A 2007 U.S. Census estimate places Austin’s population at 743,074 people. We’ll use 0.85 as the multiplier to approximate the number of vehicles per capita in the State of Texas. Assume the average car owner drives 12,000 miles a year and gets 24mpg. That person will purchase 500 gallons of gas each year. By employing a $0.10 gas tax per gallon, for the driver this equates to $50.00 per year, or only $4.17 per month. But, the City could collect over $31.6MM in a single year. (The City could realistically expect much more from drivers passing through.)
$31.6MM is more than half the cost of Portland’s, Tampa’s, or Seattle’s budget for their street car system (article, pdf). A real world case study in streetcar economics yielded enhanced property values, connectivity, 400 new businesses (90% locally owned), the majority of these businesses are owned by women and minorities.
Even I, an economic conservative, can identify with the social value generated by $4.17 per month towards paying for an Austin streetcar. Food for thought for our next City Council.