Massachusetts Wants GPS Driving Tax, Too

from the big-brother dept

For several years, authorities in Oregon have been pursuing a plan to put GPS units in every car in the state to track and tax drivers’ mileage. Now, Massachusetts wants to get in on the act, and replace its gas tax with a mileage-based tax (via Boing Boing) generated by GPS units in cars. The state wants to ditch its gas tax because rising fuel efficiency is leading to decreasing tax revenue, so the new plan would instead charge drivers a quarter of a cent for each mile they drive. The state’s governor is talking not just about boosting tax revenue, but says he likes ideas that are “faster, cheaper, simpler.” It’s not clear how replacing the current gas tax by forcing drivers to install GPS trackers in their cars and building an infrastructure to gather data from them, then assess and collect a mileage tax will be fast, cheap or simple. This doesn’t even mention the myriad privacy concerns of giving state employees access to records of Massachusetts drivers’ activity. This idea continually pops up, whether as a tax idea or a new way to charge for auto insurance — but it never seems to hold any more value beyond a soundbite.

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Comments on “Massachusetts Wants GPS Driving Tax, Too”

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Xiera says:

Re: Re: Re:

Living in next-door Rhode Island and working in Massachusetts, I’ve had the “pleasure” of hearing about Mass’s … infrastructure woes. There are currently so many ideas floating around out there I don’t know what to believe any more.

I’ve heard that they want to put tolls on more interstates (they have one currently); that they want to put tolls at on the interstates at state borders; that they want to privatize the current toll road; and that they want to tax based on mileage traveled. My previous understanding was that they wanted the tax to be levied at the time of state inspection, but this new suggestion is much more fun to laugh at.

Gotta love Massachusetts… hope the Big Dig was worth it…

pferland (user link) says:

Re: Re:

I did a quick calc from what I drove last year.
I drove about 45,000 miles in a year (and that is a lot of driving, to work and back 40 miles, WAR driving on the weekends and after work, about 150-250 miles a week), and at 1/4 a cent that is only $112, for it to be $300-$1000 that would have to be 120,000 – 400,000 miles. I’m by all means not for this at all for many more reasons then just the money.
Just my 2 cent rant

Jeff Rife says:

Re: Re: Re:

Currently, MA gas tax is 41.9 cents/gallon (non-diesel).

Changing to charging 0.25 cent/mile would mean that as long as your car gets less than 167 MPG, you’d pay less with the new system.

So, I suspect that if they did charge per mile, it’d be a whole lot more than a quarter cent. I’d say that a $0.02 a mile would be their starting point, as that would be about 20 MPG average across all cars.

CmdrOberon says:

Cheaper? It is for my prius.

This site breaks down the cost of gas for California.

According to this, the state gets about $0.35 / gallon.

I drive 50 miles round trip to work. I have a Prius. I drive to work 4 times a week. I fill up about every 20 days, and it’s about 10 gallons. I get at least 50mpg.

That means I drive about 10K miles round trip to work every year. Under MA’s proposed plan, that would cost me 2500 cents, or $25.

10K miles / 50mpg = 200 gallons.
200 gallons * $0.35/gallon = $70.

Wait… I get it. The $0.01/mile is going to drastically and stealthily go up once instituted, right?

William says:

Re: Cheaper? It is for my prius.

You can bet it will go up. Beyond the .0825
I run a Pneumatic, Air Compression engine uses no gas.
Put a GPS in my vehicle; A magnet and I will make that GPS less than useful in less than 3 minutes.
Then you have tire tax, parts for vehicle tax, along with the gas tax, sales tax, municipal tax, and toll taxes. California can’t calculate the individual tax revenue it created. However, take a sampling of 1000 California residents who drive religiously to work and back and the mean came up to $864 for 12 months over a 10 year period. Californians are getting rooked. New York and Massachusetts are even higher. Good Luck with it.

State Auditor says:


The idea that the government can do anything cheaper, faster, and more efficiently than the open market is flawed in many, but that’s beside the point.

One of many oppositions to this idea would be dirver privacy. Who wil maintain the data and how will it be used and, gasp, audited? How can anyone who reads this site on a semi-regular basis not think the travel data contained within a user database would be safe from abuse? Nevermind the potential for data theft.

Ideas like this are simply money and power grabs by the governmental powers that be….they serve no real tax purpose that can’t be maintain at a higher level in the supplu chain.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Really?

