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Businesses and bikeways: City reveals more details about street fee plans

Posted by on April 18th, 2014 at 11:30 am

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-6

PBOT’s Mark Lear laid out priorities for spending
revenue raised by a new street fee.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland is slowly leaking out more details of their plans to create a new fee to boost transportation investment. At a town hall meeting in North Portland last night, Mayor Charlie Hales, PBOT Director Leah Treat, and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick sat at a table in front of a small crowd to present, promote, and defend the idea.

We covered one of these same town halls back in February, but since then PBOT has sharpened their pitch and their plans into a much finer point. As we reported a few weeks ago, the fee on the table will be either $8 or $12 per household per month. But what about businesses? Up until this latest round of town halls, PBOT has kept details about how much business owners would pay under wraps. Also revealed last night was a clearer picture about where exactly the new revenue would be spent.

According to a presentation by PBOT’s Mark Lear, the fee businesses pay would be based on an algorithm that calculates the number of trips their business generates times the square foot of the property. Here are three examples they shared:

  • A cafe that generates 1,144 monthly trips would pay $29 per month (at the $8 level) or $45 per month (at the $12 level).
  • A “sit down restaurant” that generates 5,281 monthly trips would pay $130 per month (at the $8 level) or $201 per month (at the $12 level).
  • A movie theater that generates 20,860 monthly trips would pay $344 per month (at the $8 level) or $534 per month (at the $12 level).

With households and businesses paying the new fee, PBOT estimates they’ll be able to raise about $34 million or $53 million a year (at the $8 and $12 levels respectively).

It will be interesting to see how local businesses react to the fee idea as more of them hear about it and PBOT gets closer to a final proposal. When we had this debate about a street fee for transportation back in 2007, it was ultimately a business lobbyist (representing gas stations and convenience stores) who killed the entire thing.

Another element of the fee we learned more about last night is how exactly PBOT would spend the money. Here’s the chart showing how the money would be spent according to the three main buckets: “maintenance”, “safety”, and “other”.

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-1

Note that at the $8 fee, more of the new revenue — 63% — would go toward maintenance and just 34% would go to safety. If the fee is $12, the maintenance percentage would drop to 53% and 44% would go to safety.

How exactly does PBOT define “maintenance” and “safety” expenditures. They revealed some of their thinking about that last night as well…

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-2

As you can see from the slide, maintenance investments would be primarily pavement preservation. However, it would also include things like traffic signals, street signs and street lights (all of which would improve street safety as well). In the “safety” category, PBOT says the projects could include investment in things like sidewalks, Safe Routes to School, protected bikeways, neighborhood greenways, High Crash Corridors program (speed reduction), crossing improvements, and so on. In the “other” category, which would potentially get just 3% of the new revenue, PBOT would fund things like frequent bus service and work with ODOT to hasten a transfer of state-owned arterials to local control (we’ll have more to report on that later).

To further bolster support for the fees, PBOT is now sharing a list of specific project types they’d fund (over the next five years)…

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-5

30 to 60 signalized intersections rehabilitated, 60 to 115 intersections with safer crossings, 200 to 420 blocks of new sidewalks — these are all vast increases over what the agency is able to do with current revenues. One notable addition to that list is an investment that would allow PBOT to respond more quickly to their popular 823-SAFE citizen reporting system.

And while it wasn’t shown on the slide (which is interesting to me, as I watch how careful PBOT is about bringing up bicycling in these discussions), Lear made a point in his presentation to mention how many new bikeways they’d build with the new revenue (again, these would be “delivered over five years”):

  • At the $8 level: 5 miles of protected bikeways and 15 miles of neighborhood greenways
  • At the $12 level: 7 miles of protected bikeways and 18-19 miles of neighborhood greenways

Lear stressed throughout his presentation that all the current numbers and spending priority categories are still preliminary and under discussion.

“Focusing on safety and maintenance is the right direction. But we’d like to see more focus on safety and we’d be much more excited if more than half of the money went into the safety category.”
— Gerik Kransky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

On that note, while last night’s crowd was relatively sparse, some spirited questions and criticisms emerged during the Q & A session that followed the official presentations. One man repeatedly spoke up for cars, saying that the city would have plenty of money for roads if they hadn’t spent so much on light rail and “bike paths”. Another man offered an interesting idea: Would there be a way to use a different trip generation calculation that would enable PBOT to reduce the business fee if business owners encouraged people to walk, bike, or take transit?

Making the fee change depending on how people get around — in other words, encouraging modes that have a lower impact on the system — might seem like good policy; but it doesn’t appear that PBOT is interested in going that direction. Novick said polling showed them that most Portlanders want the flat-fee system so that “everyone pays the same amount”. And Lear, a veteran at PBOT who was former Mayor Adams’ wingman on the 2007 street fee effort, said that they want to avoid any fights over who’s paying. This type of flat fee, he said, is all about “Getting us out of the unproductive modal wars of the past.”

