Editorial: Oregon Set to Implement Pay-As-You-Go Road Taxes

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
editorial oregon set to implement pay as you go road taxes

Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski’s recently released transportation plan brags of creating jobs to build roads and bridges. But its main focus: making sure those roads won’t be used. The plan talks about “congestion,” “bottlenecks,” “greenhouse gas,” “carbon,” “green standards,” “non highway programs” and “incentive programs designed to reduce the number of cars on our roads.” To realize this vision, Kulongski and his supporters have to reinvent the wheel, or, more precisely, the tax on those wheels.

People are driving less and using more fuel efficient vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before alternative propulsion vehicles like hybrids and EVs account for a significant chunk of Oregon’s registered automobiles. You’d think Kulongoski and the state’s environmentally-minded politicians would be happy. Ecstatic. But the Beaver State’s fuel taxes states pay for its transportation funding. The less diesel and gasoline drivers buy, the less tax revenue for the state.

So how do you get people to drive less AND pay more for the privilege? Tax them by the mile. That way, the state can monitor and manipulate the per mile rate to generate sufficient tax revenue to cover their green dreams– no matter how efficient the taxpayers’ personal transportation.

Last year the Oregon Department of Transportation announced a successful demonstration of a GPS-based system. It tracks individual car’s movements, measures their mileage, calculates a fee and generally enables bureaucrats to collect “mileage taxes.” Now Gov. Kulongoski wants implement that system.

“The Governor proposes continuing the work of the Road User Fee Task Force – which will begin 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.”

The idea is hardly new; pay-as-you-go has been the darling child of the greenhouse gas gang for some time. Several European countries use tracking software to tax commercial trucking. London’s congestion charge is another form of the system. And despite public opposition, the UK government seems hell bent on “road pricing.”

Nor is Oregon’s desire to monitor motorists unique within the United States. To wit: the California Air Resources Board’s OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostics) regulations for carmakers.

The California standards mandate that OBD-II computers diagnose and record problems with cars’ emissions systems. Technicians download the data at inspection time. To more efficiently test cars and identify the vehicles that are polluting, California has upped its game. OBD-III specs seek to link on-board emissions diagnostic data with telemetry. Cars remotely identified as polluters would be flagged for testing.

The original idea was to have road-based sensors, so that drivers could be notified to bring their cars in for testing and repair. Of course, satellite based technology is more practical now.

When OBD-III was first announced, the implications for privacy and possible Fourth Amendment violations were obvious. With the threat of global warming enjoying mainstream acceptance, there’s little chance that these fears will prevail over arguments claiming the primacy of “the greater good.” After all, it’s “for the children.” And the future of our planet.

But even cloaked in a mantle of green advocacy, there’s no question that OBD-III, like road pricing, is the slippery slope to a world where all motorists’ movements are monitored, recorded and analyzed.

Obviously, we can’t stuff the technological genie back in the bottle. Police departments routinely use cell phones to track suspects, greatly increasing law enforcement’s effectiveness and providing invaluable assistance during abductions. But there are legal requirements for that procedure; laws that protect cell phone owners from indiscriminate/random search and seizure.

It’s also true that “black box” on-board electronics now record your speed, g-forces, acceleration, air bag deployment and more. In some states, the police can seize that information pursuant to a criminal investigation, with or without your permission. But again, it’s post-facto. The police have determined that a crime may have been committed.

In contrast, California wants all cars to tell them if they’re polluting, at any time they choose; without prior notice, a court order or a presumption of innocence. Oregon wants all cars to report to the treasury department. Where will it stop?

Perhaps along with your tax bill, Gov. Kulongoski will send you an invoice for traffic violations, such as speeding or improper tire inflation. Since red light cameras can issue violations without a complaining officer, this seems like the next logical step.

The English, who are now the most surveilled nation on planet earth, have been justifying the proliferation of license plate, facial recognition and street cameras with “if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about” for decades. Meanwhile, America was founded on the principle that the government poses the greatest threat to personal liberty. Which is true, if technologically irrelevant.

Oh, and Gov. Kulongoski also wants to raise the state’s gas tax by two cents a gallon.

Join the conversation
2 of 64 comments
  • Nikita Nikita on Jan 07, 2009

    California has, or at least used to have, a simple way to offset lost fuel taxes from all-electric cars, a surcharge on the annual registration fee. No system is perfectly fair, but that one is at least simple and non-intrusive.

  • on Jul 06, 2011

    [...] has been tracking and criticizing attempts at pay-per-mile taxation (both state and federal) since at least 2007, and because [...]

  • Lou_BC My kids drove around in a 2 wheel drive Chevy Colorado crew cab I bought off a neighbour when they were moving to Alberta. We kept it 4 years but sold it recently due to various engine codes popping up and the engine sounding more tired. It was one of the inline 5's known to have soft valve seats. All I had to repair was new front brakes and rotors, a wheel bearing and a battery. Both kids wrecked a tire clipping a curb. My oldest backed into it with his pickup which required a grill and headlight replacement. We bought a 2008 Corolla as a replacement for my 19 year old. It came with 4 new summers and a set of decent winter tires on rims. We'll run that until it looks like it will implode/explode. My oldest currently has 3 Cherokees (2 for parts), an F150 "Jelly bean", and a Mercury Grand Marquis. Insurance is very expensive for young drivers. That's why beaters can save some money. I haven't put them on my new truck's insurance since that would add around 90 per month in costs. I'll add my oldest to it temporarily so he can use it to get his "full" driver's license.
  • Arthur Dailey I grew up in an era when a teenager could work pumping gas or bussing tables and be able to purchase a vehicle for a couple of thousand dollars and drive it with 'uninsured' status.If a parent advised on the purchase of the vehicle, they would most often point us to a large, stripped/base version, domestic sedan with the smallest possible engine.These cars generally had terrible driving dynamics and little to no safety features, but were easy to work, had large bench seats/interiors and not enough power to get out of their own way.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'll guess: 3rd owner, never did even basic maintenance, major component failed, car got towed from the apartment complex parking lot, no one bought it at auction because the repair bill exceeded the value.The chrome pillar appliques support this hypothesis.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'm generally in the "I want them to have all the new safety stuff" camp, but new cars are both too fast and too isolating these days. They mask speed enough that a new driver can get way in over his head without really realizing he's even going that fast. This is especially a concern with my youngest, who wants to do everything he does faster. (He has zero fear tearing down hills at 25 mph on his little 20" wheel bike.) I'm hoping for something that is slow and communicates speed well, although I'm not quite sure there is any such thing in today's market.
  • KOKing I test-drove a used Equus Ultimate (the one with all the back seat doodads) that was a trade-in at a Ford dealer, and although it was VERY nice to be in as a Lexus LS with Ultra Luxury, it was supposedly in a minor fender-bender that probably wasn't repaired correctly (like a pinched bus cable or something?), and random features didn't work at all.I think this car suffered the same problem in the US that the VW Phaeton did, and probably would've done better if it was badged a Genesis from the get-go.