One of many oppositions to this idea would be dirver privacy. Who wil maintain the data and how will it be used and, gasp, audited?

the data will be used by law enforcement to track minorities and people with low incomes. the data on whites with higher incomes will be sold to market research firms. it will then be stolen by criminal groups that are not willing to pay for it. it won’t be audited at all and abused by anyone and everyone.

traffic cops will be able to stalk and harrass anyone they want to.

database errors will cause people to owe millions of dollars in mileage taxes.

How can anyone who reads this site on a semi-regular basis not think the travel data contained within a user database would be safe from abuse?

of course it will be abused, that goes without saying.

the data hasn’t even been collected yet and it’s already being abused. i’ll bet that at this very moment there are 10 startup companies founded by MIT alums that are getting their first rounds of venture capital to develop marketing tools to profit from this data.

Nevermind the potential for data theft.

potential? you mean guaranteed certainty.

Ideas like this are simply money and power grabs by the governmental powers that be….they serve no real tax purpose that can’t be maintain at a higher level in the supplu chain.

don’t forget that you have a choice in the matter: you can be spied on to be protected by terrorists, or you can be spied on to save the environment.

on the right you have the police state, and on the left you have the nanny state.

this is why voting is so important: you get to choose whether you spend your life in a padded cell or in a metal cage.

Xiera says:

What gets me...

What gets me is that even if they went this route, the could only enforce it for Mass residents. Southeastern Massachusetts is closely tied economically with Rhode Island, as is northeastern Mass with New Hampshire (I don’t know about the rest of the state). So if road usage is truly the issue, Mass is missing something here; if it’s not about road usage, then call it what it is — just another way of taxing your residents.

What’s Deval (that’s his real name) going to do when people start carpooling or taking mass transit (no pun intended) to get around this? Maybe that’s his goal? If I know how Deval works, that’s totally not it.

In response to my previous post — Rhody’s looking at this too? Seriously? *facepalm*

It’s amazing how these politicians think that bureaucracy is the way to solve everything. Get rid of the tolls and other extraneous taxes and you actually have greater profits due to saving the money you would have otherwise spent on said bureaucracy. (For those who are not from this area, consider that Mass toll collectors make about $70k/year. You CAN’T convince me that they raise enough money in tolls to cover that. Source:

State Auditor says:

Re: What gets me...

$70,000 per year to collect tolls? Is it any wonder they have a “budget shortfall”? Maybe politicians should go back to the drawing board and look at the efficiency of the toll system overall. With that kind of payroll, I’ll bet they weren’t even realizing a 4-5% ROI even before the economic slowdown.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Raise the At the Pump Gas Tax

The proposal simply adds more bureaucratic costs. The “correct” free market solution, raise the tax on gas. Raise it high enough and alternate fuel vehicles will be become a viable option.
Our whole way of thinking concerning “green” solutions is backwards. Cutting taxes and providing subsidies is NOT the way to go. We have a huge budget deficient and providing subsidies just increases the opportunities for fraud. Raise the cost of fuel and the tax revenues generated could be used to reduce the deficit and the higher fuel cost would encourage the both the automotive companies (if they still exist) and the consumer to invest in “green” vehicles.

Greg says:

Re: Raise the At the Pump Gas Tax

Cutting taxes is not the way to go? And you advocate raising the tax? I’m glad I don’t live anywhere near you OR anywhere near MA. I’d lose 90% of my paycheck to taxes and fees.

If this plan ever went through, and I lived in MA, no state-installed GPS unit would ever be put on my vehicle. And if it was, I’d have it disabled ASAP.

Crabby (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, that brings up other issues concerned with gasoline useage — like pollution. Why should leaf blowers get a free ride to use tax-free gasoline so they can pollute the air?

And what about other 2-cycle engines, like ATVs, snowmobiles, etc? No regulations on them? Why is it always car owners that get smacked with taxes and rules?

James Saunders (profile) says:

Pros, and why they are wrong

Living in Mass, I’ve looked into this over the past week. On paper some of the arguments FOR these trackers sound pretty good. It would enable a variable tax structure, which they are calling a “congestion tax,” ie. you pay more to drive on certain roads or at certain times. And there is some talk of the rate varying with the weight of the vehicle, the reasoning being large trucks cause much more wear on roads than compact cars, which is certainly with merit. They want to eliminate the costs of the existing tolls (mentioned by Xiera above) as well.

