In a world where gas tax revenues decline….

From the department of unintended consequences: When drivers consume less gasoline, because they’re using either fuel-efficient cars or, eventually, cars that don’t use gasoline at all, gas tax revenues go down. Yet the roads are still in just as much use, and need just as much maintenance and repair. (Well, maybe a little less, if the cars are lighter and do less damage to asphalt. But not much less.) When road repair and maintenance is funded by a gas tax, it might be logical to consider other methods of generating money to repair and maintain roads besides a gas tax, as Oregon is doing, cf: Oregon looks at taxing mileage instead of gasoline.

The proposal mentioned in the article is that some sort of metering device be installed in cars that can be read in gas stations, where the tax would still be collected. Some critics complain of other unintended consequences, such as privacy concerns. Also, some say it takes away an incentive to use an alternative-fueled car, because it won’t be any cheaper if you have to pay a mileage tax instead of a gas tax when you don’t use much gas. Then again, it’s not exactly fair to use up the roads when your car will do just as much damage, is it? Oregon’s test project is still in early stages, and it would take years before any system was implemented, so there is time to work out such issues.

I guess they could rebuild all the roads into toll roads, but that might be a wee bit cost-prohibitive and disruptive.

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About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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4 Responses to In a world where gas tax revenues decline….

  1. animist says:

    Of course, the less fuel economy your car gets, the more it probably weighs, so there is a sense that heavier cars and trucks should pay some more. I think having a device installed is a problem, because then you are paying one state for mileage driven in ANY state. It would probably be more efficient to go to toll roads, like Chicago does, with an electronic transponder (like I-Pass, I think they call it).

    • songdogmi says:

      What you say about low fuel economy and weight is most likely true (exceptions may be cute little sports cars with huge engines, I guess). A scientist would have to work out the comparisons between light cars and heavy ones and the road damage each does. No car will have zero impact on the roads, though we may get to a point of having cars that use zero gasoline.

      Drivers crossing state lines would be one major issue that needs to be worked out before the system could be implemented. More toll roads might be some help, but a lot of people avoid toll roads where that’s even remotely feasible. Making tolls easier to pay helps, but a lot of people simply don’t want to pay at all.

  2. altivo says:

    Roads benefit everyone, even those who never drive. This is because they have become the primary delivery route for virtually all goods and services. The railroads have been pushed so far out of the picture that they hardly count. Consequently, road costs are going to have to be funded by everyone, not just the drivers.

    Private cars don’t account for much of the wear and tear on most roads. Trucks do. Trucks are certainly more accessible in terms of placing a mileage or road use tax on them.

    • songdogmi says:

      That’s a good point, that the roads benefit everyone regardless of whether they drive. That implies that maybe funding for them would better come from income, property, or sales/use taxes, perhaps, the taxes that touch more people. I’m sure that wouldn’t be popular, but taxes never are.

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