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A guest perspective on the PBOT street fee: Brian Willson

Posted by on May 28th, 2014 at 9:35 am

Brian Willson-14-13

Brian Willson, photographed in June 2011.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Publisher’s note: This guest opinion is part of our ongoing coverage of City of Portland’s efforts to pass a “Transportation User Fee.”

Submitted by S. Brian Willson, a Woodstock neighborhood resident


I am a nearly 73 year-old double BK amputee who handcycles to most of my engagements, meetings, events, etc, in Portland. I’ve handcycled about 70,000 miles over the past 16 years. Though I drove for many years with hand controls, I chose to get rid of my automobile and driver’s license as part of my commitment to reduce my direct reliance on fossil fuels, cars, and excessive carbon dependence, in conformity with Portland’s Climate Action Plan.

How does the Street fee contribute to Portland’s transportation goals in the Climate Action Plan? And even city officials acknowledge that it’s not nearly sufficient to meet our estimated transportation funding needs.

“A street fee provides no incentive whatsoever to reduce my burden on the transportation infrastructure, whereas a gas tax or carbon tax itself is an incentive to reduce energy consumption. To tax everyone, no matter their burden, light or heavy, on the infrastructure is regressive and fundamentally unfair.”

An indexed gas tax is much more honest as a direct, efficient method for raising funds for transportation infrastructure without any complicated collection process. A street fee provides no incentive whatsoever to reduce my burden on the transportation infrastructure, whereas a gas tax or carbon tax itself is an incentive to reduce energy consumption. To tax everyone, no matter their burden, light or heavy, on the infrastructure is regressive and fundamentally unfair. Many Oregon cities have imposed a gas tax. An alternative mileage-based road user fee as calculated by an installed device is another mechanism now being tested.

As Mary Olson, former member of the Oregon Transportation Commission, has stated, “The gas tax is a perfect tax. It’s not invasive on the person using it and it requires very little effort on the agency that depends on that money for providing services…Trying to replace that is really difficult, because anything you try to do is so much more complicated than just pulling up to the pump and paying for gas.” If indexed it is a most appropriate funding mechanism for transportation infrastructure.

Monthly impact of various state gas tax increases per gallon on an average driver: $0.10 = $4.31; $0.20 = $8.62; $0.30 = $12.93 (source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, PDF). If indexed to inflation it is a fair tax. Most gas taxes have not been indexed to inflation and today produce woefully inadequate transportation funds.


Brian Willson-18

But still, as a society we need to reduce dependence upon private cars, one of the most significant contributors to Climate Instability. Imposing the fee/tax on private vehicle ownership/use, rather than on households, is so much more honest, fair and to the point.

I terribly, terribly resent this tax. It does not contribute to a Green vision for Portland’s Climate Action Plan. Discouragement of private car usage itself does contribute to bicyclist and pedestrian safety, and carbon reduction, far more substantially than flashing lights, even though they are not mutually exclusive.

King Car needs to be directly addressed, and this street fee inappropriately and unfairly targets people in houses, or eating establishments, rather than people driving cars.

What does this say about Portland’s budgeting process? Transportation budget? Now we are slapped with taxes and fees here and there because there is no accountability in the budget process itself.

— Stay tuned for more guest perspectives on the street fee. Learn more at PBOT’s official website or by reading our previous coverage.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Jim Lee May 28, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Go neighbor Brian!

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  • hankee May 28, 2014 at 10:00 am

    “The gas tax is a perfect tax.”
    100% agree.

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  • AndyC of Linnton May 28, 2014 at 10:07 am


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  • spencer May 28, 2014 at 10:09 am

    couldnt agree more. tax gas use period. not enough money, index it to inflation NOW.

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 10:25 am

      The cognitive dissonance between the Climate Action Plan‘s goals and this effort is almost too much to bear. BPS is shepherding something visionary, urgent, and at times halting, but so important. It is troubling indeed that PBOT and Council can’t align their efforts with this process, seem determined to either ignore it or, worse, undermine it. There is simply no way this street fee can be seen to be aligned with it. History will judge this gaffe poorly.

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  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson May 28, 2014 at 10:19 am

    how do you propose getting businesses to support increasing the gas tax? right now the revenue from the gas tax is decreasing (because people like you are driving less and more efficiently) which is why we have an increasing funding gap. There needs to be a major overhaul of our funding systems (income tax) to better pay for things but until that HUGE conversation happens we are left putting fees on things. I don’t want to wait 5 or 10 more years for the perfect funding mechanism to happen.

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 11:17 am

      “revenue from the gas tax is decreasing (because people like you are driving less and more efficiently)”

      this is not really true. The less driving and the more efficient automobiles are a very small share of the reason our gas tax revenues buy so little infrastructure, and dramatically less maintenance than they used to.
      (1) the gas tax is not and has never in this country been indexed to inflation,
      (2) it really should be indexed not to the Consumer Price Index, but to the asphalt price index, which has risen much faster than the former.
      (3) although we have little experience with this in the US, in other countries the gas tax is high and keeps getting raised (beyond inflation) all the time. Germany, for instance, takes in 3x the amount of money they need to maintain their world class transportation system from gas and related auto taxes, not because their fleet is inefficient or people there drive more than we do, but because they know how to raise it, regularly.

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    • are May 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      i think this has to be a case of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the not at all good. if “putting fees on things” allows us to defer what you acknowledge is “the huge conversation,” when will we ever have that conversation?

      one possible answer to how you get businesses to support this or that measure that seems not entirely aligned with their perceived immediate short term interest is to remind them they are part of a community that has longer term interests.

