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Tax by the mile?
February 15, 2005 5:29 AM   Subscribe

Tax by the mile ? California lawmakers are considering this to make up for the loss of gas sales tax... due to the efficiency of hybrid automobiles.
posted by lobstah (34 comments total)

 
RFID tags on our children and now GPS devices on our cars? I don't like where this is headed. They're going to be able to watch our every move. Where's the privacy?
posted by evoo at 5:50 AM on February 15, 2005


evoo: I see that GPS's were called for in the article, but I don't see why one would be necessary; just make the odometer electronic (I'm sure it already is in most cars), then have it bluetooth or something to the pump when you fill up. This would be conceptually easier to forge, but I think the privacy protection benefit would be worth it. Also, it's cheaper since it's probably already almost done.

The main argument I can think of against the mileage tax, obviously, is that it discourages fuel efficiency. However, it's not clear that the tax would be SO high as to outweigh the benefits of high fule efficiency completely. Still, it seems like we'd rather encourage fuel efficiency, even at the margin. Of course, keep in mind that this would still be at least as strong an incentive as the current gas tax to save miles altogether, and start carpooling or taking public transit. So it's not ALL bad.

In favor of the mileage tax, I can see the argument that the gas tax is regressive as it stands. Of course the calculus is a modified a bit by huge SUVs, which are gas inefficient; but remember that lots of cheap cars (like old junkers) are, too. It seems at least a little more fair to "pay per use" for street repairs. Still, in the interest of encouraging gas efficiency, I'd hope they'd only replace a tiny bit of the lost revenue with a tax-per-mile. I'd rather see the rest come from, oh, an increase in income tax or property tax.

Of course, good luck raising property taxes in California.
posted by rkent at 6:06 AM on February 15, 2005


evoo: I see that GPS's were called for in the article, but I don't see why one would be necessary; just make the odometer electronic (I'm sure it already is in most cars), then have it bluetooth or something to the pump when you fill up. This would be conceptually easier to forge, but I think the privacy protection benefit would be worth it. Also, it's cheaper since it's probably already almost done.

Yes, that's a good idea, but what if I drive most of my miles out of state? How would that system know the difference? If I drove my car from CA to Michigan and back, would I have to pay CA taxes on those 2000 miles I drove out of state? Just paying for the total miles on my odometer wouldn't be right if the other states I drove through didn't have this silly tax.
posted by evoo at 6:14 AM on February 15, 2005


First, any tax collected as a transportation tax should only be used on transportation (roads, transit, etc).

None of this 'general fund' crap.

Toll roads such has the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Turnpikes already use this 'mileage' based method by charging you by the distance you travel.

While you might say that these toll facilities only fund the actual tollroad, but that is not always true. The hudson river tunnels and bridges help fund the New York City subway system.

The New York State Thruway tolls help fund I-84 maintenance, which is a free interstate. (except for the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge across the Hudson)


Now that we have hybrid cars with regenerative breaking, once the technology gets even better, perhaps regenerative breaking might be the only 'fuel' future cars might need.

While I hate the idea of two separate taxes when you drive, it could help cities by making it even more expensive to live further out in the suburbs.

I don't think our country can survive on the "I drive everywhere for everything" concept.
posted by LinemanBear at 6:25 AM on February 15, 2005


What a great way to encourage fuel efficiency. These guys get the idiot award of the day.
posted by caddis at 6:26 AM on February 15, 2005


Maybe if CA got rid of all the friggin' loopholes SUV drivers have been exploiting over the years, and hell, add an "inefficiency tax", "driving hazard tax" and "dangerous vehicle tax" to boot, they can make up the losses.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:31 AM on February 15, 2005


I would love to see proof that Cali's gas tax income has been going down, given the recent upswing in SUV usage.

