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A new mileage tax may replace the gas tax in Oregon. Oregon residents will be taxed by the number of miles travelled, as they travel along the state's highways like Highway 30 pictured here. Those not participating will face higher taxes at the pump.  (Source: Lyn Topinka)
A new ambitious high-tech effort to fairly distribute roadwork taxes proposed in Oregon, but can it overcome fears of government tracking?

Nobody likes to pay taxes, but they are reality of modern U.S. government as we know it.  However, if you have to pay taxes, you at least want them to be fair.  That's the mentality driving a rather revolutionary, albeit controversial, new plan in the state of Oregon.

In Oregon, as in other states, people have long complained about using fuel taxes to finance road work.  Such measures place a larger tax burden on those in professions requiring heavier vehicles.  So Oregon's Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) has developed a new plan -- pay by mileage.

Oregon, whose highways recently gained attention via a new solar project, is now looking to legislate the governor's plan.  The new legislation will provide Oregon with "a path to transition away from the gas tax as the central funding source for transportation" via a mileage tax implemented with the help of GPS satellites.

While the exact details are still being ironed out, Gov. Kulongoski's web page gives the basics of the plan.  In it he states, "As Oregonians drive less and demand more fuel-efficient vehicles, it is increasingly important that the state find a new way, other than the gas tax, to finance our transportation system."

He is creating a task force "to partner with auto manufacturers to refine technology that would enable Oregonians to pay for the transportation system based on how many miles they drive."  Key studies were performed in 2006 and 2007 that indicate that such a program would indeed be possible. 

In the 2007 test which lasted 10 months with 300 motorists at two service stations, drivers were taxed 1.2 cents per mile and were refunded the 24 cents a gallon state gas tax.  When the motorists got to the pump, their vehicles connected to government computers informing them of the mileage (calculated via GPS tracking) and issuing tax.  Equipment for the test came from Oregon State University.

While clever, the program faces one enormous thorny obstacle -- concerns over the loss of privacy. 

The governor's online outline states, "The governor is committed to ensuring that rural Oregon is not adversely affected and that privacy concerns are addressed."

Despite assurances from James Whitty, the ODOT official in charge of the project, that the new GPS system would not be used for continuous tracking of citizens' cars, many advocacy groups are outraged and many remain fearful.  The final report on the 2007 test deployment was conscious of this fear, stating, "The concept requires no transmission of vehicle travel locations, either in real time or of travel history.  Accordingly, no travel location points are stored within the vehicle or transmitted elsewhere. Thus there can be no ‘tracking’ of vehicle movements."

Advocates point out that the devices are not developed by Oregon, but rather by industry partners.  The program's policy page states, "ODOT would have no involvement in developing the on-vehicle devices, installing them in vehicles, maintaining them or having any other access to them except, perhaps, in situations involving tampering or similar fee evasion activities."

However, even if privacy concerns can be laid to rest, there will also be a large price tag associated with initially implementing the program, one which may give residents sticker shock.  An initial investment of $20M USD would be needed, according to the governor, just to see if the program was viable.  A full deployment would require GPS be gradually added to gas stations and to all vehicles in the state.

The proposal also calls for a punitive tax against those not adopting the new device -- the gas tax will continue for vehicles not equipped to pay the mileage tax, but it will be increased 2 cents.

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RE: Heavier vehicles...
By bobsmith1492 on 12/31/2008 11:19:20 AM , Rating: 5
Very true.

The current tax on gas prods people to buy more fuel-efficient cars.

This new plan would prod people to simply drive less and not care how efficient their car is. It makes no sense.

Do I get a mileage tracker on my moped, too? So, even though I get 150MPG, I'm paying as much as someone who gets 10MPG in a semi? (I don't actually have a moped but still...)

Then again Oregon is the state that won't let you put gas in your own car so who knows what they're thinking over there. :P

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By FITCamaro on 12/31/08, Rating: -1
RE: Heavier vehicles...
By Yawgm0th on 12/31/2008 1:05:11 PM , Rating: 3
No it makes it fair.

See OP. Heavier vehicles have a heavier impact on the transportation infrastructure. Taxing gas is the only way to distribute responsibility fairly amongst drivers. This proposal would make this system inherently less fair than it already is.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By FITCamaro on 12/31/08, Rating: -1
RE: Heavier vehicles...
By Suntan on 12/31/2008 2:03:37 PM , Rating: 2
That would be where the yearly registration tax comes in. Government bureaucracies can choose to pinalize any make or model they want. The system and infrastructure are already setup for it.

Regardless, on the average, heavier vehicles use more gas.


