On One Hand

April 24, 2009

Transportation Freedom Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:54 am


The Arizona Republic reports that the average American spends at least 3 months pay on transportation.

Libertarian organizations push Tax Freedom Day, which they say is the day that Americans have worked to pay off their tax burden. Now consider transportation freedom day – the day that you’ve earned enough to pay off the cost of getting to work. That includes buying cars, paying for car insurance, paying for gasoline and dropping extra dollars here and there for repairs. In most cases the two days are very close together – the tax burden costs around four and a half months of income while transportation costs are three and a half months on average.

The article says that sprawled cities or residents of suburbs spend far more on transportation than people in urban areas with subways or light rail. In Phoenix the day fell on March 23 but in San Francisco it was March 1. Houston paid until March 25 and Stockton, California paid until April 3.

This is part of why I argue that public transportation is a social justice issue. Owning a car is all but necessary to living and being employed in most cities, and carries with it a huge financial burden that raises the cost of living to, in many cases, higher than the wage-earner can afford in the first place. A low-income person obviously pays a far greater percentage of her or his income on gasoline than a high-income person, unless that person forgoes having a car and uses public transit when its available.

It’s also a clear demonstration of why a progressive tax system is necessary and a “flat tax” would be intolerably immoral. If a poor person spends three months wages paying for gas, he or she should not be taxed the same rate as a rich person who only needed to spend one month’s salary on that gas, and choose to spend the other two months’ on a fancier car plus a few airplane tickets for vacation.

All these “freedom days” represent money spent on some necessity that goes entirely somewhere else. If you were to calculate “housing freedom day” for people paying rent (not mortgages) and add it to tax freedom day and transportation freedom day, you’d find that low-income people pay till a date later in the year than rich people do.

So when tax dollars are used to make transportation cheaper or faster, is that a positive or a negative? It might push your “tax freedom day” back by one day, but brings your transportation freedom day forward by two – in other words, leaving you with more cash in your pocket. But we spend billions of government dollars per year on roads and highways anyway, which means that including the most affordable forms of transit – trains and busses – so that as many people as possible can be able to use it, is a bare minimum when it comes to fairness.

See the full list of “transportation freedom days” by city here: http://www.uspirg.org/uploads/mE/PH/mEPHVUKABlbc94ShtPZrvQ/TFD-Metros.pdf



  1. Is there a non-PDF link to this? I’d like to put it on our TF blog – quite awesome!

    Comment by jdhenchman — April 25, 2009 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

    • Not to the list. Lots of newspapers covered when Transportation Freedom Day in their specific neighborhood was.

      Comment by ononehand — April 29, 2009 @ 12:47 am | Reply

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