Show-Me Institute analysts have written for years on the benefits of user fees in funding a transportation system. User fees ensure that the people who use things are the people who pay for those things.
But what about the benefits of different types of user fees themselves? Gas taxes and tolls are the two main transportation user fees, and each has different advantages.
The biggest advantage of a gas tax is that it pays for the upkeep of all roads in the state, whereas tolls only fund the road the toll is located on. In Missouri, any purchase of fuel to drive on any road helps fund the maintenance of all of them. Proportionally, 70% of gasoline taxes fund state highways, while the remaining 30% goes to local and county governments for their own road upkeep.
An additional benefit of a gas tax is that it is already in place in Missouri, in contrast to tolling.
The benefit of tolling is that it matches the amount of road damage a vehicle does to the amount the driver contributes to the road’s upkeep. The heavier the car is (heavier cars do more damage to roads), the higher the toll. Additionally, drivers pay comparable amounts regardless of the fuel economies of their vehicles, since the cost is based on the wear of the car on the road.
Tolling can also help relieve traffic congestion. Congestion is estimated to cost Missourians up to $575 million per year. Tolling can save time and fuel wasted from idling while also decreasing air pollution. Most congestion pricing programs use electronic tolling, and as some drivers will choose not to pay the fee to drive on a busy road, average road speeds increase leading to clearer road conditions and better use of fuel.
The benefits of user fees are clear. Matching the costs of services to their use is an effective way to make sure our roads and bridges have the funding they need to stay in shape.