The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports today that North Texas officials will ask the Legislature to authorize a huge hike in the vehicle registration fee – as much as $105 more per year – to bankroll an expansion of light rail. For consumers already struggling with high gas prices, will this drive them over the edge?

While it is being billed as a “user tax,” it is nothing of the kind, because it would fund a rail system, not roads. A user tax would be if rail riders paid the cost of the system, but because the costs of rail almost always exceed the benefits, proponents seek to shift the cost to non-users. While it is true that constructing rail requires an enormous initial outlay, that also applies to toll roads, but whether or not one agrees with the policy, the private sector is willing to invest in them because the benefits are proven to exceed the costs over the long haul.

Currently, the only cities in the world where a rail system operates profitably are Tokyo and Hong Kong, and they each have at least 10 times the population density of the Metroplex.

In the article, rail advocates also describe the possibly triple-digit increase in the vehicle registration as a “sin tax,” but even someone who purchases a hybrid car would pay and many people are trading in their cars for more fuel efficient vehicles, but they would be punished by this tax.

Wendell Cox, a leading expert on transportation policy, has noted, “The annual cost per new rider of virtually every light rail line built here in the past 20 years has been more than the annual cost of leasing each new commuter a new car. Light rail has no part to play in a transport system, because of its expense. Rapid transit busways virtually equal light rail capacity, at a fraction of the cost.”

Will these facts be considered or will North Texas taxpayers be derailed?

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