Mileage Tax Idea Going National…

from the driving-while-intaxicated dept

After years and years of politicians in Oregon mentioning the idea, late last year reports came out that the state was seriously considering a mileage tax for drivers, involving attaching a GPS device to your car that would track how far you drove. Earlier this week, a similar idea popped up in Massachusetts, where it was amusingly called “faster, cheaper, simpler” despite it being none of the above when compared to a gas tax.

But why waste time at the state level when you can go national?

Yes indeed, as a few readers have sent in, our new Transportation Secretary says he’s open to the idea and (check out the timing!) a “blue-ribbon national transportation commission” is going to release a report next week recommending just such a system. It will involve installing a device on every car which tracks where you drive and when you drive — so that they can also tax based on time of day (rush hour costs more!) or if you’re taking highways or side streets. When you have a politician suggest such a thing just days before a “blue-ribbon panel” comes out with a paper on the idea, you know it’s not idle speculation, but the deal has basically been agreed to. The “I’m thinking about it” comment is just the trial balloon for the legislation that is clearly already written and ready for introduction.

What’s amazing is that all of those pushing for this idea apparently haven’t paid attention to any of the massive backlash that comes around every time this idea is suggested at the state level. It’s not “faster, cheaper, simpler.” It would take quite a while to get this working, it’s expensive and it’s cumbersome — especially compared to a gas tax. It also has the added downsides of getting people worked up over privacy issues and (bonus!) does little to encourage more fuel efficient driving or getting ourselves off foreign oil. Update: Mark sends in the news that the Obama administration is already saying it won’t approve this idea.

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Anonymous Coward says:


the gas tax is just what we pay for polluting the environment. what about the wear to our roads? how are we going to pay for that?

seriously though can’t they just increase the gas tax and add a tax to new cars? or charge a tax based on your odometer?

Oh, and if anybody puts a gps receiver on my car I can just yank out a wire or a capacitor or something and render it useless. Then of course I claim it is defective and refuse to pay to fix it.

Pixelpusher220 says:

Re: no GPS, just use the ODOMETER

The mileage tax is really the only accurate way to measure usage. Gas is a small approximation, but we’re losing that ability as gas cars start to become smaller in number than the alternatives.

I would suggest that rather than a GPS, tracking which road you drive on and when you drive on it, that we simply use a much easier device…the odometer. At tax time we’re required to certify our mileage for the last year, that in turn generates a tax amount based on vehicle type and weight. Localities can tax some based on it, states and feds too.

The gas tax is already done this way, everybody gets a piece. Instead of collecting at point of sale, just collect in the already existing manner of the tax code.

One additional line on the 1040 and state forms, no new payment scheme/bureaucracy, use what we already have.

makan morsense says:

Re: Re: no GPS, just use the ODOMETER

When you drive 40000 miles, you wear out your tires, right, then have to buy new. No way around it.

get rid of all other taxes and just TAX new TIRES. There will obviously be some variables that will have to be analyzed, but it would discourage peeling out, for every mile lost on the life of the tires costs much more.

Semi’s wear out the road a lot more, but they have a lot more tires running at the same time. (they’d have to tax re-treading also)


no way to direct traffic, but if roads are smooth, tires will last longer.. oh.. then they’ll have motivation (G-men) to let the roads go bad so they get more revenue.

but.. in principle, we should really have no taxes at all and have all privately owned roads…. oops. the nut-job in me has arisen..

Just Another Moron in a Hurry says:

Re: Re: Re: no GPS, just use the ODOMETER

How do you handle the problem of out of state drivers? Out of Country drivers? Cross-State truckers? All of these would need some weird exceptions to allow them some kind of refund, or special paperwork to avoid sending in the right amount to begin with.

I’d rather send in just the right amount, but thats just me.

Ron (profile) says:

Good, Redusced Taxes

So, if the tax will be collected based on GPS data, then all the taxes at the pump will be pulled off, right? I mean, unless they are then we are being taxed twice.

Oh, and who’s paying for these GPS thingies? And, if they go bad, get damaged, etc., who pays for replacement? Is there a grievence process if you want to dispute the numbers given? Are we billed monthly, at year end, part of income tax time? Do WE get to see the data transmitted or do we trust our government appointed bureau to be honest about the whole thing? What’s the process for raising taxes: a national election with 2/3 majority or just some government official with a rubber stamp? How are the fund distributed: to states who then distribute to local governments? Do all taxes collected go to improving and maintaining infrastructure like they’re supposed to now?

