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Survey: 100% of Facts Think anti-TSPLOST Advocates are Wrong

June 6, 2012

I wanted to write something happy today. I had found an interesting little list of things you tend to do when you don’t own a car in Atlanta and it made me all happy and amused and I really wanted to share it. But sadly I can’t. And I can’t because of a gentleman named Robert Ross. See Mr. Ross has absolutely no idea how transportation is funded and how they are all interconnected to one another. He has decided to inundate The Fast Track Forward Facebook page with his breathtaking ignorance and stubborness. But that is to be expected from the anti-TSPLOST campaign. A blitz attack of misinformation and they hope it sticks. See Debbie Dooley. See the politicians who are ironically up for reelection this year.

Transit ridership is up nationwide by 5%, and 3% in Atlanta. I wished that number would have been higher here, but I will take it, and it is great news. But according to the Robert Ross Institute of I Have No Idea What the Hell I am Talking About, ridership needs to be up by 400% to cover its costs. Could be right, but then again I don’t give a damn. And I don’t give a damn because I don’t have any left to give. Primarily because people like Robert Ross can’t seem to get it through their titanium encapsulated heads that roads aren’t free, nor are they entirely funded by the users. If you are reading this Mr. Ross wipe the coffee off your screen that I am assuming you just spit up all over it, because yes it is true. There is no magic road fairy that comes down and gifts us the brilliant ideas of super highways, diverging diamonds, and cloverleaf interchanges. And no, the second lowest fuel tax amongst developed nations (only to Mexico, and we all know what a bastion of industrial and technological advances they are) does not cover the cost. According to an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts whose information was obtained from the Federal Highway Administration, user fees (gas tax, registration, automobile tax, tolls, etc.) make up 51% of revenue for roads and all the work that they require. 13% came from bonds. But wait 51+13 only equals 64 (assuming you want to count the bonds as user revenue since the debt is serviced by fuel taxes). So where is this other 36% coming from. That over 1/3 that Mr. Ross claimed is such a miniscule amount that non drivers fund comes from things such as property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and a whole host of other taxes not associated with roads.

But according the recent Robert Ross Study of I Don’t Understand How Goods and Services are Moved and Paid For, this tiny, oh so tiny 36% (which has been on a very rapid increase since 2005) is non drivers way of paying for roads that move goods and services that they use. If only that was true, but its not. Why you say? Well simply put the companies that move goods and services that require the use of trucks buy fuel. That fuel is taxed. Those taxes are suppose to be the user fees that pay for the roads that they are on. That cost of fuel is passed down in the form of fuel surcharges which are either independently broken out or factored into the price of said goods and services (anyone who has ever looked at an invoice for goods and services can show you that.) So if you follow the money trail, I, a non driver, pay for roads that I do not drive on but accept services from in the form of paying for that company’s fuel which is taxed, whose taxes go to the roads. So either way, driving or not driving. I am paying for the fuel that is being used for the products that I purchase. This is why the costs of goods and services increases when the cost of fuel goes up. So by my paying for the fuel, the tax on that fuel is paying to cover the roads that are being used for it. Or at least 51% of the road cost. And if I am paying a fuel surcharge which is taxed, and then my sales, income, or property tax gets diverted as well to roads, I am actually paying for it twice. And in regards to your belief that food distribution only moves via truck, you might want to recheck that fact. In fact you will probably want to take a look at nearly every physical good that is transported in this country. You will probably be rather surprised to find that it all ends up on a train at some point along the way.

But wait. Maybe Mr. Ross is one of those highly skeptical people where if the information is not uttered by Shawn Hannity or Neil Boortz they must be part of the liberal agenda lame stream media. Shucks. If only there was someone from the other side of the political spectrum who understood and believed those facts. Here is where I would insert a graphic of William Lind arriving on a white horse if I had time to draw it up. Who is William Lind might Mr. Ross ask? William Lind runs a website called the American Conservative and is a supporter of mass transit. Now I am sure the combination of those words probably popped a blood vessel inside Mr. Ross’ head but it’s true. And according to William Lind, he derived the exact same conclusion as the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Mr. Ross went on to say that that miniscule, ever so tiny, insignificant 36% also covers the need for emergency personnel (police, fire, etc.). That doesn’t quite add up. Mainly because the roads are not 36% occupied by emergency vehicles. Secondly the need for police cars is based upon the city they are serving and how intelligent their planning was. New York City police has an automobile fleet that ¼ the number of their personnel. If our city was planned better, which can be done, that wouldn’t have to be a near 1:1 ratio for us. Therefore reducing the need of roads for officers as well as their automobiles. Well Mr. Ross dedicates the rest of his posts to essentially “pay for what you use.” I have never had to call upon a fire truck for anything in my life. So under his premise, why should any of my tax dollars go to roads for firemen that I never call upon?

