Understanding St. Louis: Gas Tax and Metro Transit Fares Over Time

Metro is considering raising fares again. Missouri voters may consider a 1% general sales tax to pay for transportation this fall. A gas tax increase and tolls are seen as DOA, thus the push for a sales tax. Let’s see how the gas tax and Metro fares have faired since the last gas tax increase in 1996.

The gas tax of 17 cents would be 25 cents today, and the state would have raised about 20% more from the gas tax since 1996 had it kept up with inflation (I’m assuming the number of gallons taxed each year was constant, which is pretty close to reality)
Gal of Fuel Taxed in MO

As you can see the value of the gas tax has been eroded by inflation while Metro fares have out-paced it. Of course this isn’t the whole picture. Property and local sales taxes and the Federal gas tax (hasn’t increased since 1993) and general revenues also fund streets, roads, and highways, and local sales taxes, Federal, and a minute amount of state money goes into Metro. But this puts into perspective just who is paying their “fare” share.

Metro will be holding public meetings to discuss raising fares

{Source data from Metro, MoDOT, and inflation calculator}

St Louis Metro Historical Fares 1996 to 2013 by nextSTL.com

  • lisa c

    Hi Richard! Wondering if you’d share an updated chart for the last couple of years. Thanks for your work!

  • James

    Another important consideration is where the funding for a public transit agency actually comes from. Its worth noting that there isn’t a transit system in the world that can actually make a profit on their service. Fares don’t come close to covering the day to day operating cost, let alone any other expenses like vehicle maintenance. In an average transit system fares only cover about 20% of what it costs to operate. Looking at an agency like Metro’s finances, money comes in from a variety of sources to make up for the massive gap in financing. there is FTA money, local taxes, private contributions (schools and the like) and money from the state. The DOT in Missouri contributes almost no money to public transit, so a state gas tax increase wouldn’t necessarily have any impact on the fares of a transit system. MODOT is responsible for maintaining a much larger number of miles of roadway than most DOT’s do to some unusual road adoptions that took place with a tax increase several decades ago and because of this, they do not prioritize transit. In the budgets for METRO visible online we see MODOT contributing under 1 million dollars to Metro (compare to MODOT’s 2.6 Billion in expenditures in 2012) with Metros budget for the year sitting at 216 million.

    Anyway if your interested in an in depth look go to page 71 of the following link

    That’s metro’s budget

  • moe

    Part of the problem is that locals can vote to increase the transit tax while gas taxes are voted on at the state and federal level and that drags in the rural vs. urban mindset.
    Then again, there is a whole segment of the population that thinks everything should be free, mysteriously be maintained, and all taxes should be eliminated

  • Brian

    I rarely vote against a tax increase, but a general sales tax on all goods and services dedicated primarily to fund roads when the gasoline tax has not increased in 18 years is absolutely crazy. The gas tax should be raised at least 20 cents a gallon, with a built in adjustment for inflation.

  • EUsher

    Another factor that exaggerates this issue is the fact that gasoline sales have halved in Missouri between 1996 and 2009.


    • Alex Ihnen

      That appears to be sales from refiners and not retail sales at the pump? Hard to imagine that Missourians bought half the gas in 2009 as they did in 1996, though increased fuel economy and flat population growth could put a dent in the numbers.

    • rgbose

      Doesn’t a lot of Wood River (IL) gas end up on the Missouri side?