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    • gutterbunnybikes May 28, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      So the fee ain’t enough, and you want to take more income tax? Yeah, that’s even less air as the street tax (excuse me—-fee).

      And people wonder why the income gaps keep growing…..

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    • MaxD May 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      I propose getting business to support raising the gas tax in the same way that they are trying to get citizens to support the street fee: pitch the idea a little, enact a sham of a “public process”, then vote it in. The difference is, they could use legitimate arguments to support the gas tax and explain how it will actually be a fee on road users, and be simple and inexpensive to administer, and show that it will be effective; instead we get to hear “I am going to hold my nose and vote for the street fee because screwing over the poorest citizens and giving another huge break to a few wealthy people (Goodman family) is the best we can do”(!)

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    • bjcefola May 28, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      I agree that a big conversation about taxes is necessary, but I think the street fee makes that conversation less likely. Why talk about equitable tax reform when you can arbitrarily slap a fee down and call it good?

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    • wsbob May 29, 2014 at 12:17 am

      Too many people don’t have the money to pay. Raising the gas tax is bad enough. Indexing the gas tax so it automatically rises with cost of living indexes or some such thing? Good luck accomplishing that here in the U.S. It would be more meaningful and humane to index the minimum wage, instead of letting its purchase value be continuously eroded by inflation. Help make sure the people it’s hoped will agree to pay for ideas like street fees, actually have some money to pay it.

      Difficult to imagine the mayor and company are really serious with their street fee idea. Actually, you know they aren’t when they nonchalantly make wisecracks, suggesting voters give them the boot next election if they don’t like the proposal. It’s as though they drew from a Mitch Greenlick playbook of ‘conversation starters’. No chance in heck it’s going to fly, but maybe it has been constructive towards getting people thinking about better ways to have their city equipped to be more usable without being compelled to travel in or drive a motor vehicle.

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      • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:10 am

        It was Novick who said give them the boot. He does not act like he has much respect for citizens. He may be smart but he has an untrained mind. I personally will be giving him the boot.

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  • Cyd Manro May 28, 2014 at 10:31 am

    You are right on target, Brian. Let’s incentivize reduction.

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  • dan May 28, 2014 at 10:40 am

    How do I thumbs up the post itself? Thanks for so clearly articulating the basic problems / disconnect with this fee!

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  • TJ May 28, 2014 at 10:48 am

    A state gas tax increase burdens those who cannot afford to live in areas where not having and using a car is an option. How much of inner Portland’s infrastructure is tied directly to those living in improved areas or to everyone?

    I do believe it will encourage use of cars with improved MPGs, but I feel we need to all carry the burden of improving our transportation options city, state, and country wide.

    I may be missing something. I just feel increasing the gas tax does little to encourage alternative transportation options and increases the need by way of a burden on “working class” neighbors.

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 11:28 am

      “I feel we need to all carry the burden of improving our transportation options city, state, and country wide.”

      paging Todd Litman….

      Readers of this blog should have learned by now that we all *do* already pay for our transportation infrastructure. The success of the disinformation campaign (thanks, Steve Novick, ODOT, BTA) is distressing. Per Litman’s Whose Roads, those of us without cars (who presumably do not buy gasoline) typically overpay for roads and maintenance through our taxes, beyond any wear and tear our not driving exacts on the system in question. Those who drive underpay. Their contributions through existing paltry gas taxes don’t come close to covering the costs their driving exacts on our infrastructure.
      (worth reading)

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      • TJ May 28, 2014 at 11:44 am

        I think that is my point. The column seems to imply that to discourage car use we should use a gas tax instead. However, this only puts a burden on those whose far and away best (if not only) option is a car.

        I agree we already share the burden, but the cost of cycling infrastructure has been shared by all citizens in Portland and the state with advantages only going to some neighborhoods who are reaping huge rewards.

        I don’t think a gas tax is a bad option, though it is burdening folks (even if they drive slower) who don’t yet have another option.

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        • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

          “the cost of cycling infrastructure has been shared by all citizens in Portland and the state with advantages only going to some neighborhoods who are reaping huge rewards.”

          How is that?
          People not driving in Portland (or in Burkina Faso) benefits everyone, including the local tax payers wherever they are.
          But I’m not clear on the mechanism by which citizens outside of the metro area have paid for cycling infrastructure in Portland. Can you explain?

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          • TJ May 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm

            Let’s keep to the Metro area: Cycling infrastructure, both built and not destroyed by roads like 82nd, is greater and better in inner Portland. Yet, everyone in the Metro area has contributed to the cost. We need to improve infrastructure in the outer neighborhoods.

            So yes, while someone not driving in Portland benefits everyone by way of congestion and carbon foot print, why should the cost benefit only be shared by those who are living in areas with a fair option to commute by bike.

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        • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:25 am

          Cost of bike infrastructure? I am so sorry that sharing four feet of your street (next to the curb and through the road debris or between speeding vehicles and parked cars) costs so much.

          It almost feels as though the streets have been integrated! I think I can speak for many when I say, we cyclists who think we own the roads are grateful for the generosity of all who have allowed us four feet of asphalt. Thank you! Thank you!

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    • davemess May 28, 2014 at 11:57 am

      No one said anything about increasing the state gas tax. But a local or county gas tax increase could work.

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    • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:14 am

      I feel that I have already sacrificed enough in not owning a car. There are a lot of things I’d like to do or places I’d like to go on the spur of the moment but can’t.
      People have to combine errands and drive less. It’s a no brainer. Many people have been doing that for decades. Wake up and smell the fumes.

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  • maxD May 28, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Instead of incentivising personal automobile use, the street fee encourages it! Parking lots are getting an exemption, while PPS will be billed a half million dollars! Trimet and Parks will be charged! PBOT is so deeply in the silo on this one it is embarassing. The street fee works directly against so many of the best things about Portland, it is a giant step in the wrong direction.