I think Lear’s onto something. You could feel those “wars” trying to surface last night. There was that one guy claiming a PBOT “war on cars”, while another guy passionately explained how overuse of cars is the reason we’re in this mess to begin with. “This proposal does nothing to reduce driving,” he said, “I want to hear a much more ambitious proposal that will discourage driving and promote biking and walking. You’re choosing a dangerous middle course.”

The response by Commissioner Novick was that the safety investments will ultimately make biking and walking more attractive and therefore fewer people will drive.

But just how much of the money goes into the “safety” category is something that could be another future topic of debate. Gerik Kransky, advocacy director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), used last night’s Town Hall to thank the Mayor and PBOT for their work on this initiative. “Focusing on safety and maintenance is the right direction,” he said, “But we’d like to see more focus on safety and we’d be much more excited if more than half of the money went into the safety category.”

From here, PBOT will host two more town halls and they’ll work internally with the Needs and Funding Advisory Committee to continue to hammer out the final package they expect to be ready for City Council by next month. We strongly encourage folks to show up, learn more about what’s being proposed, and share your feedback.

— PBOT’s official site:
Our “Street Fee Proposal” story archive.

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  • Anne Hawley April 18, 2014 at 11:41 am

    I understand that with the maintenance backlog of the past few years, a lion’s share of this fee needs to go to maintenance *now*, but until I see a pie where maintenance and safety have equal slices, I’m going to find “Vision Zero” pretty hard to believe in.

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  • dan April 18, 2014 at 11:57 am

    I would very much like to understand how the transportation budget is spent now. Why isn’t there enough money to stay on top of basic maintenance without an additional fee? Why can’t any shortfall be funded through current sources of revenue?

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    • Oliver April 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      The rate of increase in the price of the inputs used in road construction and maintenance is much much higher than the increase in the funding sources. For example the gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1993 but compared to inputs such as asphalt
      “In July 2005, the index price per ton for liquid asphalt was $217, according to the DOT.
      During the same month in 2006 and 2007, it was $372 and $335, respectively.
      This year, the index price for July was $588, a 75 percent increase over a year ago, and a 170 percent increase from three years ago.”

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      • J_R April 18, 2014 at 8:03 pm

        Oliver: Actually, the Federal Gas Tax hasn’t increased since 1993. Oregon’s gas tax was 24 cents/gallon in 1993 and increased to 30 cents/gallon in 2011. But you are correct in pointing out that the cost of everything used in road construction and maintenance has increased significantly. Our gas tax hasn’t kept pace with inflation. That’s the real cause of the shortfall.

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        • Oliver April 21, 2014 at 5:29 pm

          I knew the basics, but had to crib the specific’s in a hurry. Thanks for correcting me on the correct tax rate for Oregon.

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      • 9watts April 21, 2014 at 7:40 am

        Or, put another way, the problem we face is much bigger than the $30M/yr this effort is ostensibly going to raise.
        To actually get ahead of this problem instead of slapping $30M band aids on it, we need to do things that this street fee makes much more difficult, and in the short run seems to actually preclude. The conversations we need to have about the future of transportation and the future of maintenance cannot avoid the four-wheeled elephant in the room.

        We need those honest conversations more than we need the $30M.

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    • Poisonpony April 18, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      Short answer, The bulk of the money for road maintenance was given away to Tri Met, Portland Street Car, SW Waterfront, and the Sellwood Bridge.
      Road maintenance was cut to basically filling potholes under Mayor Adams. And the Maintenance Operations budget stripped to make the payments for Sellwood Bridge, and New max line for years to come.

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    • Oregon Mamacita April 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      See the City Auditor’s report on PBOT. Large capital construction projects were funded at the expense of road maintenance, but it is politically unfeasible to call this a “light rail fee.”

      Watch PBOT keep pet projects funded because the cost of those projects is less than the giant whole for street maintenance. Watch PBOT not take responsibility for the mess. They chose a light rail project we could not afford knowing that the streets keep deteriorating.

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      • Rob Chapman April 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm

        Here’s an oldie but a goodie for you Oregon Mamacita. We are going to be in an even bigger mess when the streetcar, new Sellwood bridge, etc. start needing serious maintenance.

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        • Oregon Mamacita April 24, 2014 at 8:09 am

          OOH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Thanks for making my head explode, Rob. Hugs- Mamacita

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      • paikikala April 23, 2014 at 9:28 am

        You say ‘PBOT’ but surely your mean ‘The City’ PBOT has to do what City Council directs.

