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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 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.


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