Monday, November 21, 2011

The Proposed "Pay-Per-Mile" Tax is a Shockingly Dumb Idea

I've written on this blog before that one of the biggest problems with our complex modern industrial society is that a substantial portion of the population is fundamentally incompetent, even in areas in which they are supposedly expert. Case in point is a recent suggestion put forth by so-called transportation "experts" as to how to solve the severe underfunding of the nation's federal highway fund, as reported the other day by CNN:
Drivers often forget that they pay for highway construction and maintenance through federal fuel taxes: 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel. "The notion that the road has ever been free is sort of a self-delusion," said Neil.

But the fuel tax is running out of steam, experts warn, because more efficient vehicles are using less fuel and rising fuel prices discourage driving. As tax revenue falls, so does the nation's ability to pay for road construction and maintenance.

The solution, say many transportation experts, is to replace -- or supplement -- fuel taxes with a per-mile tax on every vehicle in America.
Okay, so how exactly would such a harebrained scheme work, anyway?
Imagine 254 million vehicles.

That's the number of cars, trucks and motorcycles that a tax per mile system would have to monitor.

Some proposals call for using GPS satellites to gather mileage data on each vehicle.

Whoa. Really?

When it comes to tracking their vehicles, Americans tend to be really touchy about protecting their privacy.

According to a University of Iowa poll, only about 20% of drivers would choose a pay-per-mile tax system if GPS tracking is involved.

The anonymous driver will soon be an extinct species, says Neil.

"You can't drop off the grid. Ten years from now, it will be virtually impossible to drive a car that doesn't have an electronic signature," said Neil.

"It doesn't matter whether you have OnStar or you rent a car -- it's going to have a 'black box.' If you've got any kind of navigation, The Man -- with a capital M -- knows where you are."

University of Iowa research shows that the public would be more willing to accept per-mile taxes if its monitoring technology doesn't record a vehicle's specific location.

Taking your vehicle to have someone read the odometer every year -- like some states do with emissions testing -- might be an option.

But some experts fear that method might be too expensive. Also, the resulting once-a-year tax bill might be too much for some drivers to pay.

One idea tested in Minnesota eliminates GPS and uses cell phone text messaging technology.

During fuel stops at gas stations, a device that already exists in most cars would text the car's mileage information to a "back office" data base.

The office would then adjust the price of fuel at the pump based on each vehicle's mileage driven.

Implementing any system would be tricky, says Paul Hanley, who headed the Iowa study. Retrofitting existing cars with the required technology would be almost impossible, he says.

The cheapest and least difficult option says Hanely, would be to install devices in new cars and slowly transition to the new system as the nation's entire fleet of vehicles turns over.

It takes about eight years before 90% of our vehicles are turned over, Hanley says, and more than 10 years to convert the fleet to nearly 100%.

"It's inevitable," says Hanley, who's been conducting a real-world test of a pay-per-mile system with more than 2,500 drivers in 12 locations from coast-to-coast. Per-mile taxes "with a combination of tolls is coming as we move away from the fuel tax."
Sorry about the length of that excerpt, but I felt I had to include it all to demonstrate just how breathtakingly stupid this whole idea is. From privacy concerns, to the cost of administering the program, to the logistics of getting a monitoring device on every car, to the unaffordability of a lump sum annual tax payment--the whole concept is so riddled with real world practical flaws that it should have been rejected outright before it ever received coverage in the mainstream media.

Then you have the most obvious drawback of all in that this scheme PENALIZES people who buy fuel-efficient vehicles. After all, what fucking sense does it make from an energy conservation standpoint that a Hummer, which barely gets double-digit miles to the gallon, should be taxed at the same rate as a hybrid that gets 50 MPG, especially when the smaller, lighter hybrid is likely to cause less wear and tear to the roadways that then need to be repaired?

One question that the CNN stenographer reporter should have immediately asked Mr. Hanley is, why exactly are we "moving away" from the fuel tax when raising it seems to be a far more simple solution? Actually, the reporter does at least mention the possibility a bit farther down in the article:
The best and least complicated solution is to raise the fuel tax, which hasn't changed since 1993. But that idea comes with its own set of political challenges. Many members of Congress would likely oppose any kind of tax hike.
Oh, so we're supposed to unquestioningly swallow the idea that Congress would oppose any sort of increase in the fuel tax, but would merrily go along with a complex and damn near unworkable scheme such as this? Okay, I'll play along. Maybe they WOULD in fact agree to implement this idea. If so, why do you suppose that would be? You don't think it might be because wealthier Americans, including the one-percenters who are the biggest campaign contributors, are the ones most likely to be driving those Hummers and other gas guzzlers, do you? Or that big business would get the contracts to manufacture and install the monitoring devices? Man, and I thought I was cynical.

The only good news here is that it is extremely unlikely that America's car-centric, business-as-usual economic model is going to hold together long enough for this nefarious scheme to be implemented. I merely highlighted it to serve as yet another example of how the elites and their totally compromised so-called "experts" are deviously and tirelessly thinking of new ways to fuck over the rest of us, even if the idea in question clearly shows just how incompetent they are.


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  2. Take heart, Bill. My guess is, this prediction is based on an economy that no longer exists:

    "It takes about eight years before 90% of our vehicles are turned over, Hanley says, and more than 10 years to convert the fleet to nearly 100%."

  3. This reminds me of the WAPO front page story yesterday regarding cameras in D.C. tracking cars and taping them. Scary shit.

  4. "...*a device that already exists in most cars* would text the car's mileage information to a "back office" data base."

    What device is this? I'm driving a mid-90's car, and don't see the newer technology much. What year was it implemented (will keep that threshold in mind as we shop for a replacement very soon.)

  5. @Thrivalista - I'm not really sure what they are referring to, but I don't like the sound of it.

  6. "Then you have the most obvious drawback of all in that this scheme PENALIZES people who buy fuel-efficient vehicles."

    Versions of this that I have seen tend to "solve" this problem by keeping or raising the gas tax. This way, you get a system where people who drive more pay more than people who drive less. People with gas hogs pay more than people who have efficient cars. Gas hogs that drive a lot pay the most.

    That said, all the other points are pretty much valid, and the entire idea never really addresses the reality that this country needs to get seriously detoxed from what Kunstler calls "happy motoring". Assuming we really wanted to work out the logistics of this, an actually useful use of the money might be refurbishing the nation's existing rail system and rebuilding light rail and trolley systems. But, no, our best plan is to use the money to fill potholes and try to extend a way of life that has no long term future.

    And the beat roles on...

  7. Thank you! I thought I was the only one who thought this was asinine. Go with an increase in the gas tax. The system is in place and a gas tax penalizes energy inefficiency.