Update from the January 2016 meeting of the Transportation, Communications and Public Works Committee of the League of California Cities.
Transportation funding is a critical issue this legislative session in addition to homelessness and affordable housing. There are presently three transportation funding packages in play: the Governor’s budget proposal, Senator Beall’s SB 16/ABx1-1, and the January 6, 2016-introduced AB 1591 by Assembly member Frazier. All the proposals are similar…but the size of them makes a difference. The Governor’s budget contains a $3.6 billion package. $1.01 billion would be allocated by formula for local streets and maintenance, $523 million of which would go to cities each year based on population. Senator Beall’s bill is $6.5 billion, and also includes a split of funds for state and local roads, an index on the gas tax, new fees for alternative fuel vehicles, and other elements. He spoke to the Committee, and explained his philosophy that “the right level of funding is needed to show improvements” to residents. The Senator is working to get the 2/3 votes needed, and may introduce another bill which has that support in the months ahead.
Assembly member Frazier’s bill is larger than the Governor’s and has similar elements to Senator Beall’s legislation. AB 1591 also splits the money between state and local roads, increases diesel and gas taxes, creates a new fee for zero emission vehicles, etc. The Governor’s office indicated that California vehicle owners pay an average of $762 annually to fix their vehicles due to poor road conditions. So, increases in these transportation bills may be less than vehicle maintenance costs for some people. LOCC staff does not foresee transportation legislation passage until later in the Spring. If enough Republican votes are not on-board by June, it is likely that no funding package will pass at all.
Committee members received presentations about Fast Fuel Infrastructure from Bill Boyce, Manager of Electric Transportation for SMUD, and an update on the Road User Charge Pilot Program from Jim Madaffer, Chair of the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee. A lot is happening in the electric car infrastructure arena. There are attempts to standardize charging stations and improve batteries to reduce range anxiety. Data indicate that 80% of EV users charge at home, 10% at work, and 5% at public spots. Last year 3% of new CA car sales were electric cars — a pace ahead of the hybrid adoption in years past.
Mr. Madaffer updated the Committee on the progress of the Road Charge Pilot project – and you could be a part of it. Since the present model of gas tax reliance will not sustain road funding needs now or in the future, an alternative is needed – the user pays…just like for other utilities. The Pilot is looking for 5,000 volunteers for the pilot. They will be testing how people log their miles both in paper and electronic systems and several other aspects. The recent California Transportation Commission $754 million cut to the available funding for the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is another illustration of the unsustainability of the gas tax as the revenue driver for state roads and highways.
On Committee matters with input, eight possible priority categories for upcoming Cap and Trade funds were forwarded to the LOCC Board:
- Transportation /transit
- Waste diversion
- Transformational climate communities program
- Low carbon transportation and fuels – fleet modernization rebates
- Urban forestry and urban greening (including loss of trees from drought)
- Water and energy efficiency rebates
- Energy efficiency upgrades/weatherization
Lastly, the Committee discussed the conflicting regulatory situations for taxis and transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. Presently taxis are regulated at the city level while TNCs are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. Taxis are much more regulated than TNC – but it is expensive to do so according to Committee members from larger cities. Some members mentioned that State information on TNC drivers and vehicle inspections were often lacking or delayed. Some members mentioned that taxis might begin to adapt to the TNC model in the years ahead. In the end, the Committee did not make a strong recommendation, but felt that some level of state regulation over both – with elements for local control especially in larger metropolitan areas – might be wise as the industry continues to morph. At this point, there is no pending legislation on the topic.