Oregonian Looks at Mileage Tax Hardware

In Sunday’s O, Jim Mayer takes a look at the pilot test for a VMT tax that we discussed here.

Jim reports that there are apparently problems with the radios for uploading the info. The system can’t always tell what pump the vehicle is at.

11 responses to “Oregonian Looks at Mileage Tax Hardware”

  1. I know it’s been discussed here at length already, but I still think this is a mistake. The article states that the system is set to be revenue neutral at 20mpg. That means if a person drives a vehicle that gets better than 20mpg, they’ll end up paying more. That’s a direct reward for inefficiency. And I was amused by the fact that the example used in the graphic of the print edition showed a sample receipt in which the driver actually paid less than they would have with the standard gas tax. Obviously, if the program is meant to raise more money, most people will pay more. The graphic seemed deceptive to me.

    I still say that if we want better roads, we need a higher gas tax. Get it on the ballot on its own, with no caveats about freight-mileage exemptions or what have you, as in 2000. Washington state just passed a $0.10/gal tax. There’s no reason to think that we can’t as well, assuming that it’s a reasonable increase which will lead to measureable results.

  2. DR —
    The program was a test, designed to figure out if the technology worked, not to raise money. The fee wes pegged to be nuetral at 20 mpg as part of the experiment. When all the results are in, we will see whether there were more winners or losers among the volunteers..I dont think the graphic was deceptive. There are plenty of cars getting less than 20 mpg out there who would have paid less. The concept is aimed at replacing the gas tax to keep pace how with much people drive, which the gas tax no longer does.

  3. But it’s all so Rube Goldberg-ish. Either raise the gas tax or allow the roads to continue to crumble. I just can’t see why we need this complicated, expensive system.

  4. Raising the gas tax significantly, and indexing it to inflation, is probably the simplest, most straightforward solution, but so far, the roads aren’t crumbling or congested enough to make politicians more afraid of angry motorsits than they are of angry taxpayers.

  5. There is a big difference between “congestion”/highway use, and “pollution”.

    A Prius and a similar size/weight automobile both use the same highway facilities. Why should a Prius get a break when someone who drives a lesser-expensive automobile because they can’t afford a $20,000+ Prius pay a regressive tax; although both use the highway equally?

    (Put another way, why should a single-occupant Prius get a benefit over a 4+ HOV Corolla?)

    Pollution impact, on the other hand, should be measured based upon its source regardless of “on-highway” or “off-highway”. My vision is that the gas tax should revert to being a “pollution tax” that funds programs like mass transit.

    Such would also tax construction equipment, which was targeted by the Oregonian as a major source of urban area pollution, but currently has zero responsibility towards its impacts. A gas tax could also be regionalized; so that urban areas could pay a higher gas tax, along with gas stations located near freeways (i.e. within a one mile radius of a freeway interchange)

    Because vehicles would then be taxed for their actual road use, there could be a variety of road-use taxes – ranging from urban vs. rural, interstate vs. non-interstate, rush hour vs. non-rush hour, and would also provide accurate accounting for miles travelled on city streets, county roads and State highways; the State could then create categories of its highways so that certain roads could have a higher per-mile toll (i.e. Coast Range/Cascades routes) than others (low-usage, two-lane secondary highways with little maintenance demands and low to no congestion).

  6. Put another way, why should a single-occupant Prius get a benefit over a 4+ HOV Corolla?

    This may surprise you, Erik, but as a Prius owner I agree completely. I think a weight-mile tax would be a far more fair means of revenue generation.

    We know how much every car model weighs (plus or minus a few options), and it is easy to tell periodically how far a car has driven and tax accordingly. A Prius is larger and heavier than a Corolla, and for road maintenance revenue the Prius owner would pay more under such a scheme.

    Separately, some kind of pollution tax based on a combination of emissions (the most prevalent being carbon) based on the energy consumed and vehicle type (gasoline, hybrid, electric — determined by the power plant source mix for the region) would make up the rest of the revenue picture.

    Both methods would be more intrusive than a gas tax but a bit more fair than a blanket gas tax, but not nearly as intrusive, expensive, or complicated as a GPS tolling scheme.

    On the other hand, technology may render this debate (except for pure electric cars) moot — the cost differential for hybrids is shrinking every year, and there may be many hybrid choices in the Corolla budget-class soon. When that happens, then the gas tax may not be so unbalanced after all.

    – Bob R.

  7. Bob R. – always good comments.

    I was gonna make a big post but you pretty much summed it up accurately.

    Weight, a key element in damaging roads, thus, should be relevant to charges.

  8. If we’re going to look at weight/mile, can we also look at studded tires? A vehicle with those does *far* more road damage than a vehicle of the same weight that’s not got studded tires.

  9. Steve – wasn’t there talk some time ago of a studded-tire tax?

    Frankly it’s a good idea, since so much of Oregon’s pavement maintenance is directly related to the use of studded tires. Studded tires are also downright unnecessary in the Willamette Valley. Personally, the only time I ever used studded tires was in Montana, where there was snow on the ground from late October through early April (almost continuously).

    Bob – I agree the weight-mile is the way to go. No reason to use weigh stations; just base the tax upon 85% of the maximum loaded weight of the vehicle.

    The Prius/hybrid/electric owners will still receive a benefit because they’ll get a break off the pollution/gas tax (not entirely, but still less, coupled with buying less gas to begin with).

    While I agree that such a plan would be deemed as “obstrusive” by some, it would better determine how to apportion roadway use revenues, so that roads that are used more receive more money; roads that are used less receive less. Likewise there would be premium roads (freeways and certain cross-state routes) that would also receive more, based upon both their traffic and that people are willing to pay more to use them.

    I guess for those who adamently refuse to have the system installed (or for out-of-state travellers), I guess a gas tax could be retained as a backup taxation mode.

    Ultimately – decoupling highway revenues from the gas tax will be a benefit, because if less people burn motor fuel, there will be less pollution and less of a need for those gas tax revenues. Likewise, if the weight-mile tax is implemented, it will give motorists an ability to adjust their driving habits to reduce their actual tax (by travelling during off-peak hours, or shifting to alternate routes to avoid congestion).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *