Portland Considers Household "Street Fee" to Help Pay for Infrastructure

Portland leaders are moving ahead with plans for a monthly fee, charged to city households and businesses, to shore up local transportation budgets.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced yesterday he will seek city council approval for a monthly "street fee" to be assessed on households and businesses for road repair. Photo: Jonathan Maus, Bike Portland
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced yesterday he will seek city council approval for a monthly “street fee” to be assessed on households and businesses for road repair. Photo: Jonathan Maus, Bike Portland

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick announced yesterday that they will ask the City Council to institute the program, rather than seek voter approval. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland reports:

The monthly ‘Transportation User Fee’ will be $11.56 per single-family household, $8.09 for low-income households and will rely on a calculation based on trip generation for businesses.

At the press conference, Commissioner Novick handed out a statement that read, “If it’s good enough for Oregon City, it’s good enough for Portland.” $11.56 is the exact same amount Oregon City charges their households and the mayor of that city was the first to address the crowd this morning. “It’s been very successful for us, and I presume it will be successful for Portland.”

The fact that 28 other cities already have some type of street fee has been a major selling point of this potentially controversial effort.

Mayor Hales spoke with confidence about his plan to not bring the fee to a public vote. He said he hasn’t polled all the commissioners but he thinks Commissioner Amanda Fritz is supportive. “We have a majority already,” he said. For Hales, this move is about taking action on a problem he’s personally been talking about since he was City Transportation Commissioner 14 years ago. During his speech this morning he said his staff looked into the problem of dwindling transportation funding in 2000 but “backed off” trying to solve it. Then in 2007, he explained, former Mayor Sam Adams’ attempt to figure out “was stymied by opposition.”

A little over half the fee would go toward pavement maintenance, with most of the remainder divided among several safety initiatives, including protected bike lanes (for specifics, see the chart on Bike Portland). The fee is expected to raise $40 to $50 million annually, according to Maus.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Notes from the Underground says urban planners should be community opinion leaders and consensus builders, not neutral bureaucrats. Washington Bikes says in a society that really embraced cycling, “bike culture” would be less important. And Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns explains why he’s excited about the new director of the Congress for New Urbanism but not so much about the new director of the American Planning Association.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The monthly ‘Transportation User Fee’ will be $11.56 per single-family household, $8.09 for low-income households.”

    Sounds more regressive than user fees for parking on the street and using transit, since low income households travel less and bicycles occupy less space and put less wear and tear on the roads. And more regressive than property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes, since the better off occupy more space and more expensive space and spend more money in addition to having more income.

    People scream about the regressivity of fare increase, parking and tolls, and property and sales taxes. In many cases I do not agree. What about this? Aside from a little dip for low income, it’s basically the same tax for every household.

    “During his speech this morning he said his staff looked into the problem of dwindling transportation funding in 2000 but “backed off” trying to solve it. Then in 2007, he explained, former Mayor Sam Adams’ attempt to figure out “was stymied by opposition.”

    So it has come to this. Have the less well off pay more to provide public services for the better off, or the better off will allow public services to collapse.

  • qrt145

    Why can’t they just raise income, property, or sales taxes instead of inventing a new “user fee”? I don’t mind the money, but the complexity.

  • Wilfried84

    And since it’s a flat fee, it’s regressive. People with low incomes pay a higher proportion than people with high incomes. Tie it to income tax, or property tax, which is at least in theory tied to property value. [ETA: Oops, point already made below.]

  • Atrios

    That it’s regressive is not awesome, but real problem is entirely new administration/enforcement/collections cost. New taxes cost money.

  • Ben Stewart

    If “a little over half the fee would go toward pavement maintenance,” why not a gas tax instead?

  • SheRidesABike

    That last graph — ooooof. Too true.

  • camp6ell

    i suspect it’s realpolitik at work: since we don’t (read: can’t, because the bill will never pass) tax the rich any more, we have to approach things differently. i would argue that in this case, there is some merit for the relative lack of taxation disparity between poor and rich here – to oversimplify, the poor people are paying the money to subsidize the transportation they’re using; the rich are paying so that the poor people take public transportation, leaving the roads for them and their cars. Win-win?

