Is the United States Ready for a Higher Gas Tax?


Photo via Utanito

The gas tax is a touchy subject in the United States--whenever there's talk of raising it (as even some automakers would prefer) all hell tends to break loose. Nobody wants to pay more at the pump, after all. Yet raising gas taxes could improve infrastructure, develop public transit alternatives, and relieve congestion. So is there room for a bump in our gas tax? One way to get an idea on that is to see how our gas tax stacks up against other industrialized countries--look at the jaw-dropping chart after the jump to see where we stand.


Graph via the Economist. Scaled to Euro cents.

As you can see, we're dead last--the United States has the lowest gas tax out of any OECD country. And while one reason for that is the lack of public transportation options compared to nations with higher gas taxes--many in the US have no other choice to drive, and thus a tax on their transportation option is seen as unfair--it also stands to reason that it doesn't need to be that low.

Much of our transit infrastructure--bridges, highways, etc--is notoriously crumbling. A higher tax is probably necessary in coming years just to keep up with the necessary repairs to it. But a progressive tax could also fund alternative options to driving like high speed rail and better and more subways and bus routes. And automaker heavyweights like Bill Ford believe a gas tax would actually stabilize prices, and prevent the fickle drops and spikes gas prices are prone to now--allowing car companies to better predict future price patterns, and make more fuel efficient vehicles accordingly.

However, the idea of raising gas taxes is political anathema in the US--few politicians dare step between their constituents and the pump. It's got a lot to do with our deeply steeped car culture, sure--America is the nation where taking to the road offers freedom, renewal, etc--but if we had access to the alternatives a gas tax may offer, could we become as enthralled with the different kind of freedoms offered by say, 185 mph high speed rail lines? It's possible, and if we did, it would benefit our currently crippling congestion and greenhouse gas emission levels.

It may be high time for a hike in gas taxes--or at least getting the discussion started again.

More on Gas Taxes
The Gas Price Limbo: How Low Can it Go?
Survey: Do We Need a Gas Tax Holiday?

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