By on July 20, 2009

Electronic monitoring of motorists is gaining legitimacy, as the federal government explores a pay-per-mile road tax and California mulls pay-per-mile insurance. But will the possibility of improved efficiency and use-based taxation convince drivers to accept on-board electronic spies? Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has already expressed his fondness for pay-per-mile road taxation, and the Chicago Sun Times reports that he’s willing to pay participants nearly a grand to help him test the idea.

A federally-funded University of Iowa study will pay drivers in major metropolitan areas a total of $895 to allow a GPS/cellular monitor in their vehicle for ten months. If the study concludes that there are few downsides to mileage surveillance, such monitors could become mandatory as part of a per-mile road tax. In theory, constant tracking of every car in America is more practical and politically palatable than simply raising the gas tax. Figure that out. Meanwhile, California is (as usual) the thin end of the wedge. Autoweek reports that the state insurance commission is considering allowing pay-per-mile insurance plans, based on similar technology. Which, according to California’s insurance commissioner, would result in fewer cars on the road. Which would mean even lower gas tax receipts, and a convenient excuse/opportunity to mandate pay-per-mile taxation. Doesn’t the future sound fun?

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33 Comments on “Big Brother Eyes Pay-Per-Mile...”


  • avatar
    chuckR

    Cost of administering this boondoggle? One Fed and fifty state agencies in a vast paperwork circle jerk.

    Cost of infrastructure enhancement to accommodate the extra digital traffic?

    Likelihood of digital hackers creating a a simple to implement spoofing system before the government even deploys it? Not like they don’t have a record of doing so with games, music, videos, etc.

    Our government has nothing better to do internationally or domestically and its tax receipts are so healthy that we can afford the time and money to investigate this right now. /sarc

    We have a system already implemented in every vehicle that logs mileage. Its called an odometer. Why not try that first?

  • avatar
    Aloysius Vampa

    Examine, if you will, these two drivers:

    A. This driver spends all of his time in the city, crawling along in stop-and-go traffic for 15 miles to get to his office every day, and then does the same thing to get home.

    B. This driver spends all of his time driving on the highway, at a constant speed.

    Whose car uses more gas and emits more emissions?

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I signed up for this about 4 hours ago. Lets see if they will put one in my STi.

    I’d love the $$$.

    If they actually implement this, are motorcycles/scooters next? Bicycles?

  • avatar
    DarkSpork

    Examine, if you will, these two drivers:

    A. This driver spends all of his time in the city, crawling along in stop-and-go traffic for 15 miles to get to his office every day, and then does the same thing to get home.

    B. This driver spends all of his time driving on the highway, at a constant speed.

    Whose car uses more gas and emits more emissions?
    Agreed, a gas tax would be far smarter.

    Is it safe to assume if this technology were mandated that removing it would be considered tax evasion? I have no problem with the tax, what I do have a problem with is the idea (maybe I’m just paranoid) that since this device does log speeds, and where the vehicle is driven, to make up the cost of the device and infrastructure, drivers could receive traffic citations in the mail for exceeding the speed limit. What if I need to speed up to pass somebody or avoid an accident? I don’t want to be fined for that every time it happens. A ton of revenue would be created through speeding citations, even if the driver only exceeded the speed limit by 1 mph. Furthermore speed cameras would be rendered useless and seem quite fair in comparison.

    I absolutely hate the idea. How would this technology be forcibly implemented on pre-OBD vehicles? My assumption is that it could not be, and I would be the first person in line to buy one of the pre-OBD vehicles that people are dumping for the “Cash For Clunkers”. I hate this idea, and I would gladly accept a gas tax before I have this junk technology forced upon me.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    Examine, if you will, these two drivers:

    A. This driver spends all of his time in the city, crawling along in stop-and-go traffic for 15 miles to get to his office every day, and then does the same thing to get home.

    B. This driver spends all of his time driving on the highway, at a constant speed.

    Whose car uses more gas and emits more emissions?

    Depends on the car actually. The Toyota Pious is created for just such city driving producing very little in the way of emissions while you’re average Hummer H2 poops out a metric ton every three hundred miles or so.

    This begs the question then. Does those who own fuel efficient, light weight cars get a discount on the pay-as-you-drive? Do farmers/ranchers/contractors/etc who actually need and use giant diesel pickups get a discount as well being they are work trucks? What about busses? Does it matter how many people I’m ferrying about? A Ford Excursion isn’t the most efficient vehicle until you load nine people in it, as compared to one in a Toyota Corolla.

