. At the time it was about five miles from where I lived to the closets MAX station. Now I no longer find than an intimidating distance, but it has been a large investment in time and energy to build up the knowledge and strength to do that. I think people who bike a lot, especially if they started young, may not realize how much time and energy it can take to develop those skills if you’re starting as an adult, especially a not particularly athletic adult with no guidance but what you might find on the internet. It was time and energy I didn’t have then. There was also the start up costs that go into biking. The difference between a cheap bike with under-inflated tires versus a more expensive bike with properly inflated tires is huge. Simple things like a better bike pump with a pressure gauge made a significant improvement in my biking, but at the time, I didn’t have the knowledge needed to figure out which investments were worth the cost and which weren’t so I tended to minimize the risk by not investing in my bike and gear at all. If I had taken my bike to work, there was also no were to put it. A surprisingly large number of places still do not put in any kind of bike parking. And time spent on public transit isn’t all bad. I could sleep, work on homework, read, email, none of which I could do safely on a bike. When you spend a lot of time on public transit, you can get very good at making the best use of that time. Sometimes it is not just about getting places faster, it is about maximizing the benefits and minimizing the costs.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 26, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      Terrific perspective on this, Ellie. Thanks for laying it out.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 26, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      Really appreciate you sharing this Ellie. I feel like I understand some of them dynamics just a bit better now.

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  • Curtis Roth January 26, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Next someone will try to tell me that wealthier people own bigger homes.

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  • bjcefola January 26, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    Some stats and a model for thinking about the cost of the gas tax. For someone who commutes to Salem 5 days a week, and adds another 100 non-commuting miles, while driving a vehicle with average mileage from 20 years ago, the cost is $12.68 a month. Using the same assumptions but assuming a commute to Forest Grove or closer drops the monthly cost under $10.

    I think there are bigger fish to fry (like housing costs) if people are worried about progressiveness.

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    • soren January 27, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      I support the gas tax despite my equity concerns because I think it will do more good than harm. Nevertheless, the past 3 taxes or fees passed in this city have been regressive. Let’s stop frying fish.

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    • 9watts January 30, 2016 at 8:20 am

      “For someone who commutes to Salem 5 days a week, and adds another 100 non-commuting miles, while driving a vehicle with average mileage from 20 years ago, the cost is $12.68 a month.”

      Driving every day to/from Salem? No thanks.
      I take the Trimet and Cherriots from SE Portland which meet in Wilsonville. A whopping $5.50 each way. Takes a bit more time than driving would, but not that much. There are also vanpools if you’re in more of a hurry, and probably more options I don’t know about.

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