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  • TonyJ May 28, 2014 at 10:54 am

    A citywide gas tax has it’s own problems. If it is high enough people will have incentive to leave the area to get gas outside of the city. People near the borders will not need much incentive at all and out-of-town commuters will be able to easily avoid the additional tax entirely.

    An additional vehicle registration tax and increased parking fees all over town seems more reasonable to me.

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 11:22 am

      I’m for all those fees, but what makes you think others wouldn’t copy our higher/indexed/respectable gas tax, if it works: raises copious money, discourages that which wears out the infrastructure, aligns with our commitments to averting climate change or making gestures in that direction at least, just as we’re apparently in the process of copying 28 other cities who have done a stupid thing?

      Spillover is or can always be a problem. It is a problem with the street fee as many have noted here. But this is no reason not to take into account that potential and work with neighboring jurisdictions to reduce that effect going forward.

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      • TonyJ May 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

        I think some of our neighboring jurisdictions exist pretty much because they don’t have city taxes. I really doubt a community that votes to ban new mass transit will raise their gas tax to help us out.

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        • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

          “I really doubt a community that votes to ban new mass transit will raise their gas tax to help us out.”

          I agree as far as that goes.
          (1) History marches on. What seems remote today (inundated coast lines) may be obvious tomorrow (discouraging fossil fuel consumption everywhere).
          (2) Every jurisdiction that I can think of could use more money (whether for road maintenance of any of a number of other projects). If we find and implement a formula that, like in most of the rest of the non-US world, manages to raise gobs of money, others will take note, ideology be damned.

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    • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:30 am

      I definitely agree on increasing parking fees, but I recall Sam Adams encouraging people to drive downtown and park in the city-owned parking garages. So, it looks like the city does want people to drive and consume.
      And I wish downtown employers would not subsidize employee parking.

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  • jpm6787 May 28, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I am an active cyclist, but I don’t believe that should make me exempt from contributing to transportation funding.
    The proposed Street Fee is fair – all households will have to contribute, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation.
    The discussed gas tax will place the burden completely on motorists, which is not fair.

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 11:20 am

      “The discussed gas tax will place the burden completely on motorists, which is not fair.”
      -> what behaviors & modes wears out our infrastructure, requires that it be built to such high standards?
      -> what makes you think that you as a person who bikes is not currently paying for our streets and roads?

      If you want to talk about fair, the street fee is just about the last place you’d want to start looking.

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    • davemess May 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      This is only true if it is probably over a20 cents/gallon increase. Driving an extra X amount of miles wouldn’t be worth it for many near the middle of the city to save $2-4 dollars (the same way that people would eventually have figured out that driving 25 miles out of there way to avoid a $2 toll on the I5 bridge doesn’t make financial sense). Sure there are people on the fringes of the city who might take advantage of Clackamas gas, etc. This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

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      • davemess May 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm

        This was not put in the right place all. This was a response to the idea that a gas tax wouldn’t work because people are driving less.

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    • Alan 1.0 May 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      In addition to Todd Litman’s “Whose Roads?” that 9watts already cited, take a look at the references for road funding collected in this thread:

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    • gutterbunnybikes May 28, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Flat fee is hardly fair. Why should my street that sees little traffic or need much maintenance, cost as much as say a used car lot a few blocks away that takes up an entire block on a busy intersection. Why should mine be more than a parking lot?

      Why should my house on a flat street with such low maintenance costs cost as much houses on say the west hills, which take up much more curb space, many of which need bridges and culverts to reach?

      Flat fee isn’t fair….it’s lazy.

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  • Cory Poole May 28, 2014 at 11:17 am

    I for one like the idea of a street fee. The reality is that we all use the street if by bus, car, skateboard or bike. We all use the facilities and we should all pay for them. I also like that the fee would create a reliable funding source to pay for ped and bike infrastructure improvements. Would I like the fee to be weighted towards multi car households? Yes but I don’t see how that could be implemented. So the proposed fee offers a less then perfect solution. I would like to ban on the sale or professional installation of studded tires in the city as part of the proposal.

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  • Brian Willson May 28, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Fact correction: I have handcycled 70,000 miles over past 16 years, quite a bit more than the 17,000 mentioned in the essay.

    I would agree that an increase in the registration fee and parking fees would also be good additional sources of revenue geared to placing the burden on those who use the most damaging of technological devices (private cars) that effect our transportation infrastructure.

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  • Dave May 28, 2014 at 11:21 am

    It could encourage people to drive more slowly which will reduce the rate at which their car burns gas. Just because a tax is regressive doesn’t mean it’s bad.

    A state gas tax increase burdens those who cannot afford to live in areas where not having and using a car is an option. How much of inner Portland’s infrastructure is tied directly to those living in improved areas or to everyone?
    I do believe it will encourage use of cars with improved MPGs, but I feel we need to all carry the burden of improving our transportation options city, state, and country wide.
    I may be missing something. I just feel increasing the gas tax does little to encourage alternative transportation options and increases the need by way of a burden on “working class” neighbors.
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    • TJ May 28, 2014 at 11:48 am

      Agreed. Not bad. We’re encouraging lower fuel consumption, but not addressing car dependency. If I lived in Troutdale and worked on Swan Island, I’d probably pedal it more often than not, but a 35 mile round trip commute (or split via connecting to max) is not a real option for everyone.

