Spring 2000 issue, published April 2000

Continued, second of two web pages.



Al Spivak, Vice President, MTS

The auto's fixed and variable costs are distorted in directions that incite the car's inflated use. Congestion, sprawl, pollution, street deaths, and other consequences of excessive auto use can be mitigated by correcting the distortions.

Public Subsidies

In the United States, the total yield of the gas tax - the only use-related auto fee - is far too low to meet the cost of facilities and services necessitated by autos, particularly in view of the failure to levy property taxes on road-occupied land. General tax revenues are diverted by all levels of government to bridge the gap between automobile infrastructure costs and gas tax receipts. As a result, people are forced to pay auto-related costs whether or not they use autos and, if so, without regard to the extent of auto use. While obviously unfair to those who do not drive, it is also unfair to auto users, who are being deprived of their right to know the true cost of their driving and the ability to control that cost by controlling their use of the automobile.

Correction of this situation requires an end to diversion of general funds into road purposes, assessment of equitable property taxes against road land, and adjusting of gas taxes and/or other mileage-related fees to cover all road costs. The process would be on a "revenue-neutral" basis, with reduction of property, income, and sales taxes to reflect their reduced diversion. The only significant change would be the drivers' new ability to control auto-use-related expenditures by limiting their driving, a right denied them today. Road users' dollars would assume the status of meaningful votes, just as is the case with other commodities and services in a free-enterprise society, and the public would no longer be vulnerable to costly road-bond issues promulgated by road-building interests. Concern for ill effects upon the poor can be met by appropriate welfare, but there is no reason to continue giving indiscriminate subsidy-welfare to drivers of Jaguars, Mercedes, and truck-trailers.

Private Subsidies

Businesses provide "free" parking for customers and others -- parking whose cost is included in charges for goods and services provided. Thus, all customers, regardless of how they travel, pay the parking cost. This must be corrected so that auto-related costs are paid only by those who necessitate them, and are no longer foisted upon customers in general.

The Auto's Fixed Costs

Major elements (purchase price, registration, licenses, and insurance premiums) of the cost of owning and operating an auto are fixed and cannot be reduced by driving fewer miles. This part of the cost, totaling about half the total average price of owning and using an auto, works in the opposite direction. Being fixed, it impels driving, since reduced use actually increases the cost of each mile driven. In addition, it enhances the feeling that, since one has paid this huge price anyway, one might as well get the use out of it.

To mitigate the condition, the maximum possible portion of the fixed costs should be converted into variable, mileage-related fees, so that they can come under the driver's purview and control. The conversion would be relatively simple in the case of auto insurance premiums, licenses, and registration fees, all of which could be collected as surcharges on the gas tax, instead of via the present high annual or semi-annual bills. In the case of insurance premiums, there would be particular advantages, since payment would be in direct proportion to use (risk exposure), and since every driver would be covered. Premium adjustments for age, driving record, etc., would be handled by mailed bills, and drivers could continue to select preferred insurers for distribution of state-collected premium payments.


By giving consumers new control over their driving outlays, these changes will enable them to vote meaningfully with their dollars for the modes and quantities of transport that they actually prefer. By paying directly, totally, and in proportion to use, consumer dollar-votes will gain a validity now denied them. And, with the full cost of auto use perceptible to users, viability of alternatives will be enhanced and private enterprise again devoted to provision of safe, commodious mass transit,.without need for subsidy.

This program will move road transport into the free market without draconian measures and in politically attractive fashion.


James Corless, STPP

In the final days before the February 25th deadline to submit state legislation for the 2000 session, a record number of new bills were introduced aimed at improving neighborhood livability, increasing safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and promoting stronger regional planning and 'smart growth' measures preserving open space and providing better transportation choices. Many see the strong showing for such a broad slate of transportation and growth reform proposals as an indication of both an increasing interest among voters as well as a stepped up statewide effort among advocacy groups and elected officials to build more effective, diverse coalitions.

Several bills provide big boosts for bicycle and pedestrian safety in particular. Tens of millions of dollars in annual funding increases for statewide bicycle and pedestrian projects are provided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy- sponsored SB1809 (Johnston) in addition to SB1772 (Brulte). The California Bicycle Coalition (CBC) and the CA Association Of Bicycling Organizations (CABO) are sponsoring SB1629 (Sher) requiring adequate bicycle and pedestrian accommodations on all new or reconstructed roadways statewide. Assembly Majority Leader Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) is working with STPP, BayPeds and other safety advocates to develop a "pedestrian bill of rights" that will soon add language to the current placeholder bill, AB2522. Bicycle and pedestrian safety will also become an important consideration in the setting of local speed limits under the CBC-sponsored AB1885 (Correa), allowing cities greater control over setting more reasonable speed limits on neighborhood streets. And finally, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and all other regional transportation agencies statewide will be required to establish performance indicators related to bicycle and pedestrian usage, transit availability, job access and traffic safety, as well as develop alternative "smart growth" land use scenarios as part of their twenty year long range transportation plans under the STPP-sponsored AB2140 (Keeley).

