Out of Control Policy Blog

Is a Toll a Tax?

No, explains TollRoadsNews.com's Peter Samuel:

Opponents of tolls often say "a toll is just a tax" or they call tolls "toll taxes". They think that they can damn the toll or the toll increase by saying it's a tax. This is stupid because a toll is not a tax, and because most people accept taxes anyway.

A tax has two major characteristics:

1. It is the government claiming a share of something of yours - a share of your income, a share of the sale price in the store, a share of the value of your property, a share of an inheritance, and so forth. A tax is levied as a percentage of an asset or a transaction of the private sector.

2. Another characteristic of a tax is that the payer gets no specific good or service in return for the payment, just the general "services" of the government that levies it. And indeed those services of government are available to everyone regardless whether or not you pay the tax.

Therefore it is silly to call a toll a tax since (1) it has nothing to do with government getting a share and (2) you DO get a very specific service, and just that service, in return for payment - the right to use the road or bridge now.

A toll is an entry fee, a user fee, or a price for a specific service, namely admission to and use of a tolled facility.

That is true regardless of who owns or operates the toll facility, whether it is run by a government department, authority, a not-for-profit, or a for-profit.

This is true regardless of whether it makes profits, and regardless of what they are used for.

Not to mention that tolls are paid voluntarily by the user of the toll facility. When was the last time you paid a voluntary, optional tax?

» Reason's Transportation Research and Commentary

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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