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      • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 11:55 am

        “a 35 mile round trip commute (or split via connecting to max) is not a real option for everyone.”

        fair enough. But with a predictable gas tax (why not index it to 3x the asphalt index, or a climate change index?), commuters, employers, developers, transportation planners, and all the rest of those who shape our landscapes, the real estate markets, and just about everything else will take this (predictable, growing) price signal into account, and the 35 mile commutes will atrophy. This is the beauty of a dynamic that a real gas tax sets in motion. Long term predictability that raises vast sums and discourages the behavior, land use patterns, mode choices that together make our country so auto dependent, our commutes so long, and our gas bills higher than just about any other country’s.

        Yep. We have almost the lowest gas taxes and almost the highest share of our income that we, on average, spend on gas. And we get none of the benefits that come from gas taxes levied in all those other countries: world class infrastructure, free health care, etc.

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        • TJ May 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

          An issue of chicken before the egg OR the carrot we use. Do we encourage cycling or discourage driving?

          I am fan of ensuring drivers have the option of switching to a bike before we try to discourage their cars by making it a burden. This means homes, jobs, food, and entertainment within reasonable and safe reach by bicycle. I’m don’t mean the country side. I am referring to Portland’s (and Metro’s) suburban city limits where affordable family housing exist.

          I keep going back to Swan Island. Few employees bike out there, yet the Island sees 10,000 commuters a day. At 6% we’d have 600 cyclist pedaling to their “family wage jobs”. I am only going on observations, but I don’t see traces of 600 cyclist. It is a good case study in juxtaposition to the west side’s Hawthorne bridge seeing 8,000 trips by bike a day.

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          • davemess May 28, 2014 at 1:02 pm

            You also inconveniently (or conveniently) picked a major shipping hub in Swan Island, which is a little of an unfair comparison.

            I would guess that probably a at or near a majority of homes Portland have these options today. Most just choose not use them. i.e. I think many have had this chance to switch from a car to a bike for a while, and have chosen to stay with the car because it is convenient and relatively cheap.

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            • TJ May 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm

              Hi Dave-

              That’s my point. Should Swan Island not be accessible by bike to those who work there and live inside Portland’s city limits? Why should these citizens be burdened with an additional tax? Should those who work downtown or the in the Pearl on the west side and live close-in on the east side be pressuring a burden on those who live in under-supported regions of our city?

              I don’t think a majority of homes-to-job have convenient cycling options. No where near as convenient in terms of safety and or directness (distance). Take a look at the most recent cycling maps of Portland. We have huge breakdowns on major thru roads. While these are navigable by an experienced commuter with only a slight annoyance, to the new cyclist an attempt at going from the other side of 82nd to Swan Island is a scary notion.

              Again, we need real and equal options before we start making the car a burden. Otherwise we’re only gaining enemies where we need supporters.

              I may have steered off topic.

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              • davemess May 29, 2014 at 10:27 am

                And groups have actively been working to make easier biking options to Swan Island over the last few years. It’s not a pleasant place currently.

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              • davemess May 29, 2014 at 10:29 am

                And I think the major factor holding back a new potential bike commuter from east Portland to Swan Island is the distance and not the infrastructure.

                Regardless I’m not saying we shouldn’t be building infrastructure, I think this proposed fee is just really not going to shift the status quo at all.

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              • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:46 am

                Excuses excuses for driving everywhere. People are reluctant to try new things. Carpooling used to be a common thing for people who lived in the country; for suburbanites it would work even better, but everyone has to have their FREEDOM. Enjoy the freedom of a car while you’re stuck in it.

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          • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 7:59 pm

            “Do we encourage cycling or discourage driving?”

            TJ, let me ask you:
            which of these does the Street Fee accomplish?

            O.K., now which of these does a real, worthy-of-its-name gas tax accomplish?

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            • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:47 am

              Spot on.

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  • Todd Hudson May 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

    A gas tax will not raise the amount needed to pay for the backlog of maintenance and safety issues. Also, diminishing returns.

    The only counterargument I’ve heard is “tax someone else, but not me”.

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 11:32 am

      You and Mark Lear.
      “A gas tax will not raise the amount needed to pay for the backlog of maintenance and safety issues. ”

      Without telling us by how much you are going to raise the gas tax that will fail to pay for the backlog, your statement is meaningless.

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  • Reza May 28, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Is BikePortland going to come out one way or another on the street fee? The relative silence here almost comes off as an implicit lack of support; otherwise why not directly advocate on its behalf?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 28, 2014 at 11:44 am

      Hey Reza,

      We don’t typically come out and advocate for particular positions on city policy issues and politics these days. My goal with this site is to foster open and productive discussion about the issues and it gets very difficult to maintain a feeling of objectivity in our news coverage if I take strong personal position for/against a particular issue. Unlike a major newspaper, I don’t have the luxury of having a separate editorial board that is buffered from the newsroom. It gets tricky being reporter/editor/publisher/owner at the same time.

      All that being said, I always keep the option of making endorsements open. If I feel compelled to do some sort of for/against editorial about the street fee, I will do it. At this point, I’m not sure whether to publish something like that.

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  • Buzz May 28, 2014 at 11:37 am

    This is what happens when you elect engineers and lawyers to run your local municipal government….

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  • MaxD May 28, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Below is my plea to Commissioner Fritz to carefully consider the proposed new tax:

    Commissioner Fritz,

    As a citizen and constituent, I strongly urge you not to support the proposed street fee. At the least, allow the citizens to vote on this fee.