From the get go, wasn’t Mr. Ross’ argument that transit users should pay for what they use and not non users? If each of us only contributed to what we used, there would be no police, fire, or other emergency services, or at least very little. Simply because a majority will rarely or ever need them. But if I didn’t put money into this pot, then everyone else would be screwed that did need it. But people like Mr. Ross are selective arguers. Only where they see fit, and only for the things that they want. Otherwise it is socialism, social engineering, hand outs, bail outs, and any other pathetic buzz word that Shepherd Smith taught them. But it isn’t. I put in money so that everyone else can call upon emergency services. I put in money for schools that I will never use. I put in money for community improvements and parks that I will never see. That is what an industrialized and civilized society does. We all chip in. And maybe we don’t experience individual personal results from all of it. But the money I put into schools I will never use will produce intelligent members of society who will create jobs and businesses. The money I put into emergency services that will keep someone else’s neighborhood safe, or stop a local business from burning to the ground which helps make a safe community. The money I put into parks and improvements I will never use improves a community, improves property values and businesses, all which generate tax revenue that will be recycled into more improvements for more people so that we all have a good place to live. And my money goes to roads. Roads that I hate. Roads that do nothing but piss me off. But those roads are the same ones that allow people like Mr. Ross to get to work. And maybe him or I will provide one another a service that is needed that further improves our community and economy. And if Mr. Ross had even the slightest ability to look outside his bubble, he would realize that many people who use public transit do the same. They are hard working people that at some point somewhere down the line provide him with a service, a product, or a form of entertainment that he wants to have so dearly. So no Mr. Ross. Transit isn’t covered 100% by its users, just like roads. And if we demanded that from every form of transportation no one would be able to go anywhere whether it be by plane, train, or automobile because all, ALL, forms receive a massive amount of subsidy. For some reason, decades later, we are the only civilized country that still has to have this debate.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2012 4:17 pm

    Thank you.

  2. SohCahToa permalink
    June 7, 2012 10:31 pm

    I am very conservative and I like this post a great deal (aside from the jabs at Sean (not Shawn) Hannity, and the pathetic Shepard Smith buzz words). Thank you for posting about William Lind. As a conservative planning student, I’m a red dot in a field of blue, but it’s nice to see others with conservative views understand how transit is so important and that roads are not THE solution.

    I do wish that this included some more facts showing how anti-TSPLOST advocates are wrong. It’s a good post, but more facts would have made it a lot better.

    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 8, 2012 7:58 am

      My apologies for the jabs, but I find it difficult not to. Especially when people like that and Neil Boortz and Debbie Dooley practice the art of scare tactics and ridiculous party politics. Most of the anti-TSPLOST people use them as means to justify why they do not support it. It is never rooted in facts. It is always based upon buzzword terms that get tossed around on AM radio and FOX news. They are against it not because its the wrong thing. They are against it because it fits into the political idealogy for the moment. Not saying that doesnt come from the liberal side as well. Keith Olbermann is a nut just as much as Glenn Beck and the Sierra Club’s stubborn stance on it being a larger percentage of transit is no means to achieve a balanced compromise for the region. The sad thing is that this TSPLOST has been politicized by both sides when it shouldnt be. On one spectrum you have the conservatives who are up for reelection that are railing against it or trying not to deviate from the extreme baseline views that have developed. On the other you have idealists who are against it over race, while ignoring population density, and a stubborn view that the list should be 100% transit. But smartly enough you have people like Kasim Reed, Clark Howard, Nathan Deal, William Lind and both senators from the state that dont just support it, but have campaigned for it. And because they know its right.

      I would have included even more “facts” in this (though not much of what I stated is opinion. It may not all be statistical numbers, but the other elements of the argument are things that can easily be verified through simple observeation) but the post was getting too long as it was, and I, shall I say we, have written several other posts as well that include more facts. From a personal perspective I try to chop up the argument in more bite sized stories as best as I can and address the arguments independently. Not to mention I have written something else on here that was rather similar to this. Feel free to poke your head around and read some more (I did take shots at the Sierra Club.)

      And I agree William Lind is the right kind of conservative. I may not agree with everything he supports, but in regards to transit I dont understand how anyone can argue with his stance that you cant get much more fiscally responsible than mass transit. Nor ignore the facts of the economic impact that it has on cities and communities.

