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Congress Mulls Research Into a Vehicle Mileage Tax 792

BJ_Covert_Action writes to let us know that an Oregon congressman has filed legislation to spend $154.5M for a research project into tracking per-vehicle mileage in the US, and asks: "Do we really want the government to track our movement and driving habits on a regular basis?" "US Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced H.R. 3311 earlier this year to appropriate $154,500,000 for research and study into the transition to a per-mile vehicle tax system... Oregon has successfully tested a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee... the [Oregon] report urged a mandate for all drivers to install GPS tracking devices that would report driving habits to roadside RFID scanning devices." Here is the bill (PDF). The article notes that the congressman's major corporate donors would likely benefit with contracts if such a program were begun.
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Congress Mulls Research Into a Vehicle Mileage Tax

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  • already discussed (Score:4, Informative)

    by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:27PM (#29430643) Journal
    Since related articles were omitted for this story... For previous discussion on slashdot, please check here [slashdot.org].

    Please feel free to read that discussion and put your copypasta in this thread so we all know not to mod them up. :)
  • Re:Ummmm (Score:4, Informative)

    by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:27PM (#29430645)

    Yes, but the problem is that as more and more bybrid and pure alternative fuel cars use the roads, less and less tax money will be available for road upkeep.

    Imagine in 20 years if _every_ car were 100% electric (won't happen, I know). That would be a _huge_ drop in taxes earned through gasoline sales.

    Basically this is an early change over to a system that will work regardless of fuel source.

  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:35PM (#29430755)

    The state legislatures are getting in a lather over the idea that gas-electric hybrids will reduce their gas-tax-based state income. It's all rather reminiscent of the year 2000 panic over computer glitches - based in a sliver of truth, but WAAAAY overestimated. They're looking to use these mileage-based taxes as a way to future-proof, but as you mentioned, the better solution is to just increase gas taxes proportionally with the fraction of gas being used thanks to improved technology, so revenue can keep up with increased expenses, while keeping the burden on those who do the most practical use, rather than taxing a hybrid the same as a cement truck.

    Ryan Fenton

  • Re:RFID? KISS! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:36PM (#29430773)

    You are currenlty taxed to support the public roads when you drive on your private roads now. The gasoline tax (which you pay whether you drive on your private roads, public roads, or use it in your lawnmower) is for public road maintenance for the amount of wear you impose upon the public road system. An odometer system wouldn't be any more more a kludge but has the benefit of still being fairly accurate for hybrid, electric, and alternative fuel vehicles. And has the benefit of not tracking every move people make

  • Re:Goodby privacy (Score:3, Informative)

    by Improv ( 2467 ) <pgunn01@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:41PM (#29430857) Homepage Journal

    I generally don't like the inclination to scream about privacy at the drop of a pin, but collection of GPS records do make me rather uncomfortable and I don't think it should be done.

    I don't think the private sector should do this either except possibly in the broadest sense (e.g. it is ok for them to monitor if you're leaving the state because it might impact their insurance, the probability you're stealing the vehicle, etc, but not ok if they're trying to collect detailed information on where you go).

  • Re:RFID? KISS! (Score:4, Informative)

    by plsander ( 30907 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:51PM (#29431029)

    Several of our local gas stations sell 'off-road' fuels that do not have the road tax included. Either for farm, heating, or track use.

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Informative)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:56PM (#29431145)
    this wwould allow us to have variable tax rates on various roads. Higher congestion could lead to higher taxes encouraging people to car pool, use mass transit, etc.

    This requires the constant recording of not only how many miles you drive but where AND when you drive them. It will be a MANDATORY requirement that the government know where your car was at all times.

    It is this fact that the Oregon DOT could not bother to admit when they were doing this testing. I know one of the people who was involved in this testing, and she simply could not understand why this tracking was necessary.

    She is an otherwise very bright person, but she could not understand that making the amount of money collected by the government depend on WHERE and WHEN you were driving would REQUIRE the government to know WHERE AND WHEN you were driving in order to calculate the correct tax.

    Won't it be enough to just have the on-board computer calculate the amount? That would a require a complete and accurate and constantly updated database of EVERY ROAD in the United States and the tax status of every road. And if the on-board system did the calculation, there would be no way of logging or verification, or questioning the charge.

    Further, the data has to be logged to catch potential cheats. You know, those people who simply put tinfoil over the GPS antenna...

    ODOT claimed that the information about where and when people were driving wouldn't be available; guess how long after the next "Amber" before that data suddenly IS recoverable from YOUR car, and IS used in a trial to convict someone? Just think of the CHILDREN!

    Gasoline taxes are bad enough as it is, considering that many of them aren't used to fund the road system anyway. Adding a milage tax is insult to injury. And if you think a tax will GO AWAY if a milage tax is implemented, then I've got some great ocean-front property in Wyoming to sell you.

    As for the idea another poster floated that this will convince people to switch to electric or alternative energy vehicles, think again. A mile is a mile is a mile. You'll pay by the mile whether you are in a hybrid or electric or hydrogen vehicle. Sorta like having toll roads everywhere, even where the roads are never maintained!

    Blumenaur is a nitwit. A result of Oregon's liberal ELF-huggers. The idea was stupid and won't be accepted by Oregon residents; it's still stupid when he pushes for a federal version.