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  • Reza April 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    If we’re stuck with a regressive flat fee, I’ll take the improvements promised with the $12 option. But why are none of these town halls located in the Central City in order to be convenient to downtown workers and residents? That is unheard of for a citywide or regional transportation initiative.

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  • Champs April 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    If only we had some way to tax driving! You know, one that would generate more money for cars and give a discount to businesses that aren’t auto-dependent?

    The street fee is just typical Portland: head tax for the arts, and a phone tax for police training. Spending more to collect all those nickels and dimes than Measure 47/50 has ever saved us.

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    • Oregon Mamacita April 24, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Can you name a business that doesn’t receive goods via truck? How about the fact that the Tri-Met buses also cause significant street wear?

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  • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    They call this a user fee, but it does not capture the users that drive into Portland by the thousands daily from surrounding cities and suburbs.

    This is regressive because you pay the same regardless of use and regardless of means or ability to pay.

    This does nothing to promote actual safety.Our safety needs are so high because there are too many people driving too carelessly. They should be seeking funding that discourages SOV trips into Portland. This would promote Trimet, walking and biking and make the streets safer and last longer.Methods to do this: gas tax, expand pay for parking on streets, raise parking fees, tax surface parking lots, etc.

    They said that cars are not damaging roads (only causing the majority of the danger) and that large trucks are causing the maintenance problems. If true, then why is the street fee not targeting them?

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    • Chris I April 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm


      Parking meters are a user fee. If I don’t own a car, I don’t damage the streets. A head tax for street maintenance is a ridiculous idea for a “progressive” city.

      If I do have to pay a fee, I would hope that the city leaders find a way to charge large trucks that drive into our city and damage the streets. Stop giving them a free ride.

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      • Oregon Mamacita April 24, 2014 at 8:15 am

        Your Tri-Met bus damages the street, along with the trucks that bring the overpriced goods to New Seasons. Heck- Alta bike share uses trucks in DC. Tax Alta! Tax New Seasons!

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        • 9watts April 24, 2014 at 1:01 pm

          “Your Tri-Met bus damages the street…”

          My Trimet bus? Where do you live, Oregon Mamacita?

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  • Spiffy April 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    no thank you…

    please pass the costs onto the ones actually causing the destruction of our infrastructure…

    I’ll continue to invest in the infrastructure with my mode choice…

    there’s no reason for me to invest more when I’d already paying into the system rather than taking away from it…

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  • mikeybikey April 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    So PBOT wants a blank check to continue the status quo. No thanks.

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    • davemess April 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

      That’s my issue. I want a detailed report of what funds they’ve gotten, what they’ve spent it on, and why they’ve spent it, before I would even think about supporting this. I’ve seen too may streets with decent pavement get torn up and repaved to have a lot of sympathy for PBOT.

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  • Justin April 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    If I were a cafe that had 90% of my customers show up by bike or foot (for example, the Belmont Stumptown or Public Domain downtown), and I had to pay the same street fee as the drive through Starbucks on Powell, I’d be pretty much completely infuriated.

    This whole plan is ridiculous. Somebody in Portland city gov’t needs to step up and present a real plan for making existing policy promises a reality. The current administration certainly doesn’t look up to the task.

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  • AndyC of Linnton April 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Is there a good reason the city can’t raise the tax on gas to fund these projects? Isn’t that what it has done historically or am I mistaken? If it really hasn’t been raised since 1993 or so, why is that?
    Do other cities have one of these user fees, or is this just taken from the arts tax model?

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    • Rob Chapman April 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      The mayor said that many places fund transportation with sales tax revenues. He said he’d like a sales tax here but he doesn’t think it’s possible.

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      • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm

        He is also not spending his time and the City’s money out promoting that idea! These guys know that this is not the most equitable or effective way to raise money, they have simply concluded that it is the easiest. I would love to see them devote some time and resources traveling around town explaining how a sales tax or parking fees would be more equitable and effective for our necessary fundraising. They gave up too easily IMO

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        • Rob Chapman April 18, 2014 at 2:24 pm

          Max it felt like this fee is a foregone conclusion when the meeting ended. My neighbor and I both think this thing is not going to a vote, it’ll be rammed through by the council. I’m not happy about it.

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          • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 3:10 pm

            Rob, I totally agree with you! They want to a chance to get their well-spun message out there, but I would be AMAZED if they let people vote on it! There are a few undeniable points that can be made about the inequity of this tax taht would prevent people from voting for it

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          • davemess April 19, 2014 at 8:39 am

            Then we hold those council members accountable at the next election!

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    • J_R April 18, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      The Federal Gas Tax has been frozen at 18.4 cents/gallon since 1993. Oregon’s gas tax was 24 cents/gallon in 1993, but was raised to 30 cents/gallon in 2011.

