So while we hear endlessly about RIPTA’s budget crisis, the agency is plugging along on future planning. The above video, which is slightly treacly I know, outlines some of the planning that RIPTA is doing.
RIPTA has launched a Metropolitan Providence Transit Enhancement Study to improve services in an area that is basically inside Route 295. Possible improvements include GPS tracking, preemptive signaling, branded routes, bus rapid transit lines, and sub hubs around downtown Providence.
The 500-pound gorilla is of course, funding, though identifying funding sources is part of the study. Of course a big part of the funding equation is having a government that does not have the delusion that transit should fund itself and that transit is simply a form of welfare (although, I personally don’t think welfare is a terrible thing, but transit is not welfare). Of course, our ‘leaders’ on Smith Hill would never suggest that roads need to be self funding or assert that roads are a form of welfare, but check what Texas has to say about road funding:
2. When is a given road actually “paid for?”
Just like your car, it never is. You may have paid the note, but maintenance and fuel costs go on as long as you own the vehicle. Once a road is built, maintenance and rehabilitation costs last its entire life, generally about 40 years.
The decision to build a road is a permanent commitment to the traveling public. Not only will a road be built, but it must also be routinely maintained and reconstructed when necessary, meaning no road is ever truly “paid for.”
Until recently, when TxDOT built or expanded a road, no methodology existed to determine the extent to which this work would be paid off through revenues.
The Asset Value Index, was developed to compare the full 40-year life-cycle costs to the revenues attributable to a given road corridor or section. The shorthand version calculates how much gasoline is consumed on a roadway and how much gas tax revenue that generates.
The Asset Value Index is the ratio of the total expected revenues divided by the total expected costs. If the ratio is 0.60, the road will produce revenues to meet 60 percent of its costs; it would be “paid for” only if the ratio were 1.00, when the revenues met 100 percent of costs. Another way of describing this is to do a “tax gap” analysis, which shows how much the state fuel tax would have to be on that given corridor for the ratio for revenues to match costs.
Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon.
This is just one example, but there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less.
To conclude, in the SH 99 example, since the traffic volume for that road doesn’t generate enough fuel tax revenue to pay for it, revenues from other parts of the state must be used to build and maintain this corridor segment. The same is true across the state, meaning that, as revealed by the tax gap analysis, overall revenues are not sufficient to meet the state’s transportation needs.
From Keep Texas Moving
One thing in that is quite instructive, “The decision to build a road is a permanent commitment to the traveling public.” Permanent commitment. The truth is, a road does not have to be a permanent commitment, the state could close a road if it decided it could no longer afford it. Of course the state would never do such a thing, but the state seems to have no problem reducing bus service or eliminating routes altogether. Just imagine if the state decided they could not afford to rebuild the Pawtucket River Bridge and that they were just going to close it.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but the state needs to find a way to adequately fund RIPTA.