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Financial Structuring and Assessment for Public-Private Partnerships: A Primer

October 1, 2012


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Chapter 3 - Sources of Revenue

Project revenues for P3s can come from various sources. The most common source of revenue for a P3 project is project tolls. Toll-based P3 projects may be undertaken with minimal financial contributions from the public sector. The private sector may agree to design, build, finance, operate and maintain a project in exchange for the future revenues derived exclusively from the project. The public sector effectively transfers demand risk – the risk that use of the facility will be less than expected – to the private sector. If expected demand for a facility does not materialize private investors stand to lose some or all of their investment.

Public agency contributions to a P3 project can also be derived from various non-toll revenue sources. Typical revenue sources include State and local gas and sales taxes, as well as Federal-aid funds. P3s may also be structured to take advantage of non-traditional revenue sources such as local option taxes, parking and other fees, value capture strategies and ancillary revenues. However, non-traditional revenues may be viewed by potential investors as less stable sources of revenue and, as a result, may be more difficult to use as a source of repayment. Generally, the broader the base from which a revenue source is derived, the more stable the revenue source. For example, statewide sales taxes and gas taxes are generally considered more stable than local property taxes.

Table 3-1 presents a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of typical revenue sources from a project finance perspective. The list in Table 3-1 represents some of the revenue sources available today. Their relevance may change over time. For example, fuel taxes are the main revenue source for highway and transportation investments, but their yield is declining due to the introduction of more fuel efficient vehicles and alternative fuels. Mileage-based user fees are being explored to replace fuel taxes over the long term.

Value Capture

Value capture is an innovative revenue generation tool that may be either project-specific or programmatic in nature. Project-specific tools include those that are typically applied to specific development projects, such as:

  • Special Assessments, i.e., special charges imposed on property close to a new facility. The assessment is levied only against those parcels that receive a special benefit that can be clearly identified and measured.
  • Tax Increments, i.e., taxes levied on the future increment in property value within a development or redevelopment project to finance infrastructure improvements.
  • Negotiated Exactions, such as in-kind contributions to local roads, parks, or other public facilities, or in-lieu fees, as a condition of development approval.
Table 3-1: Typical Project Finance Revenue Sources
Revenue Source Advantages Disadvantages
Tolls Direct user fee, may create stronger performance incentives for a facility operator.

Revenue risk can be transferred to the private sector.

Tolling structure may include market pricing mechanisms that create economic benefits.
Traffic and revenue forecasts can fall short of actual revenues.

Costs of collection may be higher than other revenue sources.

Limitation: Few facilities can be fully financed using toll revenues alone; most projects will require a combination of revenue sources to work.
State fuel taxes Revenues are not directly associated with the use of a specific project, but related to general use of highway network, therefore they may be relatively stable.

Low cost of collection.
Yield declining over time since they typically do not increase to compensate for inflation and improved fuel efficiency.
Federal-aid highway funds Derived from federal fuel taxes—a relatively stable revenue source and an indirect user fee. Yield declining over time, as discussed above.

Federal funds are generally linked to regulations and contracting requirements (e.g., NEPA, Davis-Bacon, etc.) that may be more demanding than the requirements imposed by other revenue sources.
Sales taxes Relatively stable revenue source, though subject to influence of economic growth and recession. May create market distortions because it is not aligned with the "user pays" concept.

Local option taxes or those dedicated for specific uses may have a "sunset" date that may or may not be aligned with the term of the P3 agreement.
Value capture* May capture economic value created through infrastructure improvements that is not captured by other sources.

Specific value capture tool can be chosen based on regional or local conditions and project needs.
Subject to the volatility of the real estate market; rated low by bond rating agencies.

Yield may be low, requiring other revenue sources.

For joint development, there can be concerns about the public sector being a "landlord," and issues related to land taken by eminent domain (if any) being turned over to the private sector for profit.
Ancillary revenues Encourage private sector to optimize potential revenue options, reducing the need for limited public resources Yield is relatively low; cannot be considered as stand-alone funding sources, but as part of the "revenue portfolio."
*Has not generally been used with highway P3 projects
  • Joint Development, involving the development of a transportation facility and adjacent private property with a private sector partner either providing the facility or making a financial contribution to offset its costs. The development that occurs in the vicinity of a transit or highway facility is configured differently than it otherwise would have been were the facility not present. There are many examples of joint development at transit rail stations. On the highway side, a form of this approach is represented by the development of Columbia, MD, where the developer built significant road infrastructure.

Programmatic value capture tools include those that can be applied system-wide within a whole jurisdiction to account for multiple development projects, such as:

  • Split Rate Tax, which applies a higher property tax rate on land than on buildings. These taxes capture the general increase in the value of land due to improved accessibility from transportation networks. This approach is based on the understanding that the property tax is actually two types of taxes – one upon building values, and the other upon land values. This distinction is an important one, as these two types of taxes have significantly different impacts on incentives and development results. Decreasing the tax on buildings gives property owners the incentive to build, maintain and improve their properties. As the levy on land values is increased, land speculation and poor land utilization, an example being slum buildings and boarded up buildings, are discouraged. The signal thus sent to property holders is to either improve their properties or sell them to someone who can do so. Shifting the tax burden in this way discourages land hoarding and encourages good land utilization. It promotes a more efficient use of urban infrastructure (such as roads and sewers), decreases the pressure towards urban sprawl (as there is significant infill development), and assures a broader spread of the benefits of development to the community as a whole. This form of taxation has been implemented in Harrisburg and several other municipalities of Pennsylvania.
  • Transportation Utility Fees, which treat transportation networks like a utility. The fees are similar to other local services such as water and wastewater treatment that are financed primarily from user charges. Properties are charged fees in proportion to their network use, rather than according to their monetary value as in property taxation. This mechanism connects the costs of maintaining the infrastructure more directly to the benefits received from mobility and access to the system. The fees are based on the number of trips generated and vary with land use. They have been used by many cities in Oregon.

Stability and Shelf-Life of Revenue Sources

Revenue sources must be stable and generate an adequate yield over the long term to repay P3 debt and equity. Tolls and taxes are usually stable revenue sources, and debt backed by tolls and taxes tends to be rated higher by credit rating agencies. Ancillary revenues, such as revenue generated from right-of-way leases, rest stop concessions or the sale of advertising or air rights tend to have relatively low yields. Value capture revenues are typically volatile. These revenue sources are best used in combination with other revenue sources as part of the overall plan for compensation of the P3 concessionaire.

Some revenue sources have a shelf-life. Grants and discretionary funds may have time limitations, and some State and local revenue sources (such as sales taxes) may expire after a certain date, requiring voter approval to be extended beyond that period. For a P3 project using availability payments, the revenues dedicated to make the annual payments must have a life span that extends through the entire concession period. Revenue sources with a shorter shelf-life can be used to make payments in the early stages, e.g., during construction and the "ramp-up" period for toll roads (i.e., the early period when traffic has yet to rise to forecasted levels). In most cases, several revenue sources are bundled to repay debt and equity in a P3.


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