      Multnomah and Washington Counties both have local gas taxes. The following cities do too: Eugene, Springfield, Cottage Grove, Veneta, Tigard, Woodburn, Milwaukie, Coquille, Coburg, Astoria, Warrenton, Canby, Newport and Hood River.

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  • Justin April 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    The good thing about this plan is that it is a lot less complicated than just raising the gas tax.

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    • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      Sorry Justin, but that is not true. The street fee will require some new bureaucracy to administer, the gas tax can simply be raised

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm

        About the gas tax…

        I was happy to hear Mark Lear bring this up specifically in his presentation. One thing to consider, which Mark pointed out, is that with the gas tax only 11% of the fee actually finds its way back to PBOT (versus 100% of the street fee).

        Lear also said that their calculations show a gas tax increase wouldn’t raise nearly enough revenue… just about $800,000 per year he said.

        Add the fact that their polling said it wouldn’t be as popular with the public as the flat street fee and you start to realize that there’s no way in heck they will even consider it.

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        • AndyC of Linnton April 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm


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        • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 2:13 pm

          If only 11% comes to PBOT, where does the rest go? I am sure there are other underfunded, worthwhile programs that would benefit from the gas tax increase. This increase may also have the benefit of reducing driver-miles within the city!

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        • Bjorn April 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm

          I think it is disingenuous to say that raising the gas tax can only raise 800k per year. Gas is a pretty inelastic commodity and I’d wager that if they doubled the per gallon increase they are proposing in the gas tax they’d be closer to 1.6 million in projected revenue.

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        • SteveG April 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

          I’m not sure, Jonathan, but I think that only 11% of the STATE’s gas tax comes back to the City. If the City were to impose a city-wide gas tax (ie a few more cents levied only on gas sold within City limits), all of the incremental revenue would (or at least should) flow back to PBOT.

          Again, I’m not sure about this, but I see no reason why the City could only collect 11% of an incremental, City-imposed gas tax.

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        • 9watts April 18, 2014 at 9:26 pm

          “Lear also said that their calculations show a gas tax increase wouldn’t raise nearly enough revenue… just about $800,000 per year he said.”

          O.K. so by how much was Lear (hypothetically) going to raise the (Multnomah Co.?) gas tax to raise that much?

          I feel like these folks are playing fast and loose with the numbers. Why is the (hypothesized) popularity of a policy all important?

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          • 9watts May 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm

            “with the gas tax only 11% of the fee actually finds its way back to PBOT (versus 100% of the street fee).”

            I still don’t understand this. Can anyone enlighten me/us?

            Does the 11% figure refer to the state gas tax? If so, what is the share of the state’s population that lives in the city? What is the administrative cut?

            As for the 100% figure, that is just flat ridiculous. Where is the administrative cost, the noncompliance rate, the years of work that went into developing, testing, marketing, implementing this fee?

            Can we see some real numbers, please?

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        • 9watts April 21, 2014 at 7:46 am

          “their polling said it [a gas tax] wouldn’t be as popular with the public as the flat street fee”

          I’m pretty sure that climate change is not going to be as popular with the public as continued subsidies to drivers. This is a textbook definition of pandering, of smearing honey in our ears.

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    • Spiffy April 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      oh, an April Fools thread, I like it…

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  • Seth April 18, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    We already have a mechanism in place that captures both behavior (driving vs other modes that don’t tend to congest the roads) and also relative damage (heavier vehicles consume more fuel and thus pay more tax). Why not just increase the gas tax?

    Targeting business probably will get shot down by lobbies, but keep in mind that business also pay hefty SDC fees when the open up for business, and my understanding of SDCs is that they are to pay for the increased usage of public services etc that customers will bring.

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    • J_R April 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Seth: An SDC (Systems Development Charge) is only permitted under state law to be used for increasing capacity of the transportation system. It is NOT available for maintenance or for correcting existing deficiencies.

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  • spencer April 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    gas tax! parking fees! This street fee plan is inane

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  • Jedito April 18, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Why in the world is the city focusing on a ridiculous tax that both penalizes those who do not damage the roads (low-auto folks) and completely misses out on a huge percentage of those doing the damage (out of town commuters) when there is a completely fair, not overly complicated way to raise this money.

    Why the, *ahem* “heck” are they not looking at a PARKING tax. Tax Car owners/users in the city would be captured if they park in the public right-of-way (this includes me by the way) overnight, tax the owners of car lots of various flavors as they will doubtless pass that cost on to their customers (this has the added benefit of indirectly incentivizing businesses that do not actively enable auto trips) and meter the holy hell out of our commercial districts (which desperately needs to happen anyway). Taxing parking would capture the out-of-town commuters while avoiding the regressive tax on households that can’t afford it (and likely can’t afford a car either).

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  • Rob Chapman April 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    When I asked for the word “trips” to be defined, Mayor Hales said that all modes of transportation including cycling and walking are included in that definition for the purposes of the street fee.

