Grade 3-5

Free Ride

Updated: January 14 2021,

Free Ride helps students identify goods and services provided by the government and evaluate the cost of government provided goods and services.


tax formMany goods and services are provided by the Government, including the building and maintenance of roads. Children and their families make use of roads daily, seemingly free of charge. This lesson plan explores the true cost of a ‘free ride’.

Explain to the students that there are many goods and services which the government provides for us which individuals do not need to pay for directly. An example is their school.
Ask the students:

  • Can you think of any other examples of goods or services that the government provides for people “free of charge”?
    [National parks, police, fire services, some medical care, roads]

Explain to the students that they are accustomed to using many goods and services without thinking how much it really costs. Each day, students come to school on government provided roads. Each student also enjoys walking in the parks and woods.

Ask the students:

  • Have you ever thought of who is paying for the maintenance of the national parks, public schools, and roads?
    [All of these are very expensive and are paid for by the government.]
  • At what times do you use the roads?
    [Going to the schools, shopping, practice, visiting friends.]
  • Who constructs the roads? road
    [Road workers, planners]
  • What materials do they use to build a road?
    [Sand, asphalt, stones, etc.]
  • What machinery do they use to build a road?
    [Bulldozer, backhoe loader, graders, hydraulic shovel, dump truck, etc.]
  • Why are good roads so important for our country?
    [Food, clothes, appliances, etc. are transported on the roads. Also remind the children that the ambulance, firefighters can answer one’s call immediately only if the roads are in good shape.]

Now, ask the students:

  • Who pays for all of the goods and services that you just identified which is required in road building and maintenance?
    [The government]
  • Where does our government get the money to build the roads?
    [From taxes, money collected from the people]

Explain that the working people give a share of their income to the government and this share is called a tax. When we buy something we also pay a little bit more than the price tag says – it is called a tax too. Thus, the gas tax pays the construction and maintenance of the roads.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify goods and services provided by the government.
  • Evaluate the cost of government provided goods and services.
  • Demonstrate that citizens pay for the goods and services that their government provides.

Resource List


Activity 1

Have students explore the Department of Transportation Finance Page ( ) to answer the following questions:

Looking at Section 1 (Highway Account Revenues Table and Pie Chart)

  • List where the government gets the money for the roads.
    [Gasoline, Gasohol, Diesel and Special Fuels, Truck and Trailer Sales, Truck Tires, Heavy Vehicle Use, Fines]
  • Where does the majority of the income come from?
    [Taxes on Gasoline]
  • How much comes from that source?
    [$20,800,000,000 Make sure that students note the (in millions) note on the chart.]
  • What percentage of the income is from Truck and Trailer Sales?

Have students look at Section 2 (Federal Obligations Table and Pie Chart).

  • What are the three largest expenses that the government paid for with roads in 1999?
    [Surface Transportation Program, National Highway System, Interstate funding]
  • What percentage was spent on emergency relief?

Have students look at Section 3 (What It’s Used For Table and Chart).

  • How much was spent on Bridge Replacement and Bridge Rehabilitation combined?
  • Point out that in 1999, gasoline was taxed at 18.4 cents (round the figure to 18 cents if students are unfamiliar with decimal values) per gallon. Ask the students to figure out: “If your parents needed to drive you to and from school every day for a week, how much would they have to pay in gasoline taxes (a gallon of gas lasts 10 miles)?” Allow students to use MapQuest ( ) to determine the distance from their house to the school.

Activity 2

Have the students complete the Student Activity

Once students have completed the activity they will have the option to print their answers. If you would like a hard copy of their work, have them print their results and turn them in.

If you would like to have students complete a print version of this activity, use the following button to print a copy.


Have students place the following steps in order by creating a flow-chart:

  • Tax is charged [2]
  • Government pays people to build and maintain roads[5]
  • Government decides how to spend the tax money [4]
  • People buy Gasoline [1]
  • Government collects taxes [3]

Ask the students to define tax and taxpayers.

Answer the following question. Explain your answer using 3 or 4 complete sentences.

Who really pays for the roads? (All the people of the country pay for the goods and services that are provided by the government).

Extension Activity

1. Ask students to visit these pages and determine:

2. Have students look at the Interstate System Facts found at

  • Have them choose one of the tables and turn it into a graph (pie chart, pictogram, line graph) and explain why they chose that particular method of depicting the information in the table.