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Why the Portland Street Fee Is A Bad Idea

Thursday, August 28, 2014

 

Portland street

Portland street

By both lefty and righty analysis, a street fee to pay for road maintenance in the city of Portland fails. To the liberally inclined, charging every household a standard fee for road repair, regardless of how much they use or don’t use the roads, is inherently inequitable.

My neighbor, Esther, is housebound at 96. Her caretakers will pull out her car once a week and drive a few blocks to load up on groceries. The rest of the time her car sits in the garage. Under the proposal floated by Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales, she would pay almost $140 a year.

In contrast, the house across the street has four apartments, with eight young adults living there. Six of the eight commute by car every day. Because it’s an old house, built before the car dominated the city, they all park on the street.

Their landlord would be charged about $80 a year for each of the units, about 60 percent of what Esther would pay. Businesses would be charged (unless they lobby themselves out of paying) a larger fee based on how much traffic they are calculated to generate.

But how do you compare a corner store on SE Hawthorne Street with a strip mall on SW Barbur Boulevard? Portland’s plan to use the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Trip Generation Manual is little better than pulling numbers out of thin air; the document has long been challenged by planners as promoting overbuilding of roads.

Sound complicated and unfair? Does to me.

More equitable system?

If you have a market or libertarian bent, you might ask: Why don’t we use an easier and more equitable system, such as the gas tax, to assign responsibility and collect revenue?

Oregon cities from Astoria to Woodburn have a local gas tax, but not Portland. Eugene's 5-cent local gas tax generated almost $3 million in 2013. Multnomah County’s take with a 3-cent tax was almost $7 million.

Since there's already an easy method to collect this tax (avoiding creating a new bureaucracy as the Arts Tax necessitated) and it is tied to how much you use the road, it passes both the fairness and limited-government test of the left and the right. Oregon’s gas taxes, at 30 cents a gallon, are well below Washington’s (37.5 cents) and California’s (39.5 cents), so adding a few cents a gallon won’t impact our state’s competitiveness, either.

Add in demand-based parking fees wherever there is a shortage of parking, and the city could be rolling in dough.

So why are Hales and Novick pushing a proposal that is inequitable, hard to administer and is opposed by businesses and homeowners?

The only hint we get is that it is “the least unpopular” way to raise money, according to Novick‘s speech at the May 22 unveiling of this proposal.

The city has been hampered in its effort to meet a real need (the streets are in bad shape and getting worse, just like the rest of the US) by leading with the street fee before making the case that Portland would truly target spending rather than subsidize commuters from the suburbs like they did with their support of a toll-less Sellwood bridge project.

Homepage photo: Ian Sane via Compfight cc

Rex Burkholder

Rex Burkholder

Trained as a biologist, Rex Burkholder worked as a science teacher and in the Northwestern forests. He started the bicycling revolution in Portland, Ore., as a founder and policy director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. An early leader in sustainability and equity, Burkholder also cofounded the Coalition for a Livable Future, bringing together over 100 diverse NGOs in the greater Portland region. He was elected to the Metro Council in 2000, serving 12 years, during which he led efforts to reform regional transportation policy and to integrate climate change into the decisions of all levels of government in Oregon.

 

Related Slideshow: Top 12 carless cities in the U.S.

Portland ranks among the top cities in the nation where residents live without cars. Check out the other cities that scored highly.

Prev Next

1. New York City

City rank by population     Largest        
Carless population            56.5 %
Metro area density            2,054 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Leo-seta, CC

*density information from U.S. Census urbanized area records for 2010

Prev Next

2. Washington D.C.

City rank by population     24th largest
Carless population            37.9 %
Metro area density            1,150 people
per kilometer *

Photo by robposse, CC

Prev Next

3. Boston, Mass.

City rank by population     21st largest
Carless population            36.9 %
Metro area density            862 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Darron Schall, CC

Prev Next

4. Philadelphia, Pa.

City rank by population     5th largest
Carless population            32.6 %
Metro area density            1,060 people
per kilometer *

Photo by by Tony Fischer, CC

Prev Next

5. San Francisco, Calif.

City rank by population     14th largest
Carless population            31.4 %
Metro area density            2,419 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Christopher Chan, CC

Prev Next

6. Baltimore, Md.

City rank by population     36th largest    
Carless population            31.2 %
Metro area density            1,187 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Tim Shahan

Prev Next

7. Chicago, Ill.

City rank by population     3rd largest
Carless population            27.9 %
Metro area density            1,361 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Bryce Edwards, CC

Prev Next

8. Detroit, Mich.

City rank by population     18th largest
Carless population            26.2 %
Metro area density            1,078 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Sam Beebe, CC

Prev Next

9. Milwaukee, Wis.

City rank by population     30th largest
Carless population            19.9%
Metro area density            974 people
per kilometer *    

Photo by Peter Alfred Hess

Prev Next

10. Seattle, Wash.

City rank by population      22nd largest    
Carless population            16.6 %
Metro area density            1,169 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Bala Sivakumar, CC

Prev Next

11. Portland, Ore.

City rank by population     28th largest        
Carless population            15.3 %
Metro area density            1,362 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Ian Sane, CC

Prev Next

12. Los Angeles, Calif.

City rank by population      2nd largest 
Carless population             13.6 %
Metro area density             2,702 people
per kilometer *

Photo by Jeff Turner, CC

 
 

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