Friday, February 20, 2009

An Alternative to the Gax Tax

The new Secretary of Transportation has Ray LaHood will soon announce the intention of using the Vehicle Miles Traveled method of taxing instead of a fuel tax on gasoline. In the last year the Highway Trust Fund has not kept pace with the rate of disbursements and Congress had to allocate and extra $8 billion to cover expenses. The decline in gas usage has resulted from the rise of oil prices and the increase in usage of fuel efficient vehicles. (So if Congress had to subsidize the Trust Fund, what does that do to Randal O"Toole's arguement about "pay as you go" for transit systems?)

VMT , on its face, is a much fairer method of applying the "user pays" ideology that O'Toole and others are so adamant about for transit and rail projects. There are many more uses for gasoline than just automobiles and those who use gas powered lawn mowers, chainsaws, generators, ATV's and pleasure boats pay way more than their share to the Highway Fund than those who don"t. There are at least three states currently exploring the possibilities and mechanisims of such a program.

Come on, think about it. If we all went to hybrid autos, or alternative fuels or even, all the the way to all electric vehicles, who would pay for the highways then? Would all the roads become toll roads?

In LaHood's scenario, all cars and trucks would be outfitted with a device to record the milage and would not have two way communication capability(yeah, sure).
The system would require all cars and trucks be equipped with global satellite positioning technology, a transponder, a clock and other equipment to record how many miles a vehicle was driven, whether it was driven on highways or secondary roads, and even whether it was driven during peak traffic periods or off-peak hours.

The device would tally how much tax motorists owed depending upon their road use. Motorists would pay the amount owed when it was downloaded, probably at gas stations at first, but an alternative eventually would be needed.
I told you all about my feelings on "auto to auto" communications and some sort of automated control, so I won't go into that again. This all gets to be sounding very Orwellian and "Big Brother"ish. What is to keep the government from generating your location anywhere in the USA from the triangulation of signals from several satellites. That IS how GPS works and the transponder has to tell if it gets the signal(two way communication).

I also don't get the part about downloading at gas stations at first. Most gas stations these days have little or no help able to handle the task. What I would use is a specially made flash drive designed to connect to the device, activate the download and reset the memory. These readers would only be available at the government agency designated to collect the "usage fee", car tax, ... call it what you will.

This also brings to mind the thought of theft protection for this reader. They could have their own GPS or verification code set-up to prevent them from just walking off (with help).

If I take it one step further, you could use the advances in RFID and just have a drive-thru an the DMV. They verify and calcualte the tax and charge it to your credit card.

There would have to be a phase in period and how that is handled will set the tone for the full implementation. Who will pay for the devices and will the affluent get the better rates per mile? Will there be a penalty on gasoline engines for pollution control? Will there be double standards?

This is one reason that I wish that there were more transit possibilities in Lexington

Update: 2-22-09 It appears that Obama staffers put the kibosh on the VMT late on Friday afternoon, but the idea is still out there lurking in the shadows.

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