Category Archives: Transportation

The Virginia Green Car Buyer’s Blues

by Bill Tracy

Let me tell you a sad yarn about buying green cars in Virginia.

Due to a dead hybrid battery after 14 years and 192,000 miles, we recently traded in our classic 2006 Toyota Prius for a new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE, the cheapest green RAV4.

Had we lived in a different Blue state, we could have purchased the luxurious new RAV4 Prime Plug-In ($40,000 car), with heated seats and all of the fancy extras, cheaper (after taxes) than the $28,000 economy hybrid model, with no heated seats. How is this possible? Well, states like Colorado offer up to $5,000 plug-in vehicle rebate on top of the existing Federal $7,500 tax credit.  Furthermore, some states throw in generous additional benefits for plug-ins, such as free HOV/HOT lane use during the gridlocked rush-hour.

Virginia has no plug-in vehicle incentives yet, but per Jim Bacon’s recent article, that is on the agenda. The Old Dominion, however,  has a systemic problem in the new car showroom: high property taxes. Just ask former NFL star Michael Vick, who learned the hard way that the Virginia car tax is a progressive tax, especially punishing to newer cars, cleaner cars, and expensive cars.

Let’s take a close look at the green car math. Below I compare NoVA car costs to our neighbors in Washington, D.C. , which offers excise tax-free purchase of all green vehicles over 40 MPG EPA City.  Continue reading

TCI: Taxing the Poor to Benefit the Rich

New Jersey environmental justice advocate Maria Lopez-Nunez, lower left, speaks with organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative on September 29. Hear her here.

By Steve Haner

“I think TCI is just taxing poor people so that we can subsidize rich people’s electric cars.” 

So said New Jersey’s Maria Lopez-Nuñez, Deputy Director, Organizing and Advocacy for the Ironbound Community Corporation. She was speaking during an online seminar September 29 organized by Transportation and Climate Initiative advocates.

That particular comment can be heard at about 3:10 into this recording of her speech. The full meeting is recorded here, and her remarks start at about 1hour and 43 minutes in. Listen to her whole speech if you can. Listen to those that follow and you will learn she was not alone.

Lopez-Nunez is dead on correct that TCI imposes a major and very regressive tax to deliver minor reductions in CO2 emissions, and that moving people into electric cars merely moves the source of CO2 emissions from the roads to the power plants.

Run the projected CO2 emissions savings from TCI through the climate change models at the heart of this whole worldwide debate and the result is infinitesimal changes in the feared future temperature increases. Selling this as saving the planet is not credible, so the push is on to find a new rationale. The effort to make that “environmental justice” by targeting the tax money to their causes is not being well received.

Continue reading

The Coming Push for Electric Vehicles in Virginia

by James A. Bacon

Now that Virginia is committed to a 100% renewable electric grid by 2050, the push is on to decarbonize the transportation sector. In a word, that means persuading Virginians to switch from cars with internal combustion engines to electric vehicles (EVs). In an early sign of what’s to come, a Charlottesville-based group, Generation180, has published a report detailing policies needed to encourage widespread adoption of EVs in the Old Dominion, “Virginia Drives Electric 2020.

There is much good that can be said of electric vehicles. They have lower fuel prices and maintenance costs. Generation180 says the cost is $6,000 to $10,000 cheaper over the car’s lifetime. If that were accurate, I would expect to see more than 24,000 EVs on Virginia’s roads. Still, I buy the argument that the cost is increasingly competitive. Moreover, there is the social benefit from reduced pollution and lower CO2 emissions. I suspect those numbers are hyped and exaggerated, but clearly there is some benefit. All things considered, I think EVs are a great idea. But let’s not suspend our rational faculties when discussing them.

Generation180 has identified barriers in Virginia to rapid EV adoption. One is the shortage of inventory in automobile dealership showrooms. “We found 1,347 new and used electric vehicles in Virginia, compared to 2,399 in Maryland. In other words, inventory was 44 percent lower in the Virginia cities than in the comparable cities in Maryland.” Continue reading

3% Subsidy Cap for Washington Mass Transit “Appears” to Help Virginia Taxpayers

Image source: Northern Virginia Transportation Commission

by James A. Bacon

A 3% cap on annual state contributions to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) “appears to be a useful tool” for managing runaway subsidies for the Washington-area transit agency, finds a report recently published by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC).

The main benefit cited by the report, required by state law, has been to restrain increases in wages and salary levels, which constitute 70% of WMATA’s budget. States the report: “Data presented to the Working Group found the annual wage increases for union employees range from 0% to 4% per year in the multi-year CBAs over FY 2009 – FY 2024, demonstrating that the cap appears to be a helpful tool in WMATA’s negotiations with labor.”