    Yes, residents will soon be charged for walking in Portland. The absurdity of that idea is shocking.

    I told the PBOT active transportation that this whole idea smells of desperation and he didn’t disagree.

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  • Paul Manson April 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    The business piece will be interesting. The residential component is likely a moving target too. Under the Arts Tax there has been about a 68% compliance rate. So with 250,000 households in Portland, times the lower fee option you get a potential total of $24M. But if compliance drops to Arts Tax levels, its $16M. In reality, no good political battles are won by trying to assess tax liens on such a small amount – but it is possible….

    (Low participation might be what the city expects when they project the total at $34M – split between residences and businesses.)

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  • spare_wheel April 18, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    i am dissapointed that the bulk of the money would be spent on maintenance. i think the maintenance focus is a misguided attempt to pander to a vocal minority that is given disproportionate voice by our local media.

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    • jj April 18, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      ?? We’d be better off in the long run redirecting transportation away from SOV, but describing the 90% or so of street users who drive cars as the “vocal minority” is really rose-colored glasses.

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    • freemarketmarx April 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      I ride my bike more than I drive, and I have no problem with them focusing more on maintenance. Repaved streets benefit me as a cyclist too; if anything I appreciate them more, not less. Some of the greenways are pot-hole riddled pavement nightmares that are awful to ride on.

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    • Mike April 19, 2014 at 6:56 am

      It amazes me that people like you are against maintaining or improving our crappy streets. It’s not just for cars. I bet most riders prefer improved streets over the crap that is offered now.

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      • 9watts April 19, 2014 at 7:10 am

        “It’s not just for cars. I bet most riders prefer improved streets over the crap that is offered now.”
        Mike, yes we may like smooth streets, and we could/would still have them but for the damage visited on them by all those cars. The deterioration of the streets is not due to bikes. Therefore a flat, mode-neutral fee, is not a logical way to solve the problems that were created asymmetrically by the over-reliance on one mode.
        Same for safety. Do people who ride bikes, or walk make things unsafe for the rest of us?

        What makes me crazy about this is the missed opportunity to communicate this asymmetry, to charge based on the actual damage, which we could do/have tried to do for most of the last century. In fact the gas tax is an Oregon invention from 95 years ago.

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  • J_R April 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Last month Portland claimed the $8 per month household fee would generate $34 million annually. Now they claim that an $8 per month household fee plus a fee on businesses would generate $34 million annually.

    I guess that is because they figure businesses will not actually pay or they plan to give a discount of 100 percent to businesses. Once again, the numbers don’t add up.

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  • GlowBoy April 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    At $96 or $144 per year, this is a LOT more money than the poorly conceived Arts Tax. Can’t imagine this will go down smoothly.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 18, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      Any comparison of this to the Arts Tax should not be taken seriously IMO.

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      • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 2:15 pm

        why not? Both are a regressive fee with new administrative fees taken out?

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

          Sure. I’ll give you that. I was meaning more from a political and substantive policy perspective.

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          • GlowBoy April 19, 2014 at 3:48 pm

            Maybe not comparable in terms of policy, but as MaxD said both are extremely regressive flat fees to fund specific slices of the budget.

            I don’t agree that they are not comparable politically either — I think the comparison to the Arts Tax is going to be made loudly and often.

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  • Rob Chapman April 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    It is important to point out that more progressive funding options were rejected by people in the phone survey. That seems strange to me.

    I was concerned that the survey was conducted landline only but that worry was unfounded. Apparently there was a mix of landline and cell residents surveyed.

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    • Ed April 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      But phone surveys limit the sample set to those who aren’t very discriminating with their caller ID. It seems bizarre that people still base important decisions on phone surveys.

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      • Rob Chapman April 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm

        Good point Ed.

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  • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Raising fees on parking is simply a better planning decision. The City needs to provide carrot and stick to maintain density, encourage alternative modes of transportation, and promote vibrant places with safe streets. Check this out:

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 18, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      Hi MaxD,

      Just want to say that I don’t think this street fee will be everything PBOT plans or does in terms of transportation policy. There will still be other sources of revenue. There will still be other sources of policy. There will still be other transportation plans.

      What I’m saying is, I’m pretty sure this will be just one program/funding source that PBOT pulls from… They can still do a lot of other things planning-wise and revenue-wise that are unattached from the street fee… And I fully expect/hope that they will.