  3. Bob Ross permalink
    June 10, 2012 8:03 pm

    FTF, here’s where we differ: you’ve assumed that the entire remaining 36% of road revenue used is paid by people who do not use them, which is simply not so. Road users also pay a very large share of those income, property, and sales taxes that go through D.C. or the Gold Dome enroute to being spent on the roads they use. The question then becomes, “How much of the 36% is paid by transit-only riders?” To simplify our task, let’s look at the % of transit riders in the metro area, which GDOT’S Commuter Survey pegs at 5%. Therefore, the largest share of the 36% will be about 1.8% (.36 x .05). Per ARC’s “Regional Snapshot, May 2012″, 41% of those transit riders have no vehicle available; 1.8% x .41 = .74%, or less than one per cent. The ARC document further reports that 20% of people in premium transit areas are in poverty, so do not pay any income taxes- which would further reduce revenue paid by the .72%. In summary, even if several of these government estimates were off quite a bit, it wouldn’t make a significant difference in the conclusion that transit-only riders fund a VERY small part of road construction & maintenance.

    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 12, 2012 7:44 am

      Whoa slow down on the numbers there buckaroo. This was your original statement: “FTF- why do contend that road users are NOT paying the full costs of roads?” Don’t try to divert the argument in a different direction. The fact of the matter is that roads do not pay for themselves. And my intent was not to demonstrate the percent, nor advocate that non drivers make up that full 36% (which is really more like 48% since 12-13% of “user fees” go to service the debt of borrowed money). Either I failed in communication or you failed in comprehension. But regardless, roads are not paying for themselves. Money has to be pulled from other resources to cover the cost, and that is not counting the additional costs put upon other community services because of how sprawling our community has become directly associated with roads. Money that should be going to life and safety, education, civic functions, transit, community improvements, etc.

      Your math is also useless in that you cannot quantify the percent diverted to road transportation. We have no way of identifying the income contributions of either side specifically, (and no matter what you think, 65% of transit users make more than the poverty line in America so dont go pulling the class warfare crap) and how much of their contributions were attributed directly to roads. Your attempt to exclude people of poverty is a feeble attempt to manipulate your numbers, ignoring that those sample people also have to pay sales taxes (funny coming from someone who represents a party that hates class warfare, but is one of the first to attempt to introduce that argument.) You can only make a best guess, percent or per person estimate which has too many variables that cannot be defined. Variables that no matter how you try and twist and skew, cannot be verified or certainly accounted for. There is no way to break down by specific user and specific dollar amount that went to it. But we do know for a fact that somewhere between 36% and 48% of road funding has to come from sources other than those directly associated with roads.

      I dont really care if it is a small amount or a very very small amount. That .72% still represents over 16 million dollars of the GDOT’s operating budget. If its 1.8% thats over 40 million dollars. 16-40 million dollars that could have been used to prevent transit cuts on vital routes. 16-40 million that could have been used for sidewalks so that people have better pedestrian access. 16-40 million that could have attributed to additional routes, more frequent service, or better resources that improves timeliness, safety, and overall quality of service. No matter how you slice it, you arent paying your share to move people around this region because you dont pay for what you use, and even if you do by some stretch of the imagination from your other taxes, it is at the sacrifice of so many other underfunding elements in our community.

      • John Rose permalink
        June 12, 2012 1:28 pm

        You’re missing the real obfuscation here. He’s calculating the roaduser-to-non-roaduser subsidy relative to the total cost of roads. If you really want to measure how fair this subsidy is to non-roadusers you would measure it relative to THEIR income, not the total cost of roads. It’s akin to saying Rolls Royces aren’t expensive because they make up only 1% of total worldwide car sales.

      • Bob Ross permalink
        June 12, 2012 2:58 pm

        You’re sounding like you’re in this discussion like someone insulted your family lineage- settle down; cost-benefit analysis is data, and I’ll go where ever it goes. I’ve used plenty of train and bus transit- I’m looking to use scarce resources for the most congestion relief (per the TIA law).
        Roads don’t pay for themselves, of course, but road users do. Send me your email address (you have mine from registration on the site), and and I’ll send you the Federal Highway Administration, Georgia Department of Transportation, MARTA, and Atlanta Regional Commission references used in the calculations.
        P.S. I didn’t say people below the poverty line didn’t pay sales taxes- they most certainly do.

  4. UrbanCommuter permalink*
    June 12, 2012 2:16 pm

    @John
    Yes I do think an analysis relative to their income would be the best example. That is what I was attempting to imply with there being certain variables that just cant be accounted for. In an ideal world we could apply simple mathematics to it in the ways him and I have both attempted to demonstrate, but it would be physically impossible to trace the amount of ones income (in the case of a non driver) and expenditures that would be diverted from sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes that would be spent on roads because all of that money ends up being put in one large pot. But that is also the point in a way that I believe one of the posters on the Facebook page was making as well. There is no real way of doing that, and that our money has to be diverted to things that we may all not use. In the case of myself and Mr. Ross, my money going to roads I dont use, and his money going to transit he doesnt use. The bigger picture is that neither of these services are soley paid for by their users, so for Mr. Ross to expect transit users to do what drivers do not do is hypocrital to say the least. My money has to go to roads I do not use or want, but I also understand that it is a vital necessity. The same vital necessity that transit is for all major cities in this country. But something he is choosing to want to ignore.