RE: Heavier vehicles...
By rcc on 12/31/2008 3:42:42 PM , Rating: 2
Not necessarily. Hybrids are considerably heavier than other cars in the same size class. The Prius for instance is not only very heavy for it's size, but it uses a narrower tire for less drag and better MPG, but which increases ground loading.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By Oregonian2 on 12/31/2008 9:56:54 PM , Rating: 2
In any case, it's not just weight. We just had two weeks of snow on the roads (most snow since 1950) here in Oregon.

Chains and/or studded tires would affect the wear on the road quite a bit. So just a little driving in the last couple weeks vs a lot of driving in the summer might still have the summer driving wearing down the roads less.

The only purpose of the Governor's actions, IMO, is to increase tax revenue lost by having people driving less and using less gas (just due to the economy even if one disregards improved gas mileage) -- plus the general problem of tax shortfalls due to unemployment.

Mind you, fixing revenue shortfalls is something that needs to be addressed, but perhaps being less sneaky. :-)

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By William Gaatjes on 1/1/2009 3:31:33 PM , Rating: 2
The first T-Fords can also not be compared to modern day ice vehicles, although it was light in weight, 1,200 pounds (540 kg). (Internal Combustion Engine for clarity). It is true that parallel hybrids are more heavy and very logical, It is part electrical(electrical motor and batteries) and part ice in stead of just having an ice. Serial hybrids that use a tiny ice for charging and only electric motors for propulsion will already way less when designed properly. 1st generation may still not be that lightweighted. And when affordable pure electric vehicles will appear when the battery/supercapacitor technology is improved, the weight will come down. Hybrids are just a step in between because battery / supercapacitor technology is still in development.

I agree that hybrids like the prius are not perfect and i have personally more faith in serial hybrids as the chevrolet volt with an ice running on a optimum rpm when compared with a parallel hybrid as the toyota prius. But Toyota opened the door for hybrids in the market and cudo's for them. If General motors just had been a bit more pushing the EV-1. Keeping it alive as a study object following battery and super capacitor technology and putting some resource money in battery technology and super capacitor technology. Then when batteries and supercapacitors have a good weight/energy storage/price ratio GM can immediately put the EV-1 on sale again although in a up to date form. Because although everybody says that electric vehicles have to be small and light weight, when power/weight ratio is similair or better then from ice vehicles nothing stand in the way to drive an electrical suv or truck or semi truck. Does anybody has some number on power/weight ratio and the energy storage ratio/weight of ice vehicles and electric vehicles of the moment ?

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By William Gaatjes on 1/1/2009 3:37:49 PM , Rating: 2
I guess GM did keep the ev-1 alive. It's offspring is the chevrolet volt. Woopsy.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By Yawgm0th on 12/31/2008 3:01:30 PM , Rating: 4
What are you rambling on about? The basis of my logic is that heavy vehicles, being heavier, have a bigger impact on the roads. I will say it twice for good measure. The basis of my logic is that heavy vehicles, being heavier, have a bigger impact on the roads.

Driving a 2000-pound sedan does not have the same effect on a road as driving a 5-ton semi. I said nothing about fuel economy, nor did the OP's point have to deal with fuel economy. Taxing gas to fund transportation infrastructure is not about discouraging the usage of less fuel-efficient vehicles. Certainly gas tax has that added effect, but that is not the sole or primary reasoning behind it.

Taxing mileage driven, conversely, punishes those driving lighter vehicles (which damage roads less). It as such makes it less fair since people driving vehicles that use proportionally less of the transportation budget (having lighter cars) pay proportionally more of the transportation budget (since they are being charged based on how much they drive, not how much deterioration they cause).

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 3:40:06 PM , Rating: 1
What are you rambling on about?

Taxes on gas pay for roads. You say that those taxes are fair because larger vehicles have a bigger impact on the roads (which I'm not disputing) and they use more gas so they're pay more for the roads. But if a smaller vehicle gets lower mileage than a larger vehicle, it is paying a higher fee for road usage while impacting the roads less than a larger vehicle.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By Yawgm0th on 12/31/2008 4:37:23 PM , Rating: 2
I did say something erroneous in my post, I will concede.
Taxing gas is the only way to distribute responsibility fairly amongst drivers.

This is wrong since distributing responsibility fairly is impossible. Let me rephrase.
Taxing gas is the only reasonable way to distribute responsibility somewhat fairly amongst drivers.

I apologize if I misunderstood your disagreement. In any case, there's no such thing as fair taxation, but some taxation isn't as unfair as other taxation. It's true that owners of less fuel-efficient cars pay a disproportionate amount of transportation gas tax funding since weight is not the only factor of fuel efficiency. I do not dispute this.