Why not just an SUV tax? This policymaking seems designed to apease SUV users at the expense of hybrid drivers. Typical republican BS.
posted by delmoi at 6:44 AM on February 15, 2005


also a big problem with this idea - a three mertic ton H2 does a lot more damage to the road by rolling over it than does a ton-and-a-quarter Honda Civic Hybrid. Since mass correlates with efficiency (with minor adjustments for engine design), the damage per gallon should be a lot more constant across car designs than damage per mile.

The only way I could see this working as a fair user tax would be a to implement it as a mass-mile tax.
posted by Vetinari at 6:57 AM on February 15, 2005


Now that we have hybrid cars with regenerative breaking, once the technology gets even better, perhaps regenerative breaking might be the only 'fuel' future cars might need.

Perpetual motion machines for everyone! Or, umm, not.
posted by casu marzu at 7:25 AM on February 15, 2005


Dude!, what is new? The State is following Oregon.

Read in 19595-96 that all US cars’ ECM{think that is the term} have the initial technology installed for this. iirc, The US government enforced it on all production cars from 96 on as a standard requirement.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:27 AM on February 15, 2005


One factor you may be overlooking as to why the gas tax is down. The State is a big pusher for carpooling.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:30 AM on February 15, 2005


The only way I could see this working as a fair user tax would be a to implement it as a mass-mile tax.

Agreed. Definitely.
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:31 AM on February 15, 2005


thomcatspike: So, is the state just going to send meter-readers out to everyone's driveway? And what about all of the older cars out there? How much of the projected income from this tax will it take to equip all of those vehicles with this technology?

I suppose that this is a cute idea, but it will never work. How many vehicles are we talking about? Tens of millions? And they all have to retrofitted to work with such a law? The technology is too complex to be worth collecting a couple bucks per mile (or whatever they think it's going to be). And it will invite a huge black market in tampering.
posted by casu marzu at 7:34 AM on February 15, 2005


The only way I could see this working as a fair user tax would be a to implement it as a mass-mile tax.
What base value does California now use for its anual car registration?

Texas' truck and motor home registration is based on the fully loaded weight of the vehicle. How do you feel about that you SUV haters?
posted by thomcatspike at 7:38 AM on February 15, 2005


Only a girly man would impose a regressive tax on the citizens of California.
Read my biceps, now new taxes.
"The lamentations of your women."
posted by nofundy at 7:48 AM on February 15, 2005


casu marzu, you lost me.

The article was in a hot rod type magazine in 1996 discussing how all 96 models and up will have the initial technology installed. And how one way it may be used is for speeding tickets. This was w/o a cop actually witnessing it. Basically it described a similar system like GM’s On Star where a car can be unlocked from space.

If you don't like it, hope it will come up as a proposition you can vote against it.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:50 AM on February 15, 2005


I would love to see proof that Cali's gas tax income has been going down, given the recent upswing in SUV usage.

Ditto. Average fuel economy has been going down, not up, in this country. So how can they possibly be collecting less money. There are too few hybrids to make a difference.

Perhaps the report misstated the facts, and states are only worrying about potentially losing gas tax dollars due to hybrids in the future.

BTW, hybrids are stupid. We could accomplish the same things by purchasing conventional vehicles that are simply more fuel-efficient. But noooo, we want to be able to emotionally pat ourselves on the back for doing good, because we're saving a few MPG without giving up performance -- at the cost of billions of dollars of unnecessary engineering complexity and costs. /soapbox
posted by pmurray63 at 8:01 AM on February 15, 2005


Er, sorry.

I don't live in California or Oregon, there's nothing for me to vote against. (I do however live in Maryland, unofficial motto: If you can dream it, we can tax it).