    There’s too many eaches to argue about with this plan. California can’t even pull its head out of its ass long enough to finalize the budget, let alone pass such a sweeping proposal.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    We already have a pay-per-liter tax. Those who drive most, buy more gas, and therefore pay more gas tax. Since all the gas tax is allegedly supposed to go to maintaining and repairing roads, what’s the point of a pay-per-mile tax (aside from increasing politicians wallets?) Or is this supposed to replace the gas tax? Which, to me, seems even stupider – we have a system that works (generally,) but it’s to be replaced with an inefficient and potentially unreliable one?! Of course, it is the government we’re talking about…

  • avatar
    chuckR

    @DarkSpork

    What makes you think pre-OBD vehicles wouldn’t require a mandatory retrofit of the necessary data logging equipment?

    Comrade – its for your own good. And that of future subjects of the State. And think of the children.

  • avatar
    wsn

    and the Chicago Sun Times reports that he’s willing to pay participants nearly a grand to help him test the idea.

    ——————————————-

    You Americans have a very rich Secretary of Transportation.

    It’s unheard of that a minister pay for a public program in any other country.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Whats really ridiculous is the GPS adds NOTHING to the method: you already have a device in the car which measures the miles traveled.

    As for tax, gas tax is MUCH more efficient than per-mile tax: it is far easier to collect, and those with inefficient cars generally have heavier cars, and its the heavy vehicles that damage the road.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Nicholas Weaver>

    Can I get a credit for my STi then? I average about 17mpg and it’s only 3200 pounds.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    lprocter1982

    the per liter/gallon consumption tax penalizes inefficiency

    a mileage tax, if sharply scaled by vehicle weight above safe mid-size sedan weight, penalizes those who do a disproportionate amount of wear and tear damage to roads – although if you didn’t put a cap on the scaling, you’d have heavy trucks paying essentially all that tax – a 40 ton five axle truck does about 10000 times the physical damage to a roadway when compared to a 2 ton two axle car

    regardless of how you fund it, there is a lot of expensive infrastructure repair that’s going undone because there isn’t enough money

    most of all, I’d rather have the money diverted from entitlement programs (it makes jobs, right?)

    edit – I looked at some newer findings – looks like that truck might cause 450 times, not 10000 times, the damage of a car. Two and half power, not fourth power of weight. Still pretty bad.

  • avatar
    thalter

    There is already a great way to do pay-per-mile usage that doesn’t require installing anything in anyone’s vehicle. They are called toll roads.

    Most major metropolitan areas have them already, and with EZ-Pass or similar technology, you don’t even need to slow down.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I’d rather they concentrate on “congestion pricing” schemes, such as charging for driving during the busy times of day. Free-flowing traffic should be the goal.

  • avatar
    petrolhead85

    Why the concentration on all these electronic GPS devices? It just sounds way too complex and unnecessary. Why not just use the odometer reading?

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Anyone who is using a vehicle for business ALREADY gets to write-off the expenses of that vehicle – currently to the tune of >$.50/mile. I used to pay the car payment on my car with just a trip or so for work a month. The IRS would simply up that deduction to reflect any new tax, or exempt business use the same way off-road fuel is now exempt from tax. So I certainly don’t see that as an argument.

    But overall, I think this is a comprehensively stupid, ridiculuously difficult to administer idea. Raise the damned gas tax and be done with all this bullshit. And CAFE. Then, as proven last year, people will buy more efficient vehicles and drive less. I think a sliding tax to make gas ~$5/gal would be about right. Give a tax credit to the poor for miles driven if need be.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Let’s see: 1) cost of GPS equipmetn, 2) cost of user-specific recording apparatus, 3) cost of downloading this information to govt, 4) cost of govt processing this information for billing.

    Now, consider the fact that any of we geeks (of which I am proudly one) can 1) jam the GPS, 2) fry or change the recorded information, or 3) simply turn the darned thing off when we want to.

    What a bunch of Obama. Only ill-educated idiots could come up with this.

    Oops, forgot, the Obamaloon won.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    That would have so much fraud and abuse not to mention the pain in the rear it would be and cost to administer, which is why I’m sure it will happen, especially with Obama and his leftists running the nation.

    “Your data please!”

  • avatar
    DarkSpork

    @chuckR

    What makes you think pre-OBD vehicles wouldn’t require a mandatory retrofit of the necessary data logging equipment?