However, it is still more fair this way than charging by mileage, as that would reverse the situation and the disproportion of the funding would be to an even greater degree. Light cars with inferior fuel economy than significantly heavier cars are relatively few. Overall, there is a very strong correlation between fuel efficiency and weight. Certainly there are some outliers and hybrid engines change things, but for the most part gas tax makes vehicle owners pay a somewhat proportionate amount.

Hybrid vehicles will change this, but not as much since larger hybrid still have a larger disincentive than smaller hybrids. However, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles will certainly warrant a paradigm change. GPS mileage tracking won't be a reasonable solution.

Until plug-ins become common, gas tax is probably the most fair, most easily implemented transportation funding tax.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By Alexstarfire on 1/1/2009 5:14:04 AM , Rating: 2
While technically true I really doubt ANY car, including the H1 Hummer gets worse mileage than a fully loaded semi-truck. That'd be near impossible. All this tax is going to do for the people of Oregon is make those with semi-trucks and other such vehicles that are heavy and get bad MPG pay less while those with lighter and more fuel-efficient vehicles pay more.

I fail to see how that is even remotely more fair than the way it is in every other state. Honestly, it's overly complicated, no more fair than the current system (if not less fair), and has security risks. What the hell is the upside to this for either side?

BTW, does this mileage only count for miles driven in Oregon or just vehicles licensed in Oregon? I would think that to be most fair it's be Oregon licensed vehicles with miles driven in Oregon..... but I really doubt that's the way it'll be.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By CloudFire on 1/1/2009 8:00:41 AM , Rating: 2
Do you honestly think your argument is sound? While i don't dispute the fact that some percentage of small vehicles can get worst mileage, the MAJORITY of small vehicles get better gas mileage than bigger vehicles. That's just common sense. You are arguing for the other side which makes agreeing with it a lot harder. A person driving a Civic or Prius will be taxed more because they are getting more mileage with their more fuel efficient car? While some people in a H1 Hummer or Ram truck pays less tax because they are using less miles? Even though they are pumping more gas?

Just give up, this system is not very efficient and is way more unfair than the one already established.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By kilkennycat on 12/31/2008 4:23:44 PM , Rating: 1
You can drive a Civic and get 10mpg? How? Driving in first-gear with your foot flat to the floor?? Stupid argument....

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By ZmaxDP on 12/31/2008 1:14:17 PM , Rating: 2
It makes it unfair in a different way FITCamaro.

The weight/size of a vehicle does impact how much damage it causes a road and therefore how much maintenance money is needed to repair it. Also, the weight rating on a road will change the construction cost for new roads. To take the weight of a fully loaded Semi, you'll need a lot more sub-surface prep, higher grade compaction materials, more compaction materials, and a thicker road construction thus more asphalt/concrete or a combination of both. Also, the time and labor for a higher weight rated road are much higher as well.

So, while I agree that we shouldn't be taxed into driving priuses, we also shouldn't taxed into driving H2s either.

Unfortunately, I can't think of a good way to make a truly "fair" transportation tax. So I think we're going to be stuck with some kind of unfairness regardless. I prefer the current unfairness which at least encourages a better behavior than the one above.

(By better behavior, I mean economically. I'd much rather see our countries oil consumption continue to drop over the coming years so we can reduce our reliance and investments into certain hotspots. This is the same reason I'd like a plug in hybrid with a sufficient range to rarely use the ICE. It isn't about global warming or anything like that for me, it's just about reducing our dependence on other countries so we can avoid certain predicaments in the future.)

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 1:33:30 PM , Rating: 3
I agree that I can't think of a truly fair way to do this. But hybrids are the epitome of unfairness in this matter. A plug in hybrid like the Volt might never use any gas (or very little at least). But its still going to be using the roads while paying no taxes towards supporting them. So if we went the way of hybrids, we'd have to start doing this since otherwise roads wouldn't be funded (or would drop dramatically).

So clearly the answer is to do away with hybrids. :)

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By MadMan007 on 12/31/2008 6:37:06 PM , Rating: 2
Clearly the answer is a tax that accounts for non-petroleum fuel consuming vehicles. Perhaps a registration fee that counts annual mileage, it could easily be tailored to each vehicle model's weight or other measure so that an electric compact doesn't pay as much as an electric SUV.

The problem is we are logical-thinking citizens and not wasteful politicians in office.

RE: Heavier vehicles...
By Veerappan on 1/2/2009 12:29:44 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. Something that takes into account vehicle weight and miles driven is probably the fairest we can hope to come up with.

Something like:
Tax = X * Vehicle Weight * Miles Driven

Vehicle weight could be the weight from the manufacturer's spec sheet, and X is just some multiplier that gets changed depending on how much they feel like taxing us this year.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007
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