Hot Potato: Food for Thought
Where Did All the Money Go?
1997 June 30

The trucking industry receives a huge subsidy. The GAO estimates that a 40 ton truck does 9600 times as much damage to the road as a passenger car. The truck pays only about 100 times as much in road use taxes. Truckers are allowed to destroy roads without paying for the damage. The railroads, on the other hand, not only buy, build, and maintain their rights-of-way, but also pay taxes on them.

One truck driver can move about 30 tons of freight at about 60 miles per hour. Three railroaders can move about 6000 tons of freight at the same speed. The energy consumption of a train per ton-mile of freight is much lower than that of a truck. These natural economies have allowed the railroads to survive despite the favorable treatment of the trucking industry.

If taxes on heavy trucks were raised from their current $5,000 a year to the $500,000 that would probably be necessary to pay for the damage they do, long-haul trucking would all but disappear. The total cost of moving freight would decline, and the energy consumed would fall significantly. The road noise of millions of trucks would vanish, and traffic fatalities would decline dramatically.

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