    Did you watch the video? The equipment utilizes the car’s OBD-II to track distances being driven, fuel consumption (wording used was “fuel level”). Granted, the GPS alone can track distances driven so in that case OBD-II is unnecessary, but for “fuel level”/fuel consumption tracking pre-OBD vehicles would be more difficult to electronically track. My point is that since the equipment is designed to interface with OBD-II, if I bought a carbureted VW Beetle which has no computers and operates mostly mechanically a different system would need to be developed and it would furthermore become very expensive to retrofit a system that could track anything more than miles driven, speed, and location. Through the technology in cars today seatbelt usage, driving habits such as hard acceleration and braking, fuel economy, and fuel usage are very easy to log and track using computers, but in a pre-OBD vehicle (especially one that does not utilize an ECU or any other computers for that matter) all of these things are much more difficult to track. And in all honesty, how expensive would it be to retrofit an OBD-like system to a vehicle with no existing computers? I’m sure as hell not paying for it, and I highly doubt the government would pay to develop it for every car that lacks the technology, let alone pay to put it in the tax payer’s car.

    This is my rationale behind thinking at least some pre-OBD vehicles would not receive a mandatory retrofit of the necessary data logging equipment. It would be much more cost efficient and much more likely for the government to entice driver’s of pre-OBD vehicles to buy a new car which already have the technology (which a smart person who does not want the technology would refuse). The only way for the government to beat it is to put a huge tax on pre-OBD vehicles to make it difficult to keep the vehicles (not sure how well that would go over).

  • avatar
    Orian

    GPS equipment is extraordinarily cheap. Why do you think all current cell phones have GPS? GPS chips are tracked by the government – they own the satellites. GPS chips have their own ID.

    Can they be hacked? Certainly, but I wouldn’t bet on the government not figuring that out pretty quickly they way they have changed over the last 10 years.

    Oh, and Da Coyote, go check the Patriot Act. This would have more to do with Bush than Obama even though both parties collude on everything while they feed us all differing lines to keep the charade up that they are truly different and keep the US people divided.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    That would have so much fraud and abuse not to mention the pain in the rear it would be and cost to administer, which is why I’m sure it will happen, especially with Obama and his leftists running the nation.

    “Your data please!”

    Again, the data mining that you are so callously referring to came from the Bush era under the Patriot act. I have no idea why the Obama bashing came into this being its coming from Republican governed California. Let me check….nope not one person bad moufs the Governator.

  • avatar
    Carzzi

    Tinfoil hats will come back into fashion once this GPS tracking becomes mandatory.

  • avatar
    wsn

    dolorean23 :

    Again, the data mining that you are so callously referring to came from the Bush era under the Patriot act. I have no idea why the Obama bashing …

    ——————————————-

    Here is why the Obama bashing:

    1) This idea is stupid
    2) He is the one in charge

    We would have bashed Bush for stupid ideas. Actually, we did, plenty of times. Now it’s Obama’s turn. The bashing would stop when:

    1) His ideas get smarter (unlikely) or
    2) He steps down (inevitably)

  • avatar
    thoots

    Obamahaters can stand down. Bush’s FHWA paid for Oregon’s pilot project a few years ago. Check it out here:

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/RUFPP/mileage.shtml

    I just wonder why anybody needs to do more testing — “just do it.” Or not.

  • avatar
    paul_y

    @ wsn:

    So, the University of Iowa and the state of California are working directly for the President to oppress you personally? Are these insane, paranoid schemes the new “…b-b-but Clinton!” that we all had to hear crazy people spout for the 8 years that ended 6 months ago?

    I still think $5 gas would be the way to go. Allow a tax credit below a certain income level, based on miles driven (just check the odo reading at annual inspection time! Brilliant!), and call it a day.

    Drive an H2 50 miles each way to work? Sucks to be you! Drive a beater Civic to your crappy job across town? Sucks to be you also, but at least you’re not intentionally wasteful.

    Wait, no, a gas tax (since it would penalize inefficiency and driving a lot) would be a liberal plot to destroy America, right?

  • avatar
    DarkSpork

    I still think $5 gas would be the way to go. Allow a tax credit below a certain income level, based on miles driven (just check the odo reading at annual inspection time! Brilliant!), and call it a day.

    A good idea in theory, but there are quite a few states that don’t have annual inspections. I think E10 should be outlawed though, it punishes everybody as it essentially waters down gasoline.

  • avatar
    paul_y

    @DarkSpork:

    Agreed. E10 (and ethanol-as-fuel as the US implements it — Brazil is doing it right, for example) is a joke, and exists mostly to prop up corn prices for the industrial-farming lobby.