For more information contact James Corless at STPP, [first delete the X] or 415.956.7795.

This article is an excerpt from BRIDGES, a publication of the Surface Transportation Policy Project's northern California office. To subscribe, send your name, address, e-mail and affiliation to Mailing address: STPP, 26 O'Farrell Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94108. To find out more, visit STPP's web site at

Carpool (HOV) lanes increase pollution!

MTS refutes the propaganda from Caltrans, certain government agencies, and highway construction interests which claim that HOV lanes decrease air pollution. After constructing the new HOV lanes, vehicles increase. So does pollution! Solodrivers take up the vacancy left by HOVs that move over to the new lane. Over twice as many solodrivers are added to the road as HOVs!

See details on the MTS web site.

Trains, Streetcars & Pedestrians in Holland

Akos Szoboszlay

I'm putting together this newsletter from Holland. Thanks to the Internet, I can send this newsletter back and have it sent out!

Our first destination in Holland was a small town to get over jet lag. We picked Delft for its centuries of unchanging character. To get there, this being Europe, we needed to get to a train station.

At the Amsterdam airport, I expected the usual bus transfer and luggage hassles. Surprise! Leaving the baggage claim area I encountered the train station ticket counters The train station is UNDERNEATH the airport! The train came in just 8 minutes. Arriving in Delft, I took a hotel room across the street from the train station. I was pleasantly surprised that the trains run all night long. In fact, they run about as often in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT as Caltrain runs in the middle of the day [once an hour]! Mid-day service here is like Caltrain's rush hour [ten minutes]. Yet, they are so quiet! I never heard a horn blast, whistle shrill, or bell clang. It's all electric, so there's no diesel noise, either. The trains didn't keep me awake - the jet lag did!

The FRA (Federal Railway Administration) needs to learn a lesson from the Dutch. Trains make no sound at grade crossings. There is a bell, but it's quiet. The bells in the USA are for a very different audience: It seems they are meant for a motorist, 2 blocks away, inside the car with the windows up and the radio blaring. But the red lights and crossing guards are enough warning for those far from the track. The Dutch bells are for people near the track. They don't have to be ear splitting. People can hear them if the there's a chance of stepping or biking onto the track. If they are further away, more than a 50 feet, they don't need to hear it.

Delft is one of those classic train station communities: a small compact town centered about a train station where everything is within walking or bicycling distance. Yet, many of the buildings are 400 years old! Most streets in the center are peds/bikes only or restricted to deliveries.

[Following week]

Now we are in Amsterdam, the capital of Netherlands. It is refreshing to be in a city where people are not forced to be subservient to automobiles. One can cross the arterial or street anywhere one desires! Dangerous? No, and let me explain why.

A typical arterial [major street] here is comprised of two lanes for streetcars, two lanes for automobiles, two bike lanes and wide sidewalks. The streetcars come "only" once every two minutes or so in downtown, about every five minutes in the suburbs. This means there is a long enough gap between streetcars to cross. The automobile lanes only have to be crossed one lane at a time so crossing is easy. And, there's just two of them.

In the USA, this arterial would typically be six lanes of car traffic that is moving about twice as fast as here. And, the six lanes have to be crossed all at once! Where there is a center island, traffic engineers are now deliberately making it difficult for pedestrians to stand there by placing mounds or rocks in a futile attempt to eliminate pedestrians - but this increases the danger! Traffic engineers in the USA also seem to have no regard for the pedestrians' travel time - making them detour to an intersection (even prohibiting crossing at some intersections), and often eliminating a crosswalk so the pedestrian must cross three times instead of once! Even after reaching the side of the road one needs to be on, one must continue dodging cars while walking through large parking lots.

Most streets in Amsterdam have just one lane for automobiles. They are one way for cars, but two way for bicycles. On most of these streets, cars have to pull aside when meeting a bicyclist. If there's room, there's a bike lane for the opposing direction. Crossing by pedestrians is easy, and the cars go slowly (about 15 mph).

There is also an entire network of pedestrian-only streets. Typically, the bottom floors are stores and the upper floors are residences. The shops are well-patronized. There's no boring parking lot to walk through to get to stores, they don't exist!

There are other street configurations such as bike/ped/streetcar, so no automobiles. One variant of this, where there isn't room for two tracks, is to have the trams share one track. The turnouts are on the bridges over the canals, where they can pass each other. This is also where the stations are.

Amsterdam was fun (however, the Dutch food is quite bad) and tomorrow we'll leave for Belgium (one of the best cuisines in Europe). Trains leave hourly.

More GUIDEWAY articles of this issue in the previous file or see the contents.

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