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  • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks Jonathan,
    and thanks for continuing to cover this and foster this discussion. I agree that This will not be the City’s or PBOT’s only move, but I am deeply frustrated by this conversation. I think it is incredibly wrong-headed to pitch a household tax as a “user fee” when it comes to transportation. I fully support PBOT seeking funding, and I think a lot of what they do is great. However, the roads are unsafe because we have too many cars driving too fast, they need maintenance so badly because of the heavy use by trucks, large SUVs, studded tires etc. PBOT is missing a big opportunity with this PR campaign, instead of slinging their spin about how this is actually is equitable, they could be educating Portlanders about the equitable and effective ways of raising money while discouraging the SOV commuters from surrounding suburbs. I can see the thought that everyone pays for the roads, so everyone gets a voice, but I don’t think that will play out very well in reality. I think carheads will simply think “we paid for this, they should get out of our way”. I guess I am just so disappointed that our leaders are failing to lead us in a bold, positive direction, opting instead to chip away at the finances of local residences and businesses without addressing the root problem head-on.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm


      I hear you and I think I share a lot of your frustration. But what I’ve come to understand about PBOT is they — like electeds in City Hall — are extremely nervous/scared of getting too far out in front of the public. And, in their estimation (whether right or wrong), they feel if they do/say anything that smacks of being “anti-car” it will create anger/controversy/”modal wars” and so on. Think about the people involved in these efforts. These PBOT staffers have memories like elephants. They have personally been through some very tough battles and many controversies… those experiences leave a mark on how they approach issues.

      Same goes for Commissioner Novick and Hales. They want something to pass. Period. They do not want to get into a high-profile controversy about bikes vs cars and who pays for what and so on. They are trying to balance bold leadership and an understanding of what we need to do with our streets, with real sausage-making to take a very big policy step (raising new revenue) that they can both claim proudly in their legacy.

      I’ve seen my share of fights and controversies and failures when it comes to significant transpo initiatives myself over these past 9 years and I’m actually amazed — and somewhat happy and relieved — that thus far Hales and Novick have carefully steered this thing in a way that hasn’t brought out any pitchforks. Not yet at least.

      It’s a fine – and fascinating – line to watch them walk.

      Thanks for your comments. Michael and I will be covering this issue very closely in the coming weeks and the questions, concerns and criticisms in these comments help inform our work.

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      • spare_wheel April 19, 2014 at 11:03 am

        so in other words it’s ok for hales and novick to ignore the wishes of their core constituency because pandering to the interests of wealthy conservatives/business people helps fill their campaign coffers.

        “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence…”

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      • 9watts April 21, 2014 at 7:14 am

        “They do not want to get into a high-profile controversy about bikes vs cars and who pays for what and so on.”

        you may be right in your estimation of why they are going about it in this fashion, that Novick and Hales don’t have the stomach for a substantive argument about the modal asymmetry of infrastructure deterioration, but it seems that in your embrace of the efficacy of just getting something passed, you and they are missing how wrongheaded this is. I feel that the phrase above gives away the game, cedes the argument to the ill-informed, does considerable damage to all future attempts to get it right.*

        It is my understanding that in Multnomah Co. and the City
        (a) driving is decreasing, and the reliance on other modes is increasing;
        (b) that this is in part a result of past policies by PBOT and the City;
        (c) that these trends will accelerate regardless.

        Instead of building on these salutary trends, leveraging them into a policy that highlights how things actually work, highlighting what specific behaviors cost us all money (studded tires, driving), this approach takes three steps back. It denies the asymmetry of how the costs of maintaining our transport infrastructure are currently distributed among modes. In your responses to comments to these excellent stories here on bikeportland you’ve so far avoided speaking directly to these criticisms. I see the temptation of just passing something, but in this case I agree with the many of your readers who keep pointing out that we may be winning the battle ($30M/yr) but losing the war (incentivize moving beyond autodom) with this approach.

        *The BTA’s recent bungled attempt to clarify who pays for roads is another example of this. Why do our opinion makers keep stumbling so badly over something so straightforward?

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        • SteveG April 21, 2014 at 9:32 am

          I’m with 9watts on this, and I think most of the BikePortland readership is, too. But what the politicos need is political cover in the form of a big grassroots political push, not just emails on the BikePortland echochamber.

          Maybe the BTA, OregonWalks, an NGO representing transit riders and the environmental community in general can start a petition or letter-writing campaign and apply pressure for the “doesn’t poll well” alternative of raising the local gas tax, and clearly articulate why this is best for everyone.

          If we all just oppose the new policy on BikePortland, I think we all know that City Council will do what appears politically possible, rather than what’s right.

          Is there a coalition out there that’s willing to push like hell for a local gas tax, with revenues specifically dedicated to a mix of repairs and promotion of SOV alternatives?

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          • 9watts April 21, 2014 at 11:04 am

            “But what the politicos need is political cover”

            You are probably right, SteveG. But what ever happened to a good argument? A well-reasoned defense of a policy based on, well, facts? I think running away from well-understood basic accounting and accountability, and taking cover with softball polling results is a recipe for future unhappiness on all sides.