    I actually sort of appreciate NY’s system: outside of NYC, if your car has all of it’s lights and safety equipment functioning, good tires and brakes, and isn’t throwing CELs (on OBDII cars– I had an OBDI GMC with an EGR-CEL for years), you pass inspection, basically. It’s $21/year if you don’t fail. It keeps all but the people who are so lazy they’re willing to go to great lengths to pull a fast one on New York State (rather than just fix their cars) from driving complete deathtraps, and I think they record your odometer reading at inspection time anyway, so we’re halfway there, without tracking everyone’s travel.

    A miles-driven tax that is pretty much a nominal annual fee (paid at inspection time, perhaps) would be ok as a revenue-generator. Pay more if you’re, say, more than two standard deviations outside the mean for the state’s population of drivers, less below. A statistician could flesh this out better than I can (I got a biology degree to avoid serious math), but I think I have a good concept.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Someone re-elect Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, and the Cookie Monster… STAT!

  • avatar
    niky

    So… retrofit of an electronic flow-meter to pre-OBDII cars, at the owners’ expense? Imagine all the kickbacks and lucrative contracts this will generate! Hooray!

    Nicholas Weaver :
    July 20th, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    As for tax, gas tax is MUCH more efficient than per-mile tax: it is far easier to collect, and those with inefficient cars generally have heavier cars, and its the heavy vehicles that damage the road.

    Homer Simpson: That’s.What.We’ve.Been.Trying.to.Teeeeell.You…

    A gas tax is fair and unbiased. It penalizes vehicles which are less fuel efficient… vehicles which are larger and degrade the road more (even the best hybrid ladder-frame SUV still pales in comparison to a regular V6 sedan in terms of economy)… and hits you more if you spend your time sitting in traffic, encouraging you to change your commuting hours and habits, or to seek alternative modes of transport.

    Yet those of us who enjoy driving for driving’s sake can still have our sportscars, muscle cars, SUVs and whatnot… we’ll just drive them less and drive them the way they’re intended to… and ride around in crappy tincans or on the train for when we actually need to commute.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Orian

    Why do you think all current cell phones have GPS? GPS chips are tracked by the government – they own the satellites. GPS chips have their own ID.

    Errr….do you realise that consumer GPS is a one-way system? Time codes are broadcast from the satellites and then triangulated by the receiver based on the arrival time difference.

    No-one can “track” you with a GPS receiver, even if it has an ID (I’ve no doubt they do – for warranty purposes).

  • avatar
    vento97

    If this is implemented in certain regions (think about areas where the word “revenuers” is a negative connotation) – tarring and feathering politicians may come back into style in the minds of the electorate…

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    Here is why the Obama bashing:

    1) This idea is stupid
    2) He is the one in charge

    Exactly my point. Obama is not in charge of the Republic of California. This idea, though the Sec of Trans has expressed a “fondness” for it (he might also have a “fondness” for cheese, which also has no bearing on this), has to go through the Cali government with the Governator’s signature. Simply calling an idea stupid doesn’t make it so, which I have already acknowledged above my reticence for this plan.

    We would have bashed Bush for stupid ideas. Actually, we did, plenty of times. Now it’s Obama’s turn. The bashing would stop when:

    1) His ideas get smarter (unlikely) or
    2) He steps down (inevitably)

    You’re right, I would’ve bashed Bush for stupid ideas if his name was all over this as he was/is a punchline, not a deep thinker, but I wouldn’t let it blind me from any ideas he had. I don’t support a specific cult of personality.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Why don’t we keep the current taxes we have, but put road work on hiatus (like so much was getting done anyway) and instead use the revenue for ways to make fuel cheaper and more abundant. More fuel = more driving and thus more tax revenue. As for you gas tax advocates, less efficient vehicles pay their share in keeping their vehicles fueled and insured. It already costs a bundle to own a largepowerful vehicle as it is. Just because youe chose to sacrifice collision safety and performance for fuel economy doesn’t mean you have the right to slam it up everyone else’s ass. Man up and deal with it.

  • avatar
    snsr

    This is ridiculous- as are many of the comments on this thread.

    I’ll not have an electronic monitor on my car – ever. No GPS mapping, no GPS in my phone (turned off). It’s nobody’s fucking business where I go, or how long it takes me to get there, period.

    This is definitely about monitoring your whereabouts – and if it isn’t yet, it would soon be. If it weren’t, the DMV could simply record your ODO upon inspection (as someone mentioned NY already does..)


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