This paper examines the impact of an income tax in a monocentric city where households equilibriate their allocation of time between work, commuting, and leisure. An increase in the income tax rate lowers the implicit value of time, and hence transportation costs. “Compensated equilibrium” comparative statics analysis shows that under certain conditions, this results in a larger, more dispersed urban area, with lower land rents at the city center and less population within any given distance from the center. The welfare effect of an income tax rate change is also studied, and an expression for the marginal excess burden is derived. The income tax produces welfare losses both because it induces substitution in favor of leisure and in favor of travel - the latter accompanied by excessive spatial dispersion and consumption of space. The marginal excess burden depends not only on the compensated demand elasticity for leisure, but also on that for space. Finally, the problem of benefit measurement for transportation projects in this tax-distorted spatial economy is examined. Benefit measures should be deflated to adjust for the fact that further transportation improvements lead to reduction of land use intensity, exacerbating the problem of spatial resource misallocation in an already excessively dispersed urban area.

David E. Wildasin / dew@davidwildasin.us