Gee, so many questions. I wonder if that blue-ribbon panel has already handled all that … and all the ones I haven’t gotten to yet?

Outerlimitz (user link) says:

Whats next

we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We don’t buy enough gas because prices go through the roof. Then we don’t buy enough because we’re trying to save a little.

I want to see them tax me for the millage i ride my bike. I’ll stick the tires so far up where the sun don’t shine it won’t be funny.

All the money over the years collected from gas tax, was supposed to go for road repairs. But govt’s just dwindled all their cash flow away. That’s why they all have massive debt’s now.

SteveD says:

Why not simply raise taxes?

Americans pay a fraction of what most of the rest of the developed world do in petrol tax; why not double it?

You raise the money you need, you still won’t have as high prices as Europe and you encourage people to buy fuel-efficient cars.

Curiously, this is almost exactly a year to the day when Tony Blair responded to an e-petition on the same subject. He defended the idea by making clear that any form of road-pricing would be met with tax cuts else where, and that the real objective was to let the Government create a system of variable pricing on different roads to act as commuter incentives. This would allow them to tackle the rising problem of road congestion by getting people to use the transport network more efficiently.

Anonymous Coward says:


It seems much easier to just tax the commodity. It simple on its own, but also we already do it so the infrastructure and process is already in place. Finally you also get the “behavioral” benefit of encouraging people to consume less. I really dont get the argument of taxing milage, it really doesnt make much sense.

Pixelpusher220 says:

Re: Rediculous

Tax the commodity huh? sure, when the cars are running on electricity, how are you going to tax the few kW’s I use to charge the car versus running my oven or microwave?.

The problem is the commodity being taxed (gas) is going away; not soon, but it is going away. Therefore revenues from that tax will dwindle as demand continues to increase. Now you’re left having to pull even more money from the general tax base to cover road maintenance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Rediculous

“Tax the commodity huh? sure, when the cars are running on electricity, how are you going to tax the few kW’s I use to charge the car versus running my oven or microwave?.”

Well if consumer consuption of oil ever actually goes down we might need to consider another tax, but we should be ok for another 10 years or so. Also I would think passing the tax from this commodity on to whatever replaced it would make perfect sense? If the revenue dwindles from this tax, then maybe we could consider a more equitable distribution then taxing milage. After all someone who makes 100 million dollars a year is getting far more benefit from those roads (due to the percentage of commerce that must be moved to generate his income) then someone who makes 100,000 a year, regardless of what milage either themselve actually use.

noah says:

Using technology to make a simple problem hard

The gas tax is intended to pay for road maintenance, so it makes sense to tax based on the amount of wear and tear you inflict on the roads. It has nothing to do with pollution (although it should).

However, last I checked, most cars have this lovely thing called an odometer that keeps track of the number of miles you drive. Most states also require some sort of annual inspection for you to drive on public roads. Why not just have the inspectors report your odometer reading when you get your inspection? No privacy issues, no expensive breakable gadgets, no high costs. The state can send you a bill or you can pay it when you get your inspection. It doesn’t matter if anyone puts off their inspection because your paying for the number of miles since your last inspection, so you’re just digging a deeper hole. Plus, once your inspection expires, you now get a ticket for tax evasion as well.

But that wouldn’t give them something that can track your every move, or use fancy technology, so it couldn’t possible pass. Makes to much sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Using technology to make a simple problem hard

It also doesn’t let them discriminate pricing based on what roads your using. So highly-congested highways could cost you more than the no-name road in Podunk, Utah. I still think it’s dumb, but that’s why checking the odometer isn’t what they want.

Anonymous Coward says:

this has nothing to do with gas prices, road maintenance, or congestion reduction.

It’s all about control. Of course it would be easier and cheaper to just double the gas tax, or slap up a few toll booths or shift the majority or government workers to second and third shift (that would take care of the congestion problem overnight).

Nope, the govn’t wants to know where you are at all times. Not only the govn’t but insurance companies, private business, and don’t forget the lawyers who would use the data against you in civil suits.

The govn’t will gladly spend obscene amounts of money to gain more control over your life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Think of the poor insurance companies!

If I was the insurance industry, I’d be all over this like white on rice. The idea that in 5 years raise could be based on a per-street basis would make me foam at the mouth and substantiating it would be easy: after all, the recent collapse of AIG wasn’t due to bad business decisions on the level of a grand ponzi scheme, it was because the models were wrong and they needed more personal data to determine risk. More data sources, more complexity, less personal privacy. Once you realize how enslaved this will make you and your children, you’ll come to realize it’s long lasting effects.

Pyxster says:

stupid idea

The GPS tracking is dumb, as well as gas tax, but that’s another topic. So an SUV that gets 12mpg gets taxed the same as a car that gets 35mpg? and trust me, I wouldn’t drive as much as I do if i didn’t have to, but unfortunately I have to drive 100 miles a day to get to work and back… and what about businesses that have fleet vehicles? There goes their profits or low prices.

Can’t the government just stop wasting trillions on other things and leave the gas prices alone?

The Missus says:

Re: stupid idea

That’s what alarms me about this idea besides the privacy issue. Small service businesses, like my husband’s, that are dependent on their vehicles to get to their jobs, sometimes quite far flung.

The Mister already gets taxed thrice on what his company brings in, not withstanding what he has to pay for everything else. He does his part already: he pays for all the taxed fuel he uses in those trucks.

Actually what gets me is why anyone is even entertaining this idea when simpler upticks in taxes or registration and inspection or toll fees would accomplish the same thing without needing new systems and required hardware.

If it’s just about money, that is.

NR says:

HOT is in play now

HOT lanes are the “supposed” saving grace to crowded roads. Charging drivers more during peak hours to access these lanes is suppose to improve traffic flow…Bull! Increase revenue…now I believe that!

State governments already have issues with taxes from gas going back to the counties for road improvements/maintenance. The smaller rural counties benefit from those counties that have big cities, counties with big cities want more of the revenue spent on their infrastructure. Would this tax fix this issue? Doubtful. Believing this kind of tax would force people to use other means of transportation (buses/train) requires these services to be in place. These services are in place but not acquittal to the need.

Help us if they leave the gas tax in place and add this mileage tax on top of it.

Mark says:

Just to be clear

for those that did not read the article, this was suggested by transportation Secretary, Ray Lahood. Mr. Lahood is a REPUBLICAN. Oh my god, a republican is looking at putting in a new tax.

And oh yeah, the Obama administration has shot this down.
“President Obama’s transportation department slapped down a suggestion by its own secretary Friday that the government tax motorists based on how many miles they drive rather than how much gasoline they burn. “

another AC says:

Speed Control and Traffic cams

If these go in, it will not be long before we are automatically ticketed for speeding, and I guess they would render red light cams useless too, and dont forget parking tickets, all of this would be come automatic because they would know exactly where you are, when and for how long and how fast you went to get there. Add a breathalyzer and we can cut the state police budget by 98 percent.

Just Another Moron in a Hurry says:

I like it.

I actually like this idea. Yes, there are challenges, but the theory behind it… the amount you pay for road repairs is related to how much wear and tear you put on the roads… seems like a good one.

The odometer suggestion seems like a good one, but it fails when you think about people who live near state lines, and frequently cross them. And what if you drive up into Canada or down into Mexico? You shouldn’t be taxed for those miles by the state, or the fed. gov. So GPS solves that problem. And as an added benefit, your taxes can go directly to the exact roads you drive on.

So, yes. Its more complicated than a gas tax, but its a better system for applying the taxes properly.

Privacy issues? These concerns probably come from the same people who are worried about the toll booth passes being monitored. I speed 80 mph on the highway at all times. The toll booth reflects my speeding. I’ve never gotten a ticket from my ez-pass tag. Nor has anyone else that I’ve heard of. Have you heard of anyone actually getting a ticket this way? Seems like a non-issue, given the history with this similar system. The gov’t doesn’t care about where you go, so long as you pay for it.

Other countries paying more taxes than us in the states? *shrugs* Complain to your government. Don’t try and make my situation worse because you let yours get so crappy. Maybe if we get this system in place, and get it working well, you can petition your gov’t to put something similar in place and save you some tax money?

My only true concern with this would be a) They impliment this and don’t eliminate the gas tax. Effectively double-dipping on me for my driving habits. And b) the money that is collected doesn’t get distributed properly, and ends up funding something besides road maintenance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I like it.

“I actually like this idea. Yes, there are challenges, but the theory behind it… the amount you pay for road repairs is related to how much wear and tear you put on the roads… seems like a good one.”

But this doesnt accomplish that. My little italian two seater causes very little wear and tear on the roads (although it does consumer a good amount of gas). A family friend who owns a concrete company however, has several giant concrete mixer trucks, which even though they may not travel very far, cause an enormous amount of wear and tear on the roads.

nasch says:

Re: yep

I kept saying to everyone the same thing about this: there is 0 incentive for more efficient cars with this.

0? None at all? After they establish this mileage tax, gas will then be free and plentiful, and extracting, processing and burning it will not cause any harm to the environment any more? And we won’t have to buy it from potentially hostile foreign countries? Because all of those things are incentives for more efficient cars.

So if all those go away…. GREAT!

But perhaps you mean there would be somewhat less incentive for more efficient cars.

nasch says:

Re: Re:

How do you expect to get EVERY car in the ENTIRE COUNTRY from EVERY PERSON who owns one to WILLINGLY go get this thing put on their car?

By having an alternative flat usage tax of $2000/year* if you don’t get one installed.

* insert made-up ludicrous number that would convince all but the most tinfoil-hat-wearing government conspiracy nut jobs to prefer the GPS device

Xerloq says:

Failed tax models

We discuss failed business models a lot on this blog. This idea is really a representation of a failed tax model.

Ignoring the elephant-in-the-room named privacy, it’s ludicrous to attempt taxing based on time of day and route taken, because, though the principle seems appropriate, it’s unlikely that the monies gathered would be distributed proportionally.

Rural areas would be hurt significantly because they wouldn’t receive as much money for repairs, or it would be prohibitively expensive to drive in those areas as the taxes required would be much higher than in the cities.

The question of infrastructure to support this is another mark against it. How much of the tax would go to support the method of collection?

It wouldn’t relieve congestion, just change when it happens. If it’s suddenly very cheap to drive 1 hour before and after rush hour, people will simply shift to drive then (if their job is flexible). Then you are “unfairly” taxing those who cannot change when they drive.

Transportation industry will change. Truckers will flood the highways when it’s cheap, adding to the congestion.

Politicians are attempting to force their revenue stream to stay open through law. Just raise the gas tax or check the mileage at registration time.

People figure out legal ways to pay less tax, and that would be the case here as well. I believe making taxes simpler and lower would increase revenues. Taxes should be simple. It’s the government’s job to take the pool of money and divide it equitably.

nasch says:

Re: Failed tax models

It wouldn’t relieve congestion, just change when it happens.

That’s the idea! Instead of having 100,000 cars on the road for 1 hour, you get 75,000 for one hour, and the other 25,000 join the 25,000 already spread out on either side of rush hour. Thus, less congestion. Made up numbers, obviously, but you get the point.

Maybe you’re envisioning suddenly having 10,000 cars during “rush” hour (let’s say 7-8) and the other 90,000 (plus the pre-existing 25,000 off-peak cars) are on the road from 6:30-7 and 8-8:30. But only a huge difference in on/off peak tax rates would cause that. If it costs 25 cents a day more to drive during rush hour, most people are just going to eat that. And that’s a pretty big differential when multiplied by number of drivers and days in a year.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Failed tax models

The problem with that idea however is that in many areas rush hour is longer than an hour. It’s a general period of overload that folds back on it’s self and can last for quite a few hours.

Flextime can help a little, but making it easier to relocate without loosing investment on housing would be a far better alternative than any of this.

