Don't Fear the VMT Fee

The Christian Science Monitor editorializes in support of the VMT fee replacing the gas tax just as the latest federal transportation financing commission report recommends, as Oregon Governor Kulongoski hopes to do, and as some will do in Europe.

"Taxing miles instead of gasoline is a more reliable way to pay for America's highways. Gas taxes – at both the federal and state levels – must inevitably go the way of the gas guzzler.

A bipartisan blue-ribbon panel this week unanimously recommends replacing the federal gas tax with a tax on "vehicle miles traveled" (VMT) by 2020 – and indexing it for inflation.

Financing for transport infrastructure can no longer depend on indirect fees hidden in the overall cost of a gallon of gas (i.e. the gas tax) but must rely more on direct user fees, such as tolling and congestion pricing.

In Europe, the Netherlands will transition to a VMT by 2014 and Denmark by 2016.

Changing behavior is the key to 21st century transport that must unclog crowded highways and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Taxing miles alerts drivers to the real cost of using roads and can better motivate them to drive less.

A VMT (fee) is the more reliable and efficient way to pay for transport. Its time has come."

Thanks to Leonard Conly

Full Story: A road map to better US roads

Comments

Comments

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

AP - Panel: Raise gas tax, charge drivers by the mile

Here's the article listed in "related links".
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

VMT

I doubt very much that a VMT fee will fly in the U.S. How will it be administered? Will everyone have to have a chip in their car that will report to the State or Federal Government their travels? Will their GPS Navigation Unit report the mileage to "mothership"? Will they have to report their mileage each time they fill up? Will they have to drive their cars to a DMV office where they record the mileage? Critics will say that this smacks of Orwellian government. Will everyone have a transponder with an RFID chip that responds when queried by sensors along the roadway as they do for certain toll-roads? What would privacy advocates think? With the current EZ pass systems, people have the choice of not using those facilities. In addition, they could just pay cash at the toll-booth if one is available and forego the transponder unit.

I see the merit in such a proposal, but I don't see a VMT based fee as practical in the US given the size and population of the US. European countries are smaller than the US and people don't have as far to drive. Most importantly, Europe has a much more effective transit system As such, the people have an alternative to using their vehicles. Mass transit is a hit or miss here in America depending on the area that you live. In some areas there are no reasonable alternatives to private vehicles.

One issue is equity. Those who live in the rural areas would need to travel many miles to get to work or other destinations. The VMT would be a greater burden on those who live in the rural areas. As such, their VMT would comprise a greater percentage of their income and would be regressive. Having a two tiered system in which rural residents would pay a smaller VMT and Urban/Suburban drivers would pay more would violate the Constitution, i.e. equal protection under the law.

Ironically, this proposal mirrors what some Libertarians would like. They would like to see all roads become private toll roads and all future roads to be private toll roads, thereby eliminating the government involvement. Their belief is that people will have second thoughts about driving if they have to pay. Pricing would be determined by the market place.

The irony is that the concept is championed by the progressive or liberal proponents has some similarity to a Libertarian concept. However, the difference is that there would not be a government bureacracy involved. On the other hand, the results may be similar.

In summary, I do not believe a VMT fee is practical in the US because of the aforemention problems. Furthermore, the administrative overhead of a bureaucracy that administers the fee would not be appreciated by many Americans. Will it fly in the more conservative regions such as the South, Midwest, Southwest or Western States? No. A new Federal VMT would not fly. A state VMT may fly, probably in the Atlantic Northeast. However, in California, a statewide VMT and revision to the state taxes on gasoline and diesel would not pass because the defective state legislature in California has difficulty in coming to agreement on much of anything. Just ask Governor Swarzenegger.

William T. Chandler
Associate Env. Planner

Re: VMT

So, what do you suggest we do to raise funds for roads after the fleet shifts to plug-in hybrids and gas tax revenue plummets? It might be a decade or two before that happens, but at that point, I think it will be inevitable that we shift to a VMT fee.

Charles Siegel

The two-tiered system would

The two-tiered system would not violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. To be found unconstitutional, the distinction being made would have to be related to race, gender, national origin, or alienage. All other distinctions simply have to be rational and not arbitrary (in this case, distinguishing them would be very rational, as you demonstrated).

Setting that aside, why would we even need the two-tiered system? "Those who live in the rural areas would need to travel many miles to get to work or other destinations." Yes, therefore if they can't afford do travel so far, they shouldn't be living in rural areas.

Additionally, I don't think the Orwellian/civil liberties argument holds up. There are many options that do not involve technology that communicates your location to a governmental entity. What if the odometer on the car stored VMT information on a memory card that you could eject and HAD to swipe at the gas station before you could even fill up? Then it just adds the VMT fee on to whatever you pay at the pump...

The two-tiered system would

The two-tiered system would not violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. To be found unconstitutional, the distinction being made would have to be related to race, gender, national origin, or alienage. All other distinctions simply have to be rational and not arbitrary (in this case, distinguishing them would be very rational, as you demonstrated).