    There are many reasons not to support his idea, and many better alternatives to increase safety on our street and raise revenue. Please consider these points:
    1. The Street Fee is a REGRESSIVE tax: it adds a disproportionate burden on poorer citizens and low-car households.
    2. This will be net loss for PBOT’s budget and open the door to ever-increasing street fees. In a couple of years, the City’s general fund will simply give less to PBOT since they now have their own funding stream. The fee being touted as a supplemental increase for safety, will become the entire budget, safety needs will remain unmet, and we will be back to square one.
    3. The Street Fee encourages sprawl by not actually being a user fee (suburban subsidy!)
    4. Money should be raised by increased parking fees (on surface lots, meters, expanded meters, increased permit fees, expanded permit areas, etc) gas tax, registration/DEQ fees raised proportionately by vehicle weight, fees on studded tires. All of these funding mechanisms directly collect money from driving and damaging roads, and have the added benefit of incentivizing alternative transportation like walking, transit, carpooling or biking. Instead, the most shocking thing about this proposal is that the only exemptions proposed are railroads and PARKING LOTS! I would love to know how one justifies taxing schools and not parking lots! The street fee is counter-productive.
    5. Safety improvement should come from traffic enforcement!!! Lower speed limits, increase fines. Work with judges to stop reducing fines. Work to get speed/red light cameras. Raise fees and increase enforcement for distracted/drunk driving, Get rid of right on red. Get rid of “beg buttons’ for pedestrians so every signal allows pedestrians to cross. We do not need the street fee to create safer roads.

    If you want to get in touch:
    Mayor Charlie Hales
    (503) 823-4120

    Commissioner Amanda Fritz
    Phone: (503) 823-3008

    Commissioner Steve Novick
    (503) 823-4682

    Commissioner Dan Saltzman
    (503) 823-4151

    Commissioner Nick Fish
    (503) 823-3589

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    • davemess May 28, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Thanks for posting those again. I wrote mine out this morning. I tried to keep it pretty short and concise and not get into the wide variety of issues I have with this street fee.
      I would recommend people to not make their emails too long.

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    • kittens May 28, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Or if you prefer the impact of a physical letter:

      Mayor Charlie Hales
      1221 SW 4TH AVE, ROOM 340
      PORTLAND, OR 97204

      Commissioner Steve Novick
      1221 SW 4TH AVE, ROOM 210
      PORTLAND, OR 97204

      Commissioner Amanda Fritz
      1221 SW 4TH AVE, ROOM 220
      PORTLAND, OR 97204

      Commissioner Dan Saltzman
      1221 SW 4TH AVE, ROOM 230
      PORTLAND, OR 97204

      Commissioner Nick Fish
      1221 SW 4TH AVE, ROOM 240
      PORTLAND, OR 97204

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  • Peter R May 28, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    The regressive tax argument of “adds a disproportionate burden on poorer citizens…..” can be argued in the case of a gas tax. Really any tax is going to hurt the poor people more. Poor people drive too, plain and simple. Any increased tax on commodities that they purchase will be disproportionately felt by them. So that line doesn’t hold much water with me. Am I for the street fee? No, but I don’t agree that just taxing gas buyers is fair either. The mindset of some is to categorize automobile drivers as sinners. So let’s tax it like cigs, booze, etc.
    What’s the latest # on bike commuting for the PDX area? 6%? Still pretty low. I think the total non-car driving % was in the teens, still, pretty low. The vast majority of people coming into the city and getting around are apparently doing it by automobile. Why not just put a toll both up at the WA border and make all the commuters pay for the damage they are doing to “our” streets…please note the sarcasm……
    Taxes suck, fees sucks, but all in all, I think we should all pay for infrastructure improvements. Gas tax should go up, but not for the reasons most here seem to be justifying……those evil car drivers…..

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      “The mindset of some is to categorize automobile drivers as sinners. So let’s tax it like cigs, booze, etc.”

      Um, this is how it is done the world over. In fact Oregon pioneered the gasoline tax almost a hundred years ago. This is not some weird hippie fad of bikeportland readers. You could more easily argue that it is a statistical anomaly that some hold the view that cars should not be taxed heavily given the sum of the damages they are associated with, from oil wars to 3000+ annual distracted driving deaths.

      “The vast majority of people coming into the city and getting around are apparently doing it by automobile.”

      You seem to be missing the dynamic aspect of this. Tax gasoline heavily and what happens? Over time we as a society find ways to use cars less to get the same job done, and have money left over (tax revenue) to spend on things we value more highly than congestion and paying Chevron to assassinate Nigerians. The fact that most people still drive has a lot to do with how much we subsidize gasoline in this country. Take away the subsidies, and I guarantee you will like the results.

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      • Anon_anon May 28, 2014 at 10:45 pm

        Peter R is right: the gax tax will be regressive. Wealthier Portlanders who live in the inner city–where transportation options and low-consumption cars abound–will pay much less than those with lower incomes who live further from the center in areas where transportation options are poor and distances to the destinations of life are long.

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  • TK May 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    For me the most compelling argument Brian made in his well-written article is that our transportation policies should align with our goals to minimize our contributions to climate change. A gas consumption tax may be seen to be unfairly targeting cars (and particularly low-mileage cars), but these same cars are unfairly dumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than my bike. The two road usages are not equivalent, and the only reason we see them as such is because we do so little in this country to acknowledge the true cost and danger of climate change. A progressive transportation policy should encourage people to live closer to their work and seek out non-single-car modes of transportation where possible. A gas tax accomplishes this. A shared road fee does not.

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  • Jayson May 28, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    This fee is less about how much we drive and more about maintaining the existing infrastructure and improving transportation safety. So arguments about the gas tax are not very relevant because we all benefit from it regardless of how often we drive. We all depend on streets for carrying public transit, bikes, peds, deliveries, and cars.

