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I am The Cyberwolfe and these are my ramblings. All original content is protected under a Creative Commons license - always ask first.
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Archive for December 7th, 2005

Where have you been lately?

Posted in Politics on December 7th, 2005

There’s been alot of action lately on the topic of disappearing fuel-tax dollars as fuel-efficient vehicles become more prevalent, and what the government is going to do about it. Here’s the recap:

The State governments tax fuel sales, and put this money toward road maintenance. A sensible plan, since you can easily derive the average fuel-efficiency of the automobile, and tax per gallon accordingly. Sure, some cars are better than others, but all-in-all, every driver will pay their fair share for the public roads. But what happens when all the cars start getting better fuel economy? Fuel-tax dollars shrink, and soon there isn’t enough money to pave the roads. So what do you do?

Well, the obvious answer is to either monitor each vehicle’s mileage and charge individually or enact toll roads. Each have their problems.

Toll roads I have talked about before, but only as a method of reducing traffic. In this instance, every driver would be charged for crossing a certain stretch of road. These fees may even be based on a sliding scale, with rush-hour fees higher than off-hour fees. I can see the potential for alot of user uproar with this idea, as well as an infra-structural nightmare: cars being forced to stop at several points on their route, dragging traffic to a standstill. Rush-hour traffic is already a nightmare, and I can’t see this helping it any.

On the plus side of things, though, it maximizes privacy, especially if the toll can be paid with cash.

Monitoring mileage is a simple idea at first, until you remember that you can only charge for the miles driven in the state of residence. In a city like Portland, where Washington is only a few miles away, a significant portion of your driving may be done across state lines, and it would be illegal to tax you for them at the State level. The most-pushed solution idea at this time is to install a GPS tracking device into each vehicle, and monitor their mileage that way. Simple idea, yes?

No.
Here’s why: privacy. If the GPS monitors your driving at all times, that means a detailed map of your travels can be put together to show where you’ve been – and all the talkers to this point have neglected any sort of plan to make those records private in any way.

Now, legally there is precedent that you can have no expectation of privacy while driving, and any eyewitness testimony or camera footage is admissable in a court of law without a warrant. By and large this isn’t an issue, since most folks don’t care where I’ve been. But what if I have some personal and perfectly legal reason to want to remain anonymous? Should any Tom, Dick or Harry have the ability to point a scanner at my car and get my car’s exact whereabouts for the past week? Should advertising executives be able to pull my car’s records to find out where I have been shopping?

A loud and resounding NO! fills the air.

So, we’re back to where we started – tax revenues will eventually dry up, leaving our roads in disrepair. I can’t see toll roads doing anything other than slowing traffic down, and I certainly don’t want anyone knowing exactly where I am or have been at any given moment. So what do we do?

Variation on a theme. Install the GPS units, but tie them to the odometer in such a fashion that they only count the miles while inside the State borders. It is very easy to define those borders into the software, and then the state gets to tax for the actual miles driven while I retain the fiction of privacy.

Another option is to simply move the taxes into the Federal realm, and have the money distributed on the basis of registered vehicles per state. To make it easier on the taxpayer, you still install an odometer monitor in each vehicle, but you license filling stations to read the meter. The driver merely has to stop in at the pumps once a month for their reading. The taxpayer would still pay the same taxes as now, just more formally.

As always, write your Rep and let them know how you feel.