  • rao

    So it’s a poll tax. That didn’t work out so well for Maggie Thatcher. I guess Portland is trying to repeat history.

  • oooBooo

    Find out what they did with the money from other taxes that was supposed to go towards the roads before even debating the merits of a new tax.

    It’s a game they play. Politicians squander the monies they were supposed to use for something most people want, like roads, then they say there’s not enough money, then people debate a new tax without ever determining where the other money went.

  • p_chazz

    This is not a fee, it’s a tax. A fee is for a particular service. This “fee” makes no distinction on the base of road use.

  • Baloo Uriza

    Congratulations, Portland, on bringing every god damn stupid Portland fucking stereotype to fruition at once. Thanks for making me ashamed of my home town on not believing public transport can stand on it’s own on what, is no doubt, the second most conservative state in America second only to Washington…

  • Baloo Uriza

    Welcome to Oregon. It only pretends to be progressive. Case in point: I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to get pulled over regularly for being Cherokee until I moved to Oklahoma. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, gay/lesbian bars have a mainstream draw, and nobody gives a shit what your attraction is as long as you’re not hitting on them when you know they aren’t interested. (ie, ‘first time’s a friendly mistake, second time is a punch in the face). Contrast to Portland, where the Klan has a strong foothold. Actual situation: Holding hands on the last row, second car of a westbound blue line train from Washington Park (outbound, away from Portland, from the Oregon Zoo). Last half of the car on the last car of a MAX train is rear-facing. So, get punched in the ear by a bigot for holding hands with my boyfriend.

    Bonus: Portland and surrounding areas don’t take reports unless someone gets sent to the hospital. So, even though I was broken into and robbed while I was at work and my partner was asleep 20 times in 10 years, none of those reports appear on the record. I’ve been, on more than one occasion, subjected to physical assault on TriMet for holding hands with my boyfriend on TriMet. And told by both TriMet and the WaCo and MultCo county Sheriffs, Beaverton and Portland Police, that this wasn’t their problem, and maybe I shoudln’t be bisexual if I didn’t want to be subject to random beatings in my home state.

    You know what else doesn’t appear on the record? 15+ assaults and break-ins beyond that which involve me or my partner, in Metro Portland, because the Portland Police Bureau and suburban cops immediately adjacent would rather kill people rather than leave minority residents around as witnesses to the Metro Region’s *deeply ingrained* bigotry.

    This isn’t a surprise to me, as a bisexual Cherokee. It’s only been legal to be something other than a heterosexual northern European in Oregon for, what, 60 years now? The Pacific Northwest is worse than the southern plains and far worse than the Deep South when it comes to coming with terms with equality issues.

    Best of luck to the folks who decided to be the first to get married in Oregon to their same-sex partner. I suggest kevlar and boxing helmets in that fucking hellhole.

    Source: I’m 32 and I lived in that Portland metro Shithole for 27 years; born 1982 at OSHU on Pill Hill, and worked there for 2 years as a campus policeman with unbelievably asshat coworkers, who turned out to be radically leftist compared to most of Portland, as compared to metro Tulsa, Oklahoma. Portland Police Bureau, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and most neighboring departments refuses to take reports from any sexual or racial minority because it looks bad for their crime stats.

    Meanwhile, Tusla…yeah, nobody cares. Obviously, we don’t go out of our way trying to offend people. Just like any decent couple, we keep PDA to a minimum, but we don’t hide the fact we’re a couple. And we have _zero_ problems in Texas, Arkansas, NM and OK. It’s totally a nonissue in those states.

    Also, yeah, punched in the ear for no reason; inside knowledge of how law enforcement works in Oregon…no wonder I’m not welcome in my home state anymore. Racist, bigoted fucking shitheads….

  • rootvg

    Concur. The streets were paid for once.