Setting that aside, why would we even need the two-tiered system? "Those who live in the rural areas would need to travel many miles to get to work or other destinations." Yes, therefore if they can't afford do travel so far, they shouldn't be living in rural areas.

Additionally, I don't think the Orwellian/civil liberties argument holds up. There are many options that do not involve technology that communicates your location to a governmental entity. What if the odometer on the car stored VMT information on a memory card that you could eject and HAD to swipe at the gas station before you could even fill up? Then it just adds the VMT fee on to whatever you pay at the pump...

Two-Tiered System And Congestion Pricing

If we tie congestion pricing to the VMT fee, it would necessarily charge less to rural residents, since rural roads are less congested.

However, the congestion pricing would require some sort of GPS based ssytem that does communicate your location to a government entity, and it would require privacy protections for this data.

I think people exaggerate the issue of privacy. No one objects that the credit card companies have a record of all retail purchases, and this is no more of a violation of privacy that that is. You just need legal protections for the data.

Charles Siegel

Don't Fear the VMT Fee??????

Sorry, I do fear the VMT Fee. This is nothing but a big brother, 1984, government run amuck proposal. This is just inviting an out of control government.

So let me get this straight. The government wants force me to put a "black box" (probably with a tracking device) in my car that don't want. And this device can track my position 24 hours a day and then allow the government to control my driving habits with taxation.

How do I know it stops here? Once the government smells money maybe they will want to issue tickets and for speeding and other violations through this "black box." What if I am accused of a crime? Could the tracking device data be used against me in a court of law? What if the government decides that they want to enforce curfews or discriminate against certain people? What if someone as bad as Hitler takes over part of the government again? What if I don't want any kind of "black box" in my car in the first place: Does the government have the right to force me to accept this technology in my vehicle? What about everyone else who doesn't want this?

This whole idea stinks to high heaven. It rapes the average citizen and steals everything. It violates privacy, property rights, and gives the government way too much control. Sorry, I am not willing to hand over all of my freedom to the government. I am not willing to bow to the beast. Mark my words: If this VMT idea gains traction, then personal freedom is a thing of the past. It is just a matter of time......before the government abuses the power of the "black box."

Don't Fear the VMT fee???

I'm sorry but I do fear the VMT tax idea. So let me get this straight: The VMT plan is to plant a "black box" in everyone's car that can track his position 24 hours a day. I have a lot to say about this and none of it is in favor of the VMT proposal.

First of all, I don't want a tracking device in my vehicle period. That's why I don't carry a cell phone and I don't want a vehicle that has Onstar in it. But now the government is going violate my property rights and force me to put a tracking device in my vehicle that I don't want? I don't think so. Besides being a violation of property rights the VMT black box is a direct violation of my right to privacy.

Secondly, I'm afraid that this is just a case of the camel's nose under the tent. You know what happens next, you end up with the entire camel in the tent. The same thing will happen with this black box. Once the government gets this black box into everyone's vehicle, there is no limit to the "other good ideas." As administrations change the standards could drastically change. What if the government decides that it wants to start issuing tickets remotely? So if you go 1 mile/hour over the limit you could get a fine. They could start issuing tickets for a multitude of other violations. What if I am suspected of a crime? Will the black box data be admissible in court? What if the government wants to create a curfew or create no drive zones or no drive times? They could remotely disable my vehicle at any time. What about when the next Hitler takes over part of the government? What would he do with this technology? Trust me, this black box idea is a "can of worms" best left unopened.

Even as it stands currently I am against VMT because it allows the government to gain some control over my driving habits. Remember: "The power to tax is the power to destroy." I don't want to give the government the power to regulate my driving habits.

Finally the VMT black box is going to cost money and is completely unnecessary. Who is going to pay to maintain and install this black box? Without going to the time and expense of installing a black box, the government could just eliminate the gas tax and replace it by funding road construction though income taxes or road taxes.

The whole VMT black box idea stinks to high heaven. It's completely unnecessary, it's expensive to impliment, it violates privacy and property rights, and it opens the door to government abuses. The things the government could do once they get the black box in your car are almost unlimited and it's going to be real hard to get the black box out once it's in your vehicle. Forget the VMT black box, you can count me out (I don't want any part it). I hope you don't either.

VMT Fee And Privacy

There are legitimate concerns about privacy, and the Brookings Institution has come up with a plan to deal with those by having a GPS system that just reports the number of miles driven and the congestion class of the road driven on, not the actual location where you drive.

Apart from privacy concerns, most of the points in this post are just irrational paranoia. For example:

"I don't want to give the government the power to regulate my driving habits."

Really? You mean that you want no speed limits on any roads, so people can drive at 70 mph on residential streets without having to worry about being ticketed? Any speed limit is government regulation of your driving habits.

"the government is going violate my property rights and force me to put a tracking device in my vehicle that I don't want?"

I hope you are true to your principles and drive without a license plate on your car. After all, the government is violating your property rights by forcing you to put a license plate on your car that you don't want.

Charles Siegel

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