Otherwise the “Report on Virginia’s 3% Cap” is a curious document. Continue reading

Northam’s Tax Hikes Keeping Virginia Budget Afloat

This column was published originally in the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy newsletter. Steve normally re-publishes it on Bacon’s Rebellion himself, but he is volunteering at the polls today, so I am posting for him. — JAB

by Steve Haner

One quarter into the new fiscal year, despite the ongoing COVID-19 recession, Virginia state government is blowing the roof off its revenue estimates. Thank tax increases Governor Ralph Northam has signed.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne recently reviewed the July through September 2020 results with state legislators, offering his standard slide presentation. Compared to the year before – before COVID — the state’s total General Fund revenue was up 9.9%, sales tax revenue was up 7.5%, corporate income tax receipts up 36% and estimated individual tax payments (those not withheld from paychecks) up 59%.

Now more tax increases are being proposed for the 2021 General Assembly. The Transportation and Climate Initiative in particular is a new carbon tax on gasoline and diesel. The proposal to restore a state inheritance tax on large estates is back. Virginia’s leading progressive group is actually hiring a “revenue campaign manager” to lead the 2021 and 2022 fight “to secure expanded progressive revenue options.” The tax changes already in place will see our revenue “progress” quickly. Continue reading

Enjoy Driving at Night Without Headlights? You’re in Luck!

by Kerry Dougherty

Oh my. This really is special.

Virginia’s General Assembly – in the midst of an expensive special session with no end in sight – just passed a bill that, if signed by the governor, will forbid police officers from stopping a car that is being driven at night without headlights, tail lights or brake lights.

This is what happens when Michael Bloomberg bankrolls extreme left-wing candidates in your state and these blockheads will vote for any measure that’s aimed at crippling the police.

You’re not hearing much about this deeply flawed bill because the slobbering lapdogs in the media are overjoyed that it also prevents the cops from stopping cars due solely to the aroma of marijuana. A milestone for the Old Dominion.

But pot is only one part of the bill. Continue reading

Latest Woke Madness: Stop Enforcing Minor Traffic Offenses

City of Richmond traffic citations by race/ethnicity and sex in 2018. Source: City of Richmond Police Department.

by James A. Bacon

The General Assembly has passed HB 5058, which would prevent law enforcement officers from stopping motorists for driving with busted mufflers, headlights, and brake lights, driving with an expired registration sticker, or failure to wear a seatbelt.

“This [legislation] bubbled up to a high level of concern because of the disproportionate number of black and brown communities that tend to be targeted for these pretextual [traffic] stops,” sponsor Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, told The Virginia Star. “We wanted to create a bill that would eliminate or at least significantly curve those number of interactions that frequently escalate. So that is what you have before you, a bill to try to eliminate those unnecessary interactions.”

Law enforcement spokesmen oppose the bill. Said Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman: “I think the bill in itself, from everything that I’ve read about it, is just an affront to common sense and public safety. And to have a bill like that pass through both the House and the Senate and go to the Governor for signage is really ill conceived and just a true detriment to the safety of our public.” Continue reading

Metro vs. Transurban in the Age of COVID

Perceptions of safety on different transportation modes. Green bar = more safe. Blue bar = the same. Orange bar = less safe. Source: “Urban Mobility Trends from COVID-19”

by James A. Bacon

We are taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming about the culture wars to highlight a more traditional topic: government dysfunction. In so doing, we shall contrast the flailing, failing response of a quasi-governmental entity, the Washington Metro, with the proactive, enterprising response of a private toll road operator, Transurban, to the challenge of epidemic-induced declines in traffic.

The Washington Metro, an independent authority governed by a board of directors appointed by three states and the federal government, is a train wreck. For years the commuter-rail and bus system was plagued by maintenance backlogs, a toxic workplace, frequent accidents, deteriorating on-time service, and declining ridership. Then the epidemic hit, and people found it impossible to maintain social distance. Ridership was down 85% in July compared to the same month in 2019… which was down from previous years.

Ridership on the Silver line in Fairfax County is so sparse that it is now practicable for would-be rapists to assault people on trains. Last month a 21-year-old man sexually assaulted a woman who, with her child, was the only other rider in the car. The woman did manage to escape the train at East Falls Church Station, but it won’t bode well for ridership if the public concludes that riding the train is on a par with picking up random hitch-hikers. Continue reading

Is DMV Hiding 26% of Virginia’s Fuel Tax?

DMV Table.  Missing is the additional 7.6 cents per gallon collected in every county and city as a “wholesale tax” but still passed on to consumers. Oversight?

By Steve Haner

The Division of Motor Vehicles website is not honestly reporting fuel taxes in Virginia on that table above. This cannot be an oversight.  Continue reading

Transportation Carbon Tax Debate Starts Again

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

By Steve Haner

Having imposed a carbon tax on Virginia electricity generation in 2020, the General Assembly starting in January 2021 will consider adding a similar tax on every gallon of gasoline and diesel sold for vehicle use. The Transportation and Climate Initiative, an environmentalist dream for a decade, is finally ready for its close up.