As I said, this all sounds great, but none of it comes close to justifying the cons. The proposal to monitor these chips is to install devices on street signs statewide. So now you have are replacing a large toll infrastructure with an even larger and more cumbersome “tracker” infrastructure, along with all the personnel to maintain the devices. You add more complexity to the tax structure by introducing potentially drastic fluctuations in the “mileage rate”. And to take the cake, you legislate a huge breach of privacy into every vehicle that drives through the state (they intend to charge out-of-state commuters as well, although I’m not sure how that will be monitored).

The current proposal on the table will increase the gasoline tax significantly before instituting this tracker mess by 2014. The first part is perfect. Raise the tax on the fuel, you are directly taxing the mileage as well as incentivising better driving practices and better vehicle choices. To complain that the tax income will fall as more people use public transit or smaller fuel efficient cars is ridiculous; those roads will last longer with fewer, tinier vehicles racing up and down them, so they shouldn’t cost as much to maintain. And even if somehow the entire consumer fleet switches off of gasoline in the future (which is hugely desirable), you will still have “fuel” to tax, whether it is hydrogen, LNG, or even metered electricity. Let’s worry about THAT issue when we get there, and worry about greening the transportation system first.

Commute Dispute says:

horrible idea

As previously stated, the correct response is to raise the gasoline tax, it is more efficent and does not involve new problems. The statement about it being “faster, cheaper, simpler” is total malarkey. And do you really think they will abandon the existing gasoline tax? Think again. This would be in addition to.

Presently there is a problem with charging a toll on the federal interstate roadway system, you need federal approval because it was funded with federal money. This would be a way around that problem.

This is a horrible idea, and is doomed to failure.

Harold (user link) says:

Pay as you go!

The Big Brother spin to this isn’t worth much, especially considering most of us carry moderately traceable cell phones anyway. Besides this particular point, many people pay to have this kind of service installed on their cars now to help prevent theft.

This tax won’t get people to carpool or take the bus any more than carpool lanes and the existing gas tax do now. In America, we just paid our way through a quadrupling of our gas prices. It did affect many of us to the point of looking into new transportation options, but there was still dense traffic here, at least in Los Angeles. This tax, like every other necessary expense, will quickly become just another fee that we accustom ourselves to as we go about our daily business.

Ways around it? The people who want to cheat the system will continue to do so, while those of us who have better things to do will pay, as always. This tax is just another tax, it will be piled up on an endless supply of nickle/dime taxes we continue to suffer ourselves with.

Eventually we’ll have nothing left to tax, and then the uprising will begin. Until then…

chris (profile) says:

Re: Pay as you go!

The Big Brother spin to this isn’t worth much, especially considering most of us carry moderately traceable cell phones anyway.

cellphones are not mandatory. there are no laws anywhere that require you to carry one. therefore, if i don’t want to be tracked i can just leave my phone at home and there is no legal concern.

Besides this particular point, many people pay to have this kind of service installed on their cars now to help prevent theft.

that is a choice. it is not legislated by the state. requiring a GPS tracker in every car means that you cannot “opt out” of the service if you have privacy concerns. mandatory tracking is bad. always has been, always will be.

also, you can review the privacy agreement for a service and choose a vendor based on their privacy policy. if no vendor’s privacy policy measures up then you can either build your own solution or choose to do without the service.

Ed Smith says:

So, what’s to stop the fucking cops from analyzing this data and automatically mailing you a speeding ticket? Or coming to your house and arresting you because your GPS signal was picked up in the area of a crime? Or any other use that a bloated, run-amok government could think up to fuck people over? Abolish government.

JT says:

Pathetic, complicated, improbable solution

Just raise the gas tax. Infinitely simpler, and encourages fuel efficiency, and keeps politicians out of the “ridiculously complex government programs a.k.a. Fleecing of America” headlines. NOTHING could be more needlessly complicated than a state-mandated GPS solution.

Some components to the argument “might make sense”, but for God’s sake keep it simple, legislation related to cars is complicated enough already, particularly in the Northeast – imagine the overhead to enforce it, install units, inspect units — just a total mess of a needlessly complicated solution. Pathetic.

Pete Austin says:

This could be hacked

Each GPS unit will have to be identified by something like a SIM card, so you could screw with the system by cloning these chips. When you plug one in, the system thinks the Senator (or whoever owns the SIM you’re faking) has just instantaneously driven across the state to your neighborhood, and he gets a huge tax bill.

