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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: Fail.
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 12:41:14 PM , Rating: 2
Why not go off the odometer instead of GPS? Probably more accurate and far cheaper to implement.

RE: Fail.
By RMSe17 on 12/31/2008 12:54:41 PM , Rating: 2
I was just about to post that. You have to come in every year to renew your registration. Now they can just take a reading off the odometer while you register for next year. Simple, efficient. Oh, but since you cant track someone this way, it will probably not be implemented.

RE: Fail.
By Yawgm0th on 12/31/2008 1:02:07 PM , Rating: 2
An odometer is about the only thing I can think of that's more easily circumvented than a GPS tracking system.

Any implementation of this is going to be fundamentally flawed from a technical standpoint.

RE: Fail.
By abscoder on 12/31/2008 1:02:38 PM , Rating: 2
Because the state would either have to take drivers' word (unlikely when it comes to taxes) or have you show up somewhere to check it themselves (costly).

Many car's odometers can be easily disabled. As an example, the odometer in the Grand Cherokee I had years ago could be rendered worthless by pulling a fuse. For modern OBDII vehicles it's harder, I imagine, but can probably still be done my unplugging the wheel speed or equivalent sensor. I'll have to play with my STi this weekend to see if I can disable it, because now I just have to know. :)

RE: Fail.
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 1:27:11 PM , Rating: 3
Ok but disabling an odometer is a crime. One that I think very few people are willing to go to jail for. Unless you never plan to sell your car again, you'd be stupid to tamper with the odometer since when you sold it you'd have to tell the person that the mileage was off by thousands of miles. So if you do it and tell them, you're guilty of tax evasion. If you don't, you're guilty of fraud.

Maybe you're willing to go to prison or face harsh penalties. But I'm not.

RE: Fail.
By Fritzr on 1/2/2009 12:31:16 AM , Rating: 2
Yep it's a crime to sell a car with an odometer that has been 'adjusted'. That law was created many years before this idea was thought up simply due to the number of sellers who understand you can get a higher price for a low mileage car. Nothing new there

RE: Fail.
By tastyratz on 12/31/2008 2:44:01 PM , Rating: 2
odometer can easily be faked, but a gps is not infallible as well. They wont always have reception, so who's to say you don't just turn the thing off 4 days a week and say your a low mileage driver?
The thing wont know the difference between being off or driving under a bridge.

This puts the foot in the door for a lot of things we don't want. After that we will see speeding tickets issued based on "readings from existing gps install base" and 911 call tracking will turn into the government having the ability to track any car at will. Then the system will get hacked and privacy? well it was nice knowing it.
This isn't going overboard to the tune of orwelian, but only a hop and skip away if government mandated gps systems went in place.

If a program went in for this there are too many reasons why it wouldn't work out well anyways as a single state program - it could only be implemented practically on a federal level.

RE: Fail.
By Fritzr on 1/2/2009 12:42:23 AM , Rating: 2
As an Oregon program you need to deal with out of state mileage and gas purchases.
As a Federal program you need to deal with out of country mileage and gas purchases.

Just as semis routinely drive interstate routes they also routinely drive international routes.

Just as Oregon will deal with Washington, Idaho & California drivers, a national program will need to deal with Canadian, Mexican and a sprinkling of South American cars that will drive into and in the US under their own power.

At any level below worldwide you need to plan for vehicles that are not part of the system and for vehicles in the system to travel beyond it's boundaries.

As far as tracking is concerned it is implicit. The GPS identifies the car it is reporting on. Even if it doesn't report it's position, that information is available from the cell towers it is reporting to. Unless of course it is recording the info and bursting it at intervals (actually this capability will be required due to areas where GPS will be out of range of receivers)

They say there will be no recording, but a working system will need to keep records to ensure accurate reporting, so you can be sure that will be added as an essential "upgrade" as soon as it the system is well accepted.

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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