    I’m sure almost everyone that monitors this website agrees gas tax is a better option, but we also have to consider the reality of our situation. The Portland and/or Multnomah County can raise the gas tax, but it’s practically useless unless the adjoining counties (particularly Clackamas) also raise their taxes (and we all know Clackamas County is hopeless). Our geography is just too small and Clackamas County is too close resulting in lots of people choosing to fill up outside our jurisdiction. I suppose a 3-5 cent local gas tax could be possible without effecting too much behavior change, but how much revenue will that generate?

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      “it’s practically useless unless the adjoining counties (particularly Clackamas) also raise their taxes.”

      Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. No one has decreed anywhere that this is or must be a go-it-alone thing into the distant future. The world, and our city, in which we’re debating this fee is not standing still. Someone has to start, and the spillover is overrated.

      Besides, what do you think is going to happen in Round 2?

      Let’s say two years hence we’ve managed to raise some piddly sums with the Street Fee, and then all hell breaks loose. Climate Change, which our elected officials were, for the most part, content to ignore until now, is hitting us with full force: Flooding, Crop failures, Storms, perhaps even fuel cost increases. We start to put two and two together. Watch how fast Hales & Co. fall over themselves to pass a gas tax–a stiff one–so we can imagine stemming the tide even though it may really be too late. I’m hoping we can lay some groundwork here for that day.
      The truism that raising the gas tax is a nonstarter will disappear quicker than you can get out your sandbags.

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    • gutterbunnybikes May 28, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      Really, I doubt the spill over would be much.

      I know full well that I can take 15 minutes and drive to Costco or Freddies on Johnson Creek to fill my car up, and then drive 15 minutes back to save about fifteen cents a gallon.

      But funny, I only do it when I’m already running low AND at Costco/82nd and JC for other stuff. The rest of the time I tend to fill up at one of the gas stations that is near my house.

      Is saving $2.00 or $3.00 for 20 gallons, really going make me want to make that trip? NO-becasue it will cost me likely 45 minutes to an hour or time (or worse if the 205 is backed up ), and that’s not even considering that I’ll use up close to a gallon of gas on the trip. And gas is right now around $3.80 a gallon…

      Heck now that I’ve done the numbers why not make it a 25 cent a gallon tax. That’s just enough to make it not worth the time to hunt for a better deal. (Heck since I’m talking of losing an hour of time, make it 50 cents- most still wont make the trip).

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    • gutterbunnybikes May 28, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      I seriously doubt many will make special trips to get cheaper gas.

      As it stands now I can travel to Clackamas and patronize two gas stations that on average are usually 10-15 cents cheaper a gallon then the stations in my neighborhood. The trip would be 15-20 minutes (if traffic is good, much longer if the 205 gets backed up) each way – not including waiting and fill time. With gas prices currently around $3.80 a gallon, it simply isn’t worth the trip for me. Especially considering that I’d use up the better part of a gallon of gas just to make the trip.

      Do I go to these places for gas now, yes…but only when I’m a 1/4 tank of fuel or less, and already in the area.

      Gotta remember I’m already nearly $4.00 (1 gallon of gas) in it to make the trip, so unless the gas tax was more than 50 cents per gallon, I wouldn’t go out of my way to make a special fuel up trip. And nor would most people.

      Also consider I drive a company truck who is based in Clackamas county. I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to fill it up either, and I spend much more in gas money on the company truck and equipment than I do on my personal rig.

      And that doesn’t account for the fact that many people don’t put that much thought into it, they just stop and fill up when they need to at the station they’re passing at the time they need the gas. Which is why you often have competitors across the street with different prices, and they both do fine.

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  • Mike May 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    There isn’t enough chatter about those that spend the money they get from the taxpayers. Gas tax or street fee can those with the power to spend really be trusted? How have they done in the past with the budget. To me that is the real issue. I would be all for raising the gas tax only if it was appropriately spent.

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    • davemess May 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      That is one of my 15-20 issues with this proposed “fee”.

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  • GlowBoy May 28, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I agree, the fuel tax is the perfect transportation tax:
    – People who drive more pay more, creating an incentive to drive less.
    – People who drive less efficient vehicles pay more, creating an incentive to drive more efficient vehicles.
    – People who drive more aggressively pay more, creating an incentive to drive more efficiently. Not that more than 2% of drivers have a clue how to actually do that, but at least the incentive is there, and so is the Internet.

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    • Paul May 28, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      Very well said. Couldn’t agree more on gas tax and first two points. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a Prius driven aggressively, though.

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      • GlowBoy May 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm

        “Can’t say I’ve ever seen a Prius driven aggressively, though.”

        1. Really? That may be the stereotype, and we hypermilers find it highly amusing because it’s so far off. In my observation, Prius drivers are on average not much more efficient than non-Prius drivers. Same race-to-the-red-light behavior and failure to anticipate braking situations as most other drivers. Plus, for optimal efficiency hybrids need to be driven with a particularly light touch – so as to stay out of electric assist as much as possible. Conventional combustion engines, on the other hand, tend to be most efficient around a 70-80% load – though they burn fuel quickly at that level, so you need to pulse and glide, using the accelerator only when genuinely needed, to turn volumetric efficiency into fuel economy.

        2. In absolute terms, driving a big SUV aggressively wastes vastly more fuel than driving a Prius aggressively. So the third point – that fuel taxes incentivize less aggressive driving – applies most to the people who are already driving the thirstiest vehicles. You’re right that it is much less applicable to those who are already observing #1 and #2 — and those who aren’t already in those two categories are precisely whom you’d want the gas tax to target. Again, it’s a beautiful solution.

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  • Dan May 28, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I am an active cyclist, but I don’t believe that should make me exempt from contributing to transportation funding.

    You already ARE contributing to transportation funding, through your federal taxes!

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  • gutterbunnybikes May 28, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Mr. Willson.

    Hope you’ve had a good recovery since the incident from about a year ago. You riding again yet? Not trying to pry, just curious.

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    • Alan 1.0 May 29, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      I saw him riding at Sunday Parkways a few weeks back. As always, he smiled and nodded back to my wave, though we’ve never formally met.

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  • kittens May 28, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Maybe the failure of the Street Fee at the hands of the voters will give cover for the state or the city to increase the gas tax and index it to inflation finally?

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      the only way that seems likely to happen is if Fritz votes against it. Anyone have reason to think this is likely?

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    • F.W. de Klerk May 29, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Novick and Hales have made it clear your voice does not matter. VOTE THEM OUT.

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  • groovin101 May 28, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    While it may not be perfect, one positive thing I can say is that the street fee puts us on an equal footing as residents, breaking down the perception that bicyclists don’t carry their fair share of the burden. Yes, we do help subsidize the infrastructure of autos as well as bicycles today, but that does not match the perception.

    The fact of the matter is, roads, sidewalks, and bicycle infrastructure are all in need of attention, are all community assets, and we *should* all contribute. The street fee is a proposal that is both a) being taken seriously, and b) may actually alleviate some of our shared transportation concerns. Is it better to try something imperfect and address problems as we go or do we stagnate while waiting for someone, oh please someone, to do something more to our liking?

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  • MaxD May 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm


    The Portland City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Thursday, May 29 at 2 PM. We encourage you to attend if you have the time. If you cannot attend, we still encourage you to email with your testimony, as the council clerks will distribute them to all the council offices. A vote is expected on Wednesday, June 4.

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  • Max May 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    It’s amazing to me that people are haggling over $100/year that goes to directly improving local transportation infrastructure/safety is a no-brainer. (or $35 for arts education)

    Compare that to the THOUSANDS of tax dollars per year I’m currently paying to maintain the US military.

    Are we really having this conversation??

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      You’re right.
      But, again, like with the gas tax I can do something about reducing my burden. I can earn less money/keep things below a tax threshold so the feds who like military misadventures don’t get (as much of) my money. But a flat (street) fee isn’t like that. Changing my transport behavior in ways that benefits everyone, reduces infrastructure maintenance costs, congestion, climate change, carnage–and saves me money, to boot–has no effect on this street fee. I get to pay it forever.

      If this were not, but I’d be railing against how those taxes are spent right with you.

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    • davemess May 29, 2014 at 10:37 am

      You really think that ALL of this proposed fee is going to go to transportation (depending on the collection method a good percentage of it could be eaten up in enforcement and administration).

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  • Tax Bricycles May 28, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    I don’t like the street fee. It should alarm Portlanders, because it’s a declaration that the city is unable to pay for something that’s a prime responsibility of city government no matter where you are — keeping the streets maintained.

    That much said, if the city is going to levy a surtax rather than get its fiscal house in order, the street fee is more equitable than a car tax. Bicyclists have gotten off scot-free for too long. This will at least be collected from them.

    The next step should be to require bicycles to be licensed and subject to an annual vehicle use fee like mopeds and motorcycles, and to require that bicyclists be licensed, trained, and tested on the rules of the road.

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    • 9watts May 28, 2014 at 7:08 pm

      ” to require bicycles to be licensed and subject to an annual vehicle use fee like mopeds and motorcycles”

      Yes, and shoes. We should subject pedestrians to licensing and an annual walking fee, to be fair.

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    • gutterbunnybikes May 28, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      trained and tested????? In Oregon….hahahaha

      When I moved here I had to answer 10 really easy questions on very basic road rules. And haven’t been tested since 92 when I moved here. I still haven’t read the Oregon drivers guide.

      Trained??? Since when is Drivers Ed. a requirement for getting a licence? Or does training mean reading the drivers guide before taking your test, which many could pass without ever reading the guide.

      Everything I’ve ever known about how to drive was from taking drivers ed in High School where it was a graduation requirement in another, defensive driving classes I had to take for driving jobs I’ve had in the past, and personal research on things like hypermiling and the such, and personal experience where I drove more in a month than most do over a year. Most drivers don’t and never will have such a background.

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      • GlowBoy May 29, 2014 at 12:30 pm

        Agreed, gutterbunny. Driver training and licensing in Oregon is a joke. Like you, I grew up in a state that required it and included it in the high school curriculum. It boggles my mind that 30+ years later, Oregon still doesn’t require it. 100 hours of “supervised” driving by a 21 year old who may or may not be related to you, then pass the easy test, and you’re in forever.

        Although I’ll give Oregon credit for having a lower level of aggression and rudeness on the road than many other places, the level of ignorance of the actual rules is still frightening.

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    • GlowBoy May 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm

      @”Tax Bricycles”: While I do support how the proposed fee would be blind with respect to what transportation modes they use, it’s patently untrue that cyclists are getting off scot free. You seem to be parroting the widespread myth that road work is mostly covered by user fees (i.e., fuel taxes and vehicle registration), and thus cyclists are not paying in. In reality the majority of road work is paid out of general funds, to which all taxpayers contribute. Given the cost of providing cycling infrastructure vs. the cost of providing car infrastructure, in the overall scheme cyclists are subsidizing drivers – not the other way around.

      Also, part of the impetus for “training” (if you can call it that in Oregon), testing and licensing drivers is the potential of motor vehicles to cause harm. A 6 foot wide, 4000 pound vehicle with limited maneuverability, in which the operator is sealed off from the sounds of the surrounding environment, and in which the operator’s vision is constrained by large blind spots and by being positioned 6-8 feet back from the front of the vehicle, is at least one thousand times more dangerous to other users of the roadway than a person riding a bicycle.