Jasen (profile) says:

Foil, hacked, or disconnected

People remove governors on their cars to get higher speeds and rpms. People even remove smog equipment and replace before smog inspections. Granted, not every person does that. But what makes them think that people won’t disconnect their GPS devices? Or that they can’t be cloned? I like the foil option, especially since it won’t rust. 🙂

This baffles me because the cost to create the infrastructure and install equipment in every car does not justify the means. If the goal is to tax on mileage, then why not do that at registration time? Inspect the vehicle for mileage and tally the difference from the prior year. This would be more cost effective in my opinion.

And yes, people could crack their odometer, so there is no fool proof method.

Mark Rosedale (profile) says:

Boston Media

The media here in Boston has done a pretty good job trying to paint this in the best possible light. I am not convinced. I just moved to the state and it just goes beyond what I am comfortable with. It is a sad state of affairs here in MA especially with huge deficits. I think a big reason why people get the more gas efficient cars is because it saves them money, if this is to combat the lack of gas tax than it kind of defeats the purpose in buying gas efficient cars, but the state tries to bill itself as a green progressive state…maybe it is just a little too progressive for my blood.

TravisO (profile) says:

The gov in Mass has forgotten their purpose

which is to serve the people, not invent new ways to tax them. If the economy is bad and they don’t have enough money for their existing programs & employees, they need to downsize or raise the taxes that relate to that programs, but not invent new ways to tax. The Mass government mindset is seriously flawed here.

If companies are laying off 10% of their workforce left and right, government needs to realize they will have to cut back 10%, maybe more.

Mark Rosedale (profile) says:

Lastest from MA

This is interesting, all of this is about raising revenue because of huge deficits. It seems that the governor is brainstorming and all of it gets reported. The latest is that he wants to do a variable registration price per car. You wanna know who pays more? “Gas Guzzlers.” So the idea is that if you have a gas guzzler you should pay more, but that is absurd because since it uses more gas they are already paying more. Of course the governor will be able to say he is a “green” governor and tried to ween the evil SUV owner from his wicked ways. As of now there are no details what constitutes a “gas guzzler,” but the whole thing seems absurd.

As of the last few weeks there have been tons of ideas proposed to raise revenue, which is what leads me to believe that he is just brainstorming.

anonymous (user link) says:

GPS Driving Tax

Massachutts doesn’t need anymore taxes. Just because they are loosing revenue on the gas tax doesn’t mean they should come after the consumer. We are already taxed enough. Does Oregon pay the taxes we do? Fix the the gas problem and all the ripping off of our money and you won’t have to worry about the gas tsx loss. Put the pay tolls back on the turnpike for the 6 you took off. You guys should know by now you can’t take money off of things and expect to pay for things when you don’t have the revenue. The stupid Big Dig didn’t help and we are all paying for it. We already pay stupid excise tax and registration every 2 years and taxed to death on everything else. If you people did things right in Boston we wouldn’t have this problem! Consumers have had enough!

TaxRevolter says:

It won't be long now

I can see the tax revolts coming a mile away…the government is going to push us to the brink, and we will have no choice but to resist this. I can’t tell you how many average people I speak to that are feeling this entire country is out of control! This isn’t a left/right issue, because both parties are in this together. If they implement this in my state, I will absolutely not participate in it. Privacy, and the expectation of being able to move freely in this world is to me, a fundamental human right. The government has created this mess by overspending, they need to stop finding new ways to tax people and start find ways to cut down on their bloated bureaucracy!

Travis Tubbs (user link) says:

Add Texas to the list...

It appears that Texas is wanting to get in on this mileage-based tax as well. It doesn’t help that Texas has always pushed single-vehicle traffic over mass-transit. In a sense, they brought themselves onto this.

Texas is a big destination for trade, so how will they handle those vehicles that travel our state but stop and fuel up (we are a good 800 miles across from the New Mexico border to the Louisiana border and a good 500 miles from the Mexico border to the Oklahoma border)?

The privacy concerns will be a GIANT issue on this. It will be very hard to convince the public that the GPS units in their cars would NOT be used for ill-purposes.

Alternative idea? Consider the cheaper Mass Transit option. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy the idea of someone else driving them to their destination (especially since it takes 3 to 4 hours minimum to get from one city to another in this state). Obviously, we would still need cars to get to those areas that aren’t able to be served by mass transit, but it would definitely help the burden that all these cars are taking on the roads.

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