Between The Lines

ABQ Gas Tax Advocate Lives In An Alternate Reality Where Facts Are Extinct

As gas prices continue to rise, one Duke City resident wants a gas tax

An Albuquerque resident recently penned a letter to the editor for The Albuquerque Journal claiming that the majority of SUVs and pickups are “luxuries” and that 53,000 Americans died from air pollution in 2020.

The beauty of a letter to the editor is that newspapers don’t fact check them. The Journal actually prefers this, writing in its submission guidelines that “preference is given to letters that…don’t require factual verification.” If the editors agree with the message or find it titillating enough to publish, residents could say almost anything so long as they’re not naming or accusing specific individuals of defamatory behavior.

Preference is given to letters that are fresh, brief, clear and that don’t require factual verification. 

— The Albuquerque JournalLetter Guidelines

In the case of Albuquerque resident Cameron Frigon, advocating a gas tax knows no factual bounds.

CLAIM: “[C]onsider the fact that the majority of the vehicles in this city are large SUVs and pickup trucks.”

REALITY: A simple “according to” would at least give readers a place to start. It’s true that the Ford F-150 is typically the best-selling vehicle in the country, but trucks make up about 18% of vehicles on the road, and small SUVs (crossovers, like the RAV4, CR-V, and Rogue) beat out their larger competitors in every market. But sales don’t reflect what’s on the road, particularly when the average age of vehicles on the road is 12 years. Even if the majority of vehicles were SUVs or trucks, the burden of filling them with gasoline falls on the owners. If you want a fuel efficient vehicle, it’s a free country: buy one.

CLAIM: “Some of (the SUVs and trucks are) necessary, but the majority are just luxuries for folks.” 

REALITY: This is easily verifiable. Consumer Reports conducts surveys of car buyers all the time, and the findings are always the same: people want safety and good gas mileage, not vanity. 

CLAIM: “Between costly parking mandates placed on businesses and developers, expensive new roads and road maintenance, and of course subsidized gasoline, we have a habit of not caring how efficient our vehicles are.”

REALITY: Unless Frigon is a transplant from New York City, he’s just upset that his apartment makes him pay for parking, because Albuquerque doesn’t have a “parking mandate.”

Yes roads and road maintenance cost money, but citizens already pay taxes for that. Yes, gasoline is subsidized, but so is natural gas and coal and wind and solar and agriculture — pretty much everything that provides an essential service to Americans. And Americans want it! They don’t mind that their tax dollars go toward a competitive waged industry that without subsidization would cost four times what we pay at the pump currently. 

As for the efficiency of vehicles, this is patently false. According to the EPA, CO2 emissions since 2004 have decreased 23%, while fuel economy increased 29%. More than three times as many people bike to work now compared to a decade ago. Electric vehicle sales jumped 81% in Q1 2020 compared to the year prior, and America has the second largest market of hybrid electric vehicles in the world, after Japan. Frigon may not care about fuel efficiency, but the rest of us do.

CLAIM: “[I]t must be understood that in 2020 cars killed more than 42,000 Americans from impact, ended the lives of 53,000 Americans prematurely through air pollution and continue to be the leading source of climate warming greenhouse gas emissions in this country.”

REALITY: None of this is true. There were 38,680 traffic fatalities in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and that was a 7% increase over 2019 and the highest number since the mid-aughts. 

As for the 53,000 deaths per year from pollution, this is just bullshit. The number appears to come from a 2013 study alleging that people who live in high pollution areas die younger. 

The study “found” that “California suffers the worst health impacts from air pollution, with about 21,000 early deaths annually, mostly attributed to road transportation and to commercial and residential emissions from heating and cooking…[A] person who dies from an air pollution-related cause typically dies about a decade earlier than he or she otherwise might have.”

If this were true, the CDC would list pollution as a cause of death, and Los Angeles County residents would have lower than average life expectancy. Neither is true. In fact, Los Angeles County residents live almost four years longer than average Americans. 

Much has been written about global warming, but little of it is read. While Carbon Dioxide does account for the largest share of global emissions, less than 12% of that comes from road transportation (excluding aviation and shipping). It’s false — either intentionally or out of ignorance — to claim that vehicles are the leading cause of CO2 emissions.


Quite a feat, all in one little letter to the editor.

The point of all of this nonsense was to impose a two-cent gas tax that could then be used “to invest in public transportation and active transportation infrastructure.” The Albuquerque City Council’s 5-4 vote to put a gas tax on the ballot was vetoed by Mayor Tim Keller in early June. Keller cited the post-pandemic economic recovery as the reason for his veto, but the November 2021 election might play a role as well.

Not sure how long Cameron Frigon has lived in Albuquerque — with views like his, one might assume California or New York — but if he’s been here a week or more he’s surely heard of the boondoggles that are Railrunner and ART. 

Not only are Americans in general less inclined to ride public transportation since COVID (a logical response to a global pandemic), but ridership in Albuquerque of public transportation continues to fall, even as costs rise.

According to research by Dennis Domrzalski of the ABQReport, in 2017 Albuquerque earned $3.6 million in bus fares compared to $52 million in operating costs — that’s 7% of operating costs covered by fares, compared to 13% in El Paso, 21% for Denver, and nearly 50% for New York.

You could improve ridership if you increased taxes or even banned cars entirely. Or you could hop on a Rapid Ride on Central Avenue and discover in about five minutes why nobody in their right mind uses public transportation in this city.

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