My point was that the tax will too complicated to administer if it depends on GPS devices and little network computers in the gas tank and gas pumps as in this article. I suppose that if California has inspection stations then it might be feasible to calculate a tax there (although the specter of a highly variable tax once every year or two at the inspection station probably makes that a non-starter). But anything that depends on something more complex than an odometer reading will probably be more expensive than it's worth because it would require retrofitting all existing cars and pumps with this complicated technology that will be too prone to failure and/or tampering. That's probably what they'll conclude from these studies.
posted by casu marzu at 8:08 AM on February 15, 2005


Todays cars get the same or worse gas mileage as the first Model T Ford did. Cars should be able to go to the moon now.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:15 AM on February 15, 2005


that if California has inspection stations then it might be feasible to calculate a tax there (
good point
posted by thomcatspike at 8:23 AM on February 15, 2005


Don't forget, we ARE talking about California here, which is in deep trouble financially. They're probably kicking around any form of taxation you can imagine looking for ways to balance the budget.

That being said, the reason this scares me as an overall idea (as a Texan now transplanted to Florida) is how little emphasis so many states\cities have on making their towns accessible to anyone not in a car. In the Dallas suburb I used to live in, things were spaced out beyond belief. Just walking to the nearest convenience store and back would take nearly an hour. (and walking to the nearest grocer was out of the question) Nor were there enough sidewalks and such to make bikes viable, and the public transportation - a handful of busses - was a sick joke.

Simply speaking, you had no choice but to drive. And I see the exact same construction assumptions where I am in Florida. And I've seen them in various places I've visited across the country.

Now, if they were to implement this, and then take the profits and use them to fund more public transportation... that might be an interesting idea.

The other big problem with this is that it's a rather regressive tax. GENERALLY speaking, poorer people get fuel-efficient cars and rich people go for the gas guzzlers. Removing the gas tax in favor of this road tax would translate straight into a tax cut for the rich and transfer the burden onto the poor. Also, the higher classes can afford to move closer to work. This isn't an option for the lower classes.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that, due to all of the above, cars are pretty much necessary for our economy to function. Since public transportation is a joke in most of the country, you have to have a car to go to work, go to the bank, buy stuff, etc. Do we REALLY want to provide a massive disencentive to, you know, actually contribute to the economy? Do we want to encourage people NOT to make unplanned visits to the mall? Or make it even harder for people to find a job which fits their means?

It's a bad idea all around, and will hurt just about everyone except the people driving the gas-guzzlers who cry about how "unfair" the current situation is.
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:40 AM on February 15, 2005


I've been paying by the mile for quite a few years now -- it's called a tollway, and here in Maine it's the Maine Turnpike. Regular commuters pay a discounted rate, and in some states drivers with the (relatively low-tech) RFID transponders are rewarded with the ability to fly past tollbooths.

I do believe that tax based on the number of gallons of fuel you consume is less regressive than by the mile.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:43 AM on February 15, 2005


A truly stupid idea as it would penalize people who have to commute long distances without corresponding to income. I drive about a hundred miles to work everyday, my boss drives half that and has a significantly higher income, the people who do the clean-up of the office drive hundreds of miles daily and make minimum wage.
posted by Vaska at 9:02 AM on February 15, 2005


BTW, hybrids are stupid. We could accomplish the same things by purchasing conventional vehicles that are simply more fuel-efficient.

That would require manufacturers to actually make more fuel-efficient cars, which they've dragged their feet on for years, going so far as to lobby Congress to push the deadlines for increased fuel efficiency further into the future on more than one occasion. When Ford and GM come out with conventional cars that get 45+ MPG, I'll buy one. Until then, I'm quite happy with my Hybrid, no matter how "stupid" the technology is.

As for the California bill, I agree with Vetinari -- tax according to weight+distance traveled.
posted by me3dia at 9:18 AM on February 15, 2005


why GPS? Why Bluetooth on each car and each gas pump?

California has annual inspections: record the mileage when a car is registered and at each inspection and bill the owner for the miles driven since the last inspection.

If that's too big a bite at once, allow people to pay the bill in monthly installments.