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          • spare_wheel April 21, 2014 at 1:44 pm

            it also takes political leadership willing to present an argument. imo, hales’ street maintenance push was an easy political decision that required very little readership. i had hopes for novick after he attacked the oregonian but his language at recent open houses was timid at best.

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  • Bjorn April 18, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    What happens to people who live with one or more roommates and they don’t feel like paying? Do they have to choose between not paying and risking their credit or paying for the other people in their household? Making this per household seems very problematic. I disagree with the whole premise of the tax, but also why should someone who chooses to live alone in a 1 bedroom apartment pay 5x as much as a person who rents 1 of 5 bedrooms in a house? The whole thing seems very poorly designed.

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  • Chasing Backon April 18, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Imagine how hard it will be to remove on street parking for any given project when businesses and citizens pay a street fee.

    Imagine how great it will be to get around by taking the lane on ANY street you want, as long as you paid your street fee, of course.

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  • J_R April 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I think the claim that only 11 percent of the gas tax gets back to Portland Transportation is the percentage of the STATE gas tax received by Portland.

    Portland could initiate a LOCAL OPTION gas tax. There are already several counties and cities that have this. Why not a PORTLAND gas tax?

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    • MaxD April 18, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      Or let the increased tax be distributed for transportation maintenance and safety improvements around the state!

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  • Beth April 18, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    For someone who earns less than $10,000 a year — and that includes a LOT of low- or no-car Portlanders who bike or walk everywhere — $144 a year is close to impossible. Sorry, but if this tax is approved on top of the arts tax (funding — oh, right! — arts organizations whose tickets I cannot afford to buy) I will strongly consider Not Paying. Further, I’ll urge my equally low income friends to do the same.

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    • Mike April 18, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      If someone earns less than 10K a year do they pay any tax at all?

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      • Beth April 19, 2014 at 2:52 pm

        I still had to pony up for the arts tax. To get out of that one, you have to earn little enough that the only place you can afford to live is under the Hawthorne Bridge.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 19, 2014 at 8:27 am

      They are considering some sort of break for low-income residents.

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    • Reza April 19, 2014 at 9:10 am

      You know you’re already exempted from paying the Arts Tax, right?

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      • Terry D April 19, 2014 at 9:37 am

        No. Anyone who earns more than $1000 unless it is entirely from a non-taxable source like disability or social security is required to pay the $35. It is a terribly regressive, if only a small tax.

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        • Reza April 20, 2014 at 10:56 pm

          Uh, yes.

          You can request an exemption if “your household is at or below the federal poverty level (all income, including social security, is counted to determine if you qualify) (no tax due).” (from the Arts Tax website)

          What is the poverty level for one person in 2013? $11,490. So she doesn’t have to pay.

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  • dwainedibbly April 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    At the $8 level, a large apartment building or condo (200+ units) will pay more than any business. Is that fair?

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  • Lynne April 18, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Gently pointing out, that even if your household is a low-driving household, please remember that there is driving done on your behalf – groceries and merchandise to where you shop, for starters. School buses. Mail and other package deliveries. And so on. Could charge those delivery trucks, but the fee would be passed on to you in the form of higher prices, and probably inflated.

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  • Pat Franz April 18, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    When the price of gas goes up $.05, $.10, $.25 even, people whinge a bit and pay it- even though NONE of that increase benefits them in any way, and is quite arguable that it will actually be used against them.

    Why then is it “not allowed” to talk about raising the price a few cents for something that will benefit everyone?

    A regressive tax, not related to consumption, that will be a nightmare to manage, is ridiculous. I understand why they are proposing it. I only wish the reason was to show how stupid such things are compared to a gas tax.

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    • 9watts April 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      “Why then is it “not allowed” to talk about raising the price a few cents for something that will benefit everyone?”

      An excellent question. And one that too few people seem to be asking themselves. We do it for cigarettes, gambling, alcohol, and we used to do it for gasoline. For some reason all the other countries I can think of have instituted no such ban on considering further increases in their already much higher gas taxes. And why would they?

      I keep coming back to this chart which I’ve linked to several times already.
      In countries with *much higher* gas taxes than we’re used to, the proportion of the average income spent on gasoline is often less, sometimes much less, than it is in the US. Take Norway. They pay over $10/gal of gas, yet the percentage of their average income that goes to buying gas is only 0.8%, or 4x less than we do in the US at 3.2%, where our gas costs about 1/3 as much.

      Put another way, we in the US have just about the cheapest gas, yet we spend a higher proportion of our income on it than all but two countries.

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  • Poisonpony April 19, 2014 at 12:18 am

    What guarantees that this money will just be used on road maintenance and safety projects. The city has a long history of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Paul has been robbed so many times there’s nothing left. Without a set in stone set of rules that will not allow them to divert money it is completely probable that they will.
    A quick google search shows where the money for street repair went.