  5. Bob Ross permalink
    June 14, 2012 10:03 am

    UC- if you’re going to discuss the topic honestly, do the research, present the facts. and provide us some references. As I stated, transit-only users pay less than 1% towards roads; transit non-users pay much more than that for transit just through the 15% of their federal fuel tax payments that congress directs to transit. You apparently embrace much more of a Marxist-socialist philosophy; during 28 years in the Army, I didn’t serve one day to defend socialism.

    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 14, 2012 11:13 am

      So let me get this straight. It is socialism when money is taken from the tax pool to pay for mass transit, and it is socialism when transit does not pay for itself. But it is not socialism when roads only pay for 52% of themselves, when the original set up was for them to pay for themselves entirely. And it is not socialism when that gap is filled by taking money from other tax resources implying that communal roads are more important than schools, parks, and other infrastructure. Tax resources that when departments of transporation were established, were not suppose to have access to such funds because roadways were set up to be funding entirely by its “user fees” It is also not socialism when the 15% you quoted (speaking of needing to do research it is actually 20%) was a part of a fund established by none other than Ronald Reagan to advance and improve the nation’s transit infrastructure, and upheld in the face of opposition by an overwhelming majority of bi partisan support recently. And if my view is an embracing of a marxist socialist society then how do you explain Nathan Deal’s (R), Saxby Chambliss’ (R), Johnny Isakson’s (R), Casey Cagle’s (R), and Ray LaHood’s (R) unwavering support for TSPLOST? How do you justify Mitt Romney’s (R) support for the MBTA, Rudy Guliani’s (R) support for MTA, Bloomberg’s (I) support for MTA, Chris Christies’ support for mass transit in general, Rick Perry’s support for DART and other Texas transit systems, and countless other politicians who see the value in mass transit? Or are you one of those people that despite facts, and despite their importance (and often balanced and bi partisaned view of the country and societal needs demonstrated by their bi partisan voting records) as those being places of elitism and hives of socialism, though without their transit infrastructure they would not be the economic powerhouses that they are. As well as some of the most influential cities in the world making most economic life in our region even possible in the first place? Or are you just as comfortable watching Atlanta evolve into Birmingham out of political idealism, while spending most of your time quoting and supporting politicians that believe the opposite of you?

      If transit is socialism, a word which you clearly are not in tune of its true definition and have manipulated it into what you personally view it as, then what are schools, police, fire, hospitals, home owners associations, co-ops, public water, airports, libraries, all farmers, corportate relocation tax breaks, Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan for Mass., and Michelle Bachmanns receipt of farm subsidies? You can continue to throw out this 1% of non transit users payment towards roads all you want, but the fact of the matter is that roads do not pay for themselves when they rely on bonds, loans, and tax subsidies from other resources. You want to talk about facts and history yet you completely ignore the fact that roads and the funding of them were established to be fully funded by their own “user fees.” By your very definition of socialism that is exactly how roads are currently funded by 48%. The simple fact that roads cannot cover the expense of themselves, requiring the diversion of other tax revenue to prop up a service that has been established for the common good of society. If you spent 28 years in the army not to defend socialism, then you wouldnt have found yourself checking off many of the names I listed previously on your voter ballots, because that is exactly what they are in support of.

      Think about this, look at the list of the 40 most economically important cities in the world. There are three cities that do not have significant mass transit infrastructure; Atlanta, Miami, and Houston. Both Atlanta and Miami have slipped in overall rankings in recent years. Houston moved into that list, ironically after they started investing in mass transit. All of the other 37 cities have extensive mass transit systems. But all three hover near the bottom of that 40, all in jeopardy of falling out. Now you would probably chalk that up as irony, but rather it proves how important that infrastructure is to maintain a globally important and economically competitive city. If that doesnt work, name me one globally important city that has sustained its clout while surviving on a car dominated culture. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

  6. Bob Ross permalink
    June 18, 2012 8:55 am

    I’m still waiting for your email address that will allow the return of a brief analysis & references that demonstrate that road users pay for roads. Re: Houston: http://blog.kir.com/archives/2010/03/the_metro_train.asp (PS, the city has also risen due to am abundance of energy-related jobs and no state income tax). In the meantime, I’d pass on Mark Twain’s advice, “I’d have written a shorter book, but didn’t have the time.”

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