Advocates in the 12-state region that would make up the proposed interstate compact held two webinars in September, one focused on additional modeling on the project and the other discussing all the racially and environmentally just ways they believe states can spend the billions in new taxes.

The new modeling results did not change the basics of the program. TCI is a cap, tax and trade system that imposes a dollars-per-ton cost on the carbon dioxide emissions released by burning the fuels. The tax rate is set by an interstate auction, and the tax itself is imposed on the fuel wholesalers. The amount of fossil fuel emission credits that wholesalers may bid for will be capped and then will shrink a certain percentage every year.  Continue reading

Metro’s Latest Breakdown: Control Room Operations

by James A. Bacon

The Silver Line extension of the Washington Metro might not open on time. The latest problem, according to Greater Greater Washington, is that the commuter rail system may not be able to hire, train and retain enough rail controllers to operate the system safely.

The Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) oversees train movement on tracks. The center is critical to the safe operation of the rail system. In its most recent safety audit, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) issued 21 findings requiring corrective action.

Metrorail has failed to follow its fatigue management policies that allow controllers at least one day off per week. Moreover, the control center is a toxic workplace.

The control center’s environment includes distractions, fear, threats and conflicting instructions that prevent overworked and undertrained controllers from fully and properly carrying out their duties. These serious safety concerns create a variety of safety risks for everyone who depends on Metrorail. … Continue reading

Mass Transit as the Newest Entitlement

by James A. Bacon

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has proposed eliminating all transit fares, and in a sign of how far left the City of Richmond’s political center of gravity has moved, his two main competitors in the mayoral race, Kim Gray and Alexsis Rodgers, support the idea.

The city suspended fares during the COVID-19 epidemic, which has coincided with a 20% ridership decline for the GRTC (Greater Richmond Transit Company). Stoney endorsed making the fare cuts permanent as he unveiled a new “equity office” in the Department of Public Works, which will also oversee initiatives relating to pedestrian safety, bike lane development, and transit planning.

Rodgers, who is running as a progressive, criticized Stoney, in effect asking what took him so long. Gray, the most centrist of the candidates, said she supports the free-transit model but added the caveat that she didn’t want to raise taxes or make cuts to other services to achieve it. “At some point,’she said, “this will require a budgetary reckoning.” Continue reading

VPAP Ranks Lobbying Compensation

This graphic from the Virginia Public Access Project shows the corporations and organizations that have reported the biggest expenditures on lobbyist compensation. No surprises here — every one of these groups has a major presence in the General Assembly. However, VPAP cautions, don’t read too much into these numbers. These seeming big spenders simply may be using a broader definition of “lobbying” than others.

As VPAP explains: Continue reading

Inching Closer to a Sustainable Mass Transit Model

Fairfax County and Dominion Energy are testing a driverless electrical shuttle. The Relay, a 13-foot-long blue bus is expected to begin regular service this fall, shuttling passengers back and forth between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and the county’s Mosaic District.

The service will be free. Users will be able track the Relay’s position with an app.

The 12-passenger shuttle, an EZ10, is now learning its fixed route, undergoing testing and awaiting approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to begin passenger operations, reports the Washington Post Continue reading

Beyond COVID-19: New Opportunities in Land Use

Vacant storefronts — a challenge and an opportunity

by James A. Bacon

The stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 epidemic accelerated a trend that was already reshaping the American economy: the shift of commerce from bricks-and-mortar retail to online delivery. Traditional retailers are retrenching; malls and shopping centers are hollowing out. If current trends continue, we’ll be seeing a lot more UPS and Amazon trucks cruising through our neighborhoods… and a lot of vacant retail space.

This seemingly irreversible trend will create dramatic challenges and opportunities for Virginia communities. Local governments rely upon the property taxes generated by malls and shopping centers. As those properties empty out and lose value, local governments will see an important revenue source erode. That is a problem, to be sure. But the decline of bricks-and-mortar also presents Virginia localities with once-in-a-generation opportunities. The potential exists to address two of Virginia’s chronic issues: affordable housing and traffic gridlock.

The scarcity of affordable housing in Virginia, especially in high-growth counties, has become increasingly acute in recent years. Construction of new dwelling units has not kept pace with household formation, and housing shortages have pushed up rents and sales prices faster than incomes have risen. Home builders would be more than happy to build more houses, if only they could find the land and gain zoning approvals from local governments to do so. Meanwhile, congestion is reasserting itself on Virginia’s Interstates, highways and arterials. There is not enough money to build our way out of gridlock.

While no solution is perfect, the least imperfect is to recycle old retail districts into “walkable urbanism” resembling pedestrian-friendly places such as Arlington, Reston, or downtown Richmond and Norfolk. Continue reading