Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oregon Wants to Track Your Car

The governor of Oregon wants to replace the gasoline tax with a "mileage tax," proportional to the amount of miles you drive. The state's gas tax revenue is declining, and the thinking is that people who drive buy gas-efficient vehicles are somehow cheating the government because they use less gas per mile traveled and so pay less tax per mile traveled, when the impact of their vehicle on the road stays more or less constant.

Sure, it makes sense in theory. But it's a very bad idea, I think. One is that it will require a great deal of expensive new infrastructure -- GPS units in all vehicles, and units in all gas pumps that will read the chips whenever you get gas and calculate how much you owe. It's another thing that can go wrong and will no doubt be costly to fix. Etc. All that sounds expensive.

And I can't imagine that the difference between taxing on mileage and taxing on gallons is going to be very different for most people, except for people who are trying to do the right thing by driving an efficient car, who have less externalized costs on the climate (but not, granted, on the roads).

How do out-of-staters pay taxes, if at all? And I read some comment that asked if you will get reimbursed for miles you drive on private property -- a good question if, say, you own a farm.

But mostly, it's a horrible idea for privacy reasons. The government will now be able to know where you are at all times, by reading your GPS unit.
In more than one interview with the Democrat-Herald and others, James Whitty, the ODOT official in charge of the project, tried to assure the public that tracking people’s travels was not in the plans....

The final report detailed the technical aspects of the program. It also stressed the issue of privacy.

“The concept requires no transmission of vehicle travel locations, either in real time or of travel history,” the report said. “Accordingly, no travel location points are stored within the vehicle or transmitted elsewhere. Thus there can be no ‘tracking’ of vehicle movements.”
This last paragraph cannot possibly be true. If all you want to do is calculate mileage between gas pump visits, a non-GPS unit would do that sends your odometer's reading to the pump when you get gas.

Why then use GPS units?

But if you have a GPS unit someone in the government will be able to track you. And we all know that these sorts of programs quickly get expanded by power hungry authorities and bureaucrats, just like the drive-through toll collection system did. If the data is there, authorities will demand it in the name of crime prosecution or finding missing persons. All such data collection technologies get abused in this way -- all of them. It is a law of nature -- you know it, I know it, and Whitty knows it. And it will happen here, too.

This is a bad idea, and not an elegant solution to the problem.


Here is the task force's final report (Nov 2007).


Dano said...

Just wait til some other fundamentalist comes into power and wants to find out who is going to hookers, bars, gambling joints, abortion clinics, and whatever $ whomever else they want to target that day.

Second, this is just an excuse to keep autocentricity around. Just tax gas at the pump and be done with it. And make odometers harder to tamper with for insurance.



guthrie said...

The UK government would like such a thing. THey already have number plate recognising cameras in a large number of places. The key point is that it expands government information and powers and bureacracy, with only a minimal effect on peoples actual behaviour. Plus it would be carried out in the usual private/ public partnsership, where a private company or two get billions from the taxpayer in order to do something that the gvt could either do itself, or shouldn't be doing in the first place. This is a well known problem in the UK, and has led to the wasting of probably over 30 billion pounds so far.