  • valar84

    Streets are never fully paid for. They require maintenance and reconstruction every 20 or 30 years. You never stop paying for them.

  • Baloo Uriza

    Unless you do it wrong like Oregon tends to, then it’s more like every 2 years, but you pretend you can make it 30 years, and end up doing it every 5-10 years. And the last three years, the road wears through to the ballast in places, and low cars high-center between the ruts.

  • ocschwar

    If they want to charge on a scale based on wealth or usage, why not just tax car ownership? My city in MA charges me $40 a year for owning a car.

  • ocschwar

    Dude, there’s this thing called “The Web.” Most municipal budgets and annual reports are posted on it.

  • Ryan Wallace

    A user fee per car certainly makes a lot more sense, but $40 is WAY too cheap. Using the fee proposed would translate to $138.72/yr, which seems closer.

  • oooBooo

    Dude, Budgets are high level planning documents. Perhaps you should know that actual spending may or may not have anything to do with budgets. There’s a reason politicians focus people on budgets, budgets have no real meaning. They can say we’ll be short ‘X’ simply because they want to take ‘X’ more from people.

    Try a Comprehensive annual financial report. Now show me where anyone actually reads and discusses those. Even then those are high enough level where trying to figure out where specific funds went could be problematic. However they do show the actual finances of the government entity in question, including its investments, funds, etc and so forth.

    Go read a CAFR, you’ll probably be shocked how politicians bullshit people with “budgets”.

  • WashingtonianTransitAdvocate

    Roads are needed somewhere… but Portland is just wasting money on roads like it’s not even funny. Transit actually spurs redevelopment and encourages pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Hence the name “City of Weird.” Hales is just another piece of road supporting crap.

  • WashingtonianTransitAdvocate.

    Doing that, Portland is doomed like Detroit.

  • Baloo Uriza

    You’re literally the first person I’ve heard who has ever called it the City of Weird. That’s actually an Austin, Texas nickname. Portland used to live up to it, but they’ve moved to a “being weird for the sake of being weird” bit as a thing, and as a result, somehow became even more conformist and xenophobic than it was before. Which is amazing since it’s still not even a century since it was illegal to be nonwhite in Oregon…

  • Baloo Uriza

    No, no. Portland is already doomed like Detroit. We’re talking a U6 rate somewhere between 20 and 30 percent in Portland. No American city of any size has yet survived such a situation, and Portland’s not exactly prepared for that. Portland has entire office towers sitting completely abandoned and a steeply overinflated real estate market overvaluing most properties in the ballpark of 175-580%. Portland is fucked beyond fucked has ever known fucked, and there’s no saving it. Kind of like a post-Glasnost Soviet Union.

  • Nathanael

    That’s a very large fee. Quite regressive. Don’t they have property taxes?

    I’d accept this if it went towards pedestrian infrastructure (like sidewalks), which literally everyone uses. But noooo, it’s a roads subsidy.

  • Baloo Uriza

    It’s a lot less regressive than expecting the general public to subsidize private motor vehicle ownership.

  • Baloo Uriza

    @nathanael: Oklahoma isn’t the deep south by any stretch. About the only regional definition it squarely fits is the southern plains. It’s in the northwest by NBA standards, there’s parts that are included in the desert southwest (the panhandle and areas west of Lawton), parts that are part of Arklatexhoma (the region defined around Louisiana, Arkansas, southeastern Oklahoma and east Texas), the Central plains (along with Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Iowa), and the Ozarks (eastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri and most of Arkansas). None of those areas are really “deep south,” that’s more Mississippi/Georgia/Alabama/Florida specifically, and more generally, major combatant states for the Confederacy in the civil war.

    Culturally, with some flavor city-to-city based on microregional influences, Oklahoma is indian country. Heck, the state’s name in is Choctaw for “red people.” About the only state that (literally) bleeds red more is New Mexico (though I’m sure one or both of the Dakotas and/or Montana would probably challenge us on that, for similar reasons).

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