Requiring GPS and Bluetooth is just a way to provide a windfall to the makers of car GPS and gas-pump Bluetooth devices, while getting Big Brother-ish tracking as a "bonus".
posted by orthogonality at 10:00 AM on February 15, 2005


This just in: Cash strapped California passes tax upon miles walked or jogged, next up taxes on the air you breathe.
posted by caddis at 10:20 AM on February 15, 2005


That would require manufacturers to actually make more fuel-efficient cars, which they've dragged their feet on for years, going so far as to lobby Congress to push the deadlines for increased fuel efficiency further into the future on more than one occasion. When Ford and GM come out with conventional cars that get 45+ MPG, I'll buy one.

Virtually no one in the real world gets 45 MPG, not even a hybrid. EPA estimates are less reliable for hybrids than they are for conventional vehicles. In the meantime, a regular Civic gets 38/44 MPG, and you don't have to cough up thousands of extra dollars for a hybrid. And we avoid the headache of figuring out how to dispose of the battery pack safely once it's exhausted. Hence my argument that hybrids are stupid: we can reap most of the benefits by choosing fuel-efficient conventional vehicles. And if more people would do that, more automakers would start producing them.

Not enough people want fuel-efficient cars to justify the corporate investment. Car companies have to build what people want, not what politicians dictate, and right now the vast majority of US buyers want big vehicles with lots of power. Do you really think automakers would ignore a significant number of people who want to buy fuel-efficient vehicles?

Now there are some people such as yourself interested in efficiency -- but not enough. So you want to encourage fuel efficiency? Raise the price of gasoline. That's the only way it will happen: give people a reason to want fuel-efficient vehicles. Even the automakers say that. Even Bush's chief economic advisor once called higher gas taxes the closest thing to an economic free lunch (this was before he started working for GWB, needless to say).
posted by pmurray63 at 10:34 AM on February 15, 2005


Shrug. If you think of these taxes as a way to deal with externalities, then it makes sense to have a tax based on mileage and vehicle weight. Of course, including vehicle weight in the tax would keep the SUV drivers from getting their usual free ride, so it'll never happen.
posted by hattifattener at 10:37 AM on February 15, 2005


pmurray63: Car companies have to build what people want, not what politicians dictate [...]

I agree. I never liked those fuel-efficiency standards mandated by government. There is strong evidence that cars and trucks aren't paying their way when it comes to pollution and infrastructure investment. That won't be fixed by fuel-efficiency standards, but by a higher gas tax.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:41 AM on February 15, 2005


Is there any evidence that this is anything other than a fluff piece. Cited: OSU student project, some guy from ODOT. Quoth:
Officials in car-clogged California are so worried they may be considering a replacement for the gas tax altogether, replacing it with something called "tax by the mile."
Which officials now? If they named one I'd write in because its a danged goofy idea. We're going to get these computers (from...) and have the gas stations collect data for us. These, by the way, are the same people we trust so implicitly that we regularly inspect their measuring devices for accuracy...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:07 AM on February 15, 2005


One reason the gas tax fund is down is because the
California governors both Gray and Schwarzenegger have
been siphoning monies from the special funds to the general
fund to try to cover the deficits in the budget.

And following up on V's comment about mass and taxation,
I would add a V**2 component to the tax, which would be
computed realtime. This would give you a tax proportional
to kinetic energy. Drive slowly in your 3 ton Escalade, be
taxed gently. Drive fast, and get reamed.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:10 AM on February 15, 2005


So you want to encourage fuel efficiency? Raise the price of gasoline. That's the only way it will happen: give people a reason to want fuel-efficient vehicles.3
Seen the gas prices in California over the last several years?
Gasoline prices state-by-state
posted by thomcatspike at 3:36 PM on February 15, 2005


Seen the price of bottled water in Calfornia right now? $3.50 / gallon, at least. Gas is hella cheap right now. Not for long though...
posted by anthill at 3:54 PM on February 15, 2005


Would this include mileage people walk or ride bikes?
'Cause we could tax that too.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:24 PM on February 15, 2005


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