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    • dr2chase June 1, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      A heavy person on a heavy bicycle riding a couple of thousand miles per year does under a dollar’s worth of road damage, using standard, conservative formulas for computing road wear. Whoopee. That’s one heck of a subsidy bikes get, isn’t it?

      Driving cars is currently subsidized at a rate of about 40 cents per gallon (counting federal, state, and local spending, taxes, and tolls). Yes, there are taxes, but not large enough to cover costs.

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  • Christopher Sanderson May 28, 2014 at 9:10 pm


    You hit a home run on that. I agree wholeheartedly.


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  • kww May 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    A gas tax will also catch revenue from surbarnites with studded tires who destroy our roads!

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  • Ian Stude May 29, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    I appreciate Brian’s comments, and I agree that increasing the taxes associated with driving (via the gas tax and/or a VMT tax) are an essential component to realizing our sustainability goals. That said, this is unfortunately not a tenable solution to our current and immediate problems with the transportation network. I wish that it were, but a city wide gas tax would not survive politically and a statewide gas tax increase would be equally difficult to pass plus only a portion of the revenue would come back to Portland’s streets.

    I am in support of the street fee for a few simple reasons:

    1) The street fee adds a new layer to the funding mix. It does NOT replace or reduce the fees associated with use of automobiles. Nor does it preclude increasing those fees in the future. If you want to see the cost of driving go up via taxes and parking fees, then by all means, keep lobbying for those changes. I’m right there with you. But that’s not a good enough reason to oppose the street fee.

    2) I get that some homeowners (like me) aren’t using the street nearly as much as others. But I’m happy to pay for the infrastructure, even if I don’t use it — just like parks and schools. I don’t think that schools should only be paid for by parents of school age children and I don’t think streets should only be paid for by those who drive. These assets are a PUBLIC resource that benefits our city and our community as a whole. I think it’s fair that we all chip in.

    3) I’m tired of waiting for the perfect solution. The gap between what we can afford to maintain and what we need to maintain continues to grow, while the cost of repair grows exponentially as we delay. Let’s stop wasting valuable time pining for the perfect fix and get to work on what we know we can achieve today.

    4) The street fee will result in a substantial increase to the available funding for pedestrian and bicycle related infrastructure. You’re not going to hear our politicians talking loudly about this, but look at the numbers. The street fee will put millions of dollars towards bike improvements! I’m all for that because we know if we build it, people will ride it.

    I hope that you will join me in supporting the street fee and turning the conversation to improving how it’s implemented. We need to work on ensuring the low-income families are protected from a fee they truly can’t afford. At the same time, we also need to make certain the allocation of these new funds is in direct alignment with a more sustainable and more equitable transportation network.

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    • Alan 1.0 May 29, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      1) I don’t want another layer of taxation (by any name). Improve existing tax models for the goals of fairness that we can agree on and adjust the rates to reach a market consensus of how much bang-for-the-buck we as a community are willing to pay.

      This proposed fee does reduce the relative contribution of motorists to the street maintenance mix because it supplements their existing subsidy with more non-user fees, while motorist user fees decline in real dollars due to inflation.

      2) We are all chipping in already by many mechanisms, and non-motorists will continue to chip in even if all maintenance were funded by user fees because commercial motor users would pass their costs along to consumers of their product. A user fee will provide more incentive for those users to make more efficient use of their transportation expenses.

      3) I’m tired of continuing down the wrong path which inevitably subsidizes and supports a system we know to be unsustainable, unhealthy, anti-environmental, pro-war, divisive of humanity and antithetical to livable cities. Let’s stop wasting valuable time on stop-gap measures that exacerbate the underlying problems and adopt measures which are proven to work in many other jurisdictions.

      4) I hope you’re right about better bike (and ped) facilities but I’ll believe it when I see it, the proposed figures are still disproportionately low, and all the same (good and bad) could just as well be true of a motorist user fee.

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    • Bc June 7, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      I appreciate Ian’s thoughtful defense of the street fee, but given the blowback we’ve seen in the days since he made it, we can now eliminate #1 and 3, which are predicated on the notion that the street fee is more politically practicable than a local gas tax boost. #4 would apply just as much to a gas tax increase as to a street fee, so it’s not an argument for one over the other.
      As for #2, while it’s true that we all use the roads, like other common goods, unlike those, we don’t all degrade them equally. Some of us degrade them a LOT more, and those users are appropriately taxed by a gas tax, just as a big water user would pay more than one who consumed less. The ‘we all use them’ argument doesn’t fly, because the usage (i.e damage, which is what we’re really paying to fix) is not equal.
      Brian’s column has persuaded me to oppose the street fee, which is not only unfair and fails to achieve the goals of a gas or carbon tax, but would also consume the political energy needed to organize a push for fairer, more efficient carbon or gas tax boost.
      As for the equity arguments made above, it’s not clear that the street fee would be more equitable, and again, a higher gas tax (perhaps one that exempted TriMet ) would provide the politico-economic incentive to increase investment in public transport, construction of housing closer to employment and transit lines, and other long term structural changes that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, SOV usage, etc. In other words, by compensating for the hidden subsidies now given to gasoline, a gas or carbon tax, unlike a street fee, would make it relatively cheaper to live and get around in ways that reduce the deterioration of streets, not to mention the rest of the planet.

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  • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:01 am

    You are right on, Brian.

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  • 007 June 2, 2014 at 11:51 am

    After reading 75% of the posts, I’m nostalgic for the hippie, granola days of old. Stop driving so darn much! What’s the hurry?? Move to the East coast if you want to live like a crazy person. Thank you!

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