Of course the best alternative would be to eliminate the need to drive when not necessary by pushing telecommuting some of the time (Maybe every other week, or half weeks or something).

just a number says:

No good Bastards

The goverment is nothing but a bunch of out of touch fiscal vampires. The goverment has only one mandate and that is to make sure there is always a need for more goverment. Its has grown like a cancer to the point where it is killing its host and should be treated exactly the same way.
I would like to see what the founding fathers would say about this quasi socialist pool of corruption and ineptitude that the goverment has morphed into.
Jerks with ideas like this are going to run our country into the ground….. oh wait were already there

Bobi says:

This tax idea is preposterous (unless maybe if they cancel gas tax and all tolls), but what’s scary is that they can track now your every move. What’s next? GPS implants for all residents? So we can be taxed for walking, jogging, breathing, taking a dump…

There is an epidemic of stupidity in the world and politicians are the most infected, it seems…


Too Orwellian. Our government is out of control with printing fake money and spending, so the solution is to manufacture an issue and tax us all the more and have the ability to know where we are at all time when driving. Total BS.

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. …
And what country can preserve its liberties, if it’s rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” Jefferson

Anonymous Coward says:

I have a better idea

Main issues brought up were:

Privacy issues.
Does little to encourage more fuel efficient driving.
Get ourselves off foreign oil.

Step 1: As Robert Gibbs mentioned today, don’t fund pet projects like this.

Step 2: Make up budget shortfalls by taxing fueling stations on a per tanker basis, which must, at retail, must cost consumers 10¢/gallon more per gallon for fuel originating from non-North American sources.

This will drive up the cost of foreign dependence, encourage fueling stations to convert to more profitable hydrogen/electric fueling stations, and by eliminating the pet project, the privacy issue will disappear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I have a better idea

“This will drive up the cost of foreign dependence, encourage fueling stations to convert to more profitable hydrogen/electric fueling stations, and by eliminating the pet project, the privacy issue will disappear.”

Im not sure protective tarrifs for Exxon Mobil will really do much to help consumers.

devid says:


just take off your tinfoil hat and put it over top of the gps antenna. If they ever passed this law, will easily find away around it. It is absurd to assume gps will be accurate. As others have mentioned we have a device for measuring distance, the odometer.
The real question is how does the government plan on accessing this gps data. Gps is received not broadcast, they still need a way to send this data to the government. Are we going to pay monthly cellular charges as well?

Cabby says:

Re: tinfoil.

Also, you’ll also have to disconnect the “fair meter” from the vehicle’s accessory switch so it thinks the engine isn’t running. Not a hard thing to do. If you really wanted to get crazy with it, you could sell a secondary GPS device that seamlessly turns it off for a set percentage of round-trips.

It could be rigged to think it’s parked in your garage while your driving around. There could be an entire industry that comes from something like this!

But this one is insane says:

Another Really Bad Idea

I would like to see the list of people that would not be tracked by this insane idea.

There would be a rather large list consisting of politicians and their families, police and families, COE types, etc, etc

Wasn’t there a news item not too long ago about a list in CA that identified those who could travel toll free, would not be pulled over for speeding, and other stuff …

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Mileage tax

The WOW (Welfare For Wealthy) party (formerly known as the GOP) can give you several reasons why this is a good idea:
1. It is a regressive tax (something like a flat tax).
2. But since low gas mileage luxury cars are likely to belong to the wealthy, it shifts more of the burden to the middle class.
3. It lets the oil companies (BIG business) lower gas prices, while increasing the underlying price they charge (when a tax is removed, they raise their price, but the overall price goes down).

BUT, it increases campaign funds to the WOW party – what’s not to like?

Dave Long (profile) says:

National Mileage/Gas tax

I am certainly not opposed to having state gas taxes REPLCED by a nation mileage tax, but I really fail to see why the government needs to maintain a record of points of origin and destination to do it. This smacks of a totalitarian scheme to control the masses.

All that’s needed is a simple readout of a car’s mileage stored in a black box, taken in motion at state lines or various points around the state.

Diane says:

Talk about big brother

Wait, are we the next Soviet Union??? Tracking where we drive, how much we drive? Isn’t this supposed to be a FREE country? Since when is my right to mobility something my government can cash in on? Are we going to at least get to vote should this reach that level? And what happens to all the industries affected? less people will buy cars. Less people will want their current cars repaired. Those two things hit an already struggling auto industry. What about all the small businesses that will go under because people will stop “shopping,” start buying everything via internet. And sit down restaurants??? Forget it. People will want food delivered to their home. And what about people who own gas efficient cars or scooters to get better gas milage? Will they pay the same as people who drive gas guzzlers? If this thing passes, I will either one, leave the country entirely or two, go back to riding my bike rather than give my country one red cent to PAY for my freedom!

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