PBS Explores Charging-by-the-Mile

The auto fleet is becoming greener - not just with hybrids and electric vehicles, but all new vehicles are required to be more fuel efficient. While that is good for the environment, declining gas tax revenues threaten the nation's infrastructure.

PBS correspondent Rick Karr goes to Portland to explore the collision course of increasing fuel efficiency and maintaining the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems. The video shows the evolution of technologies used by the Oregon Department of Transportation in its pilot projects to charge a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) fee, beginning with the use of a GPS, or global positioning system, in 2006.

The technology worked pretty well. But civil libertarians and privacy advocates said the GPS was a way for Big Brother to snoop on drivers. So the legislators in Oregon’s state house decided the whole idea was political poison, and for five years, it faded from view.

ODOT began it's second pilot late last year. "This time, participants had a range of choices. They could let their smartphones track their movements ... install GPS units that sent data to a private firm instead of the government ... or use a device that recorded only how many miles they drove, but not where they drove."

For an opposing viewpoint, Karr interviews Kari Chisholm, a Democratic political consultant and blogger based in Portland.

Gas tax is a great incentive to get folks into fuel efficient cars, to put less carbon in the atmosphere.  By going into a tax that hits-- plug-ins and electrics and high-- high-mileage cars, we’re reducing that incentive

Karr asks him what we should do about declining gas tax revenues.

The first thing I would do, if I were king of the world-- is raise the gas tax and then index it to inflation over time, answers Chisholm.

While Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) may not be king of the world, he did just what Chisholm recommended, introducing a bill on Dec. 3 to raise the gas tax 12-cents over three years and index it to inflation (and described here). He also proposed a bill (described here) to enable the federal government to study charging drivers by the miles they drive, specifically to "establish a competitive grant program to be known as the Road Usage Fee Pilot Program," as defined in H.R. 3638

Full Story: Should drivers be charged for every mile driven?

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