    $74.4 Million, Sellwood Bridge. (We gave the most money for the project)
    $55 Million PMLR, (Light Rail)
    $27 Million, East Side Street Car, (At least we own this)
    $25 Millon, Moody Project.

    So much like an inmature adult, our city council bought shiny new toys instead of paying the bills. now they want mom and dad to come bail them out.

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  • Max April 19, 2014 at 9:00 am

    I don’t really care about paying an extra $100 in taxes (or $35). I already pay tens of thousands of fed, state, property, gas, etc. taxes. Adding $100 onto that is really just a drop in the bucket. The real issue to me is the method of collection.

    I’m tired of having weird taxes (ITAX, arts tax) that I have to remember to pay, that are not deducted from payroll, etc. I support this only if the city can find a way to incorporate this into one of the existing method of collections.

    If we can figure out how to donate to the Oregon Coast Aquarium on my Oregon form 40 (see line 57), then why can’t we figure out how to collect this (and arts) on the same form?

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    • Reza April 19, 2014 at 9:22 am

      I thought there was the possibility of adding this fee to water and sewer bills. For example, that is how Corvallis collects its Transit Operations fee, which allows CTS to run buses without collecting fares.

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      • Max April 19, 2014 at 10:39 am

        Sounds good to me; but I doubt they’re going to do that while the ballot measure looms. This would be seen as another way water/sewer charges are being hijacked.

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  • Terry D April 19, 2014 at 9:47 am

    The talk of charging businesses based on number of trips is great…but what defines a business?

    In my neighborhood with 2600 households there are TWO businesses that create a LOT of trips. One is Fred Meyer which is fro profit.

    One is Providence Hospital, which is “not for profit.” I am intentionally putting it in quotes since the CEO made $4.3 million last year. We are also in a long standing legal battle to try to get them to replace a $15,000 crosswalk they tore up when they built the MULTI-MILLION Cancer center and “forgot to rebuild it.” Since they re not legally obligated to, they are using every loop hole in their “Conditional Use Mitigation Plan.”

    As far as I can tell that Hospital that does so much damage to the quality of life in our neighborhood is not willing to spend one dime that they are not legally required to. They will not even let the neighborhood association use their meeting rooms.

    Hence, this fee MUST include Large Employment Institutions, for profit or not, or I will fight it.

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  • ED April 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    If the City wants to use trips as the basis for the business fee, why don’t they use trips as the basis for the household fee? I would even accept averages, and not business and household specific totals that would vary based on each and every use’s mode split (that would be a nightmare to administer!). ITE already has estimates for households, cafes, stores, etc that the City could use, but the numbers the City has used so far aren’t evenly calibrated for homes and businesses. In the above examples, $8 per household versus $29 for a small cafe doesn’t seem right to me: are they really arguing that a cafe generates only four times the number of trips as a home? I appreciate the above argument that there are many trips in the City generated on our behalf, like delivery trucks, even if not generated directly from our homes, but the current proposal seems like double dipping: either charge households extra for trips on our behalf, or charge businesses based on trips, but not both. I would prefer to pay the fee indirectly through higher delivery charges than the household fee.

    Further, what counts as a household? Will there be any differentiation for single and multifamily units? If they went by the straight ITE estimates, the City should differentiate for at least these two types of households, if not a further delineation.

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  • 9watts April 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Here’s a little thought experiment:
    Let us assume (in the absence of better numbers) that
    -> planning, testing, revising (over the course of seven years), and implementing & administering this street fee cost tax payers $4M
    -> by the time it is finalized, the adjustments and exceptions have reduced the estimated annual take to $24M
    -> compliance is slightly better than the arts tax at 75%
    -> first year net yield for eight years of work: $14M

    How does this hard fought chunk of change compare to what our transport infrastructure is estimated to require each year just to keep up with deterioration? Dylan Rivera estimated to bikeportland on 12/11/13 that $153M/yr was needed for each of the next ten years to “bring our transportation infrastructure into fair or better condition.”
    14M/153M = just over 9%.

    And we still have free use of studded tires….

    And this fee has accomplished exactly nothing to discourage driving. Actually I take that back. It has *encouraged* driving by getting those who do not drive to subsidize the infrastructure which is built overwhelmingly for and worn down by the use of cars and trucks….

    And the city’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 “Most people rely on walking, bicycling and transit rather than driving. “ just got (another) middle finger from across town.

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    • MaxD April 21, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      thank you, well said!

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  • SteveG April 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Anyone interested in organizing an actual pressure campaign to actually influence this? Or are we all content to just circle-jerk on BikePortland?

    I don’t have the time, but someone could start a petition. Or at least a mailing list. Seems like plenty of people are interested in pushing for a different policy…

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