  • Re:toposhaba (Score:3, Informative)

    by jgarra23 ( 1109651 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @04:59PM (#29431213)

    Can't they just read an odometer

    You've obviously never been to Oregon. I've never lived in a more elitist state. Now I wonder who is going to pay for those mandated GPS devices! Knowing the mindset of the typical Oregonian politician I can guarantee you they never thought of that or the repercussions of having very poor families (Oregon has A LOT) shell out cash they don't have for something they don't need.

    Oh I forgot, we're talking about Oregon, the state where cyclists (who pay nothing) have more rights on the road than drivers who's taxes and fees actually pay for the roads. We're talking about a state where cyclist "gangs" actively ride the streets of Portland and have been known to pull drivers out of their car for ALLEGED infractions and beat the crap out of them (google cyclist violence portland to see what I mean).

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Informative)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @05:07PM (#29431319)
    Then read the odometer. It is already a crime to tamper with it.

    First, I think you will find that it is only a crime to tamper with it when it comes time to report the milage for a sale. IANAL, so don't quote me.

    But more important, you missed the central idea of this plan. You get taxed EXTRA for driving where and when the government decides you shouldn't be driving. In Oregon, that's I5 and I205 and I405 in Portland rush hour. And other streets. Instead of building to meet capacity using the already-collected gas taxes, the gas taxes are going elsewhere and the streets are getting packed. How do you stop that? Keep people from driving! They can't force people to ride the useless MAX trains, so they need some other way of forcing them off the streets.

    Also, driving on your own property is not taxable. How can it be? None of the gas tax will EVER be used to maintain your driveway or farmland, even in places where it IS sometimes used to maintain roads.

    In the Oregon proposal, since it is a STATE tax, you also don't pay the tax when you drive outside Oregon. People near the edges sometimes spend a great deal of time outside Oregon (except for the west edge -- the roads in the Pacific are few and far between). Especially around the 4th of July, when everyone drives into Washington to buy fireworks. If this becomes a federal nightmare, then you'll need to know which state you were in because the state rates will almost certainly differ.

    No, just reading the odometer isn't enough. It will require logging every mile and every minute and every location you drive, by computer, to be dumped into government computers every time you refuel.

  • Re:RFID? KISS! (Score:2, Informative)

    by auspiv ( 769470 ) <auspiv@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @05:11PM (#29431369)
    Ever hear of off-road fuels (like red-dyed diesel)? These fuels have NO TAX. They are sold to farmers and such who don't use public roads. http://dodgeram.org/tech/dsl/FAQ/diesel_fuel.htm#onoff_fuel/ [dodgeram.org]
  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Informative)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <dnaltropnidad>> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @05:12PM (#29431405) Homepage Journal

    "Only government would be this stupid!"

    really? really? This shit has been going on in the private sector forever, still goes on, and is getting worse.

    Yes, it's a stupid way to implement this, but to think only the government would do this? that's just stupid.

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:4, Informative)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @05:16PM (#29431457)

    They may whine but I would counter their argument with an argument about wear and tear on the road. I have no stats to back up my claim but my guess would be that a tractor trailer or a hummer would do just a bit more damage to the road surface than a Prius would. They should, therefore, pay more than the prius owner.

    You're more right than you know. I believe the road damage is proportional to the 3rd or 4th power of the vehicle's weight. Cars under 3000 lbs do almost no damage to roads (probably much less than the weather), while tractor-trailers do huge amounts.

    However, the people with heavy vehicles don't care about this; they want everyone else to subsidize them. And the trucking industry has lots of lobbyists.

  • Re:Dems? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @05:38PM (#29431895)

    Republicans are generally in favor of smaller government. Democrats are generally in favor of larger government.

    That talking point is old, tired, and flat out wrong. You need to take a gander at the last 30 or so years of American government and look at which presidencies coincided with growth spikes in government. Or, if you are in a hurry, just look at the last 10.

  • Re:Dems? (Score:3, Informative)

    by NatasRevol ( 731260 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @05:57PM (#29432227) Journal


    For the record, here's the increase in the US debt:
    WW2 to 1980: $1T
    Reagan: $1T to $3T = +2T or 200% in 8 years
    Bush 1: $3T to $5T = +2T or 66% in 4 years
    Clinton: $5T to $6T = +1T or 20% in 8 years
    Bush Jr: $6T to $11T = +5T or 83% in 8 years

    So the Republican's "smaller govt" added $9T of the $11T to our national debt.
    The hypocrisy of the right on this would be hysterical if they didn't believe it so deeply. So it's just pathetic.

  • Re:toposhaba (Score:5, Informative)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @05:58PM (#29432233)
    And a bicyclist does not have more rights a car (although a pedestrian does), they are supposed to be treated the same as any other vehicle on the road.

    Well, they are SUPPOSED to be treated the same, but the reality is much, much different. Maybe you don't live in Oregon so you don't know what goes on here.

    If as many cars simply ignored as many stop signs as bicyclists do, there would be cop cars monitoring every intersection just waiting to write tickets. The last time a cop gave a bicyclist a ticket for ignoring a stop sign here, the papers filled with rage that the cop was wasting his time enforcing a law that shouldn't exist.

    I don't know about Portland's packs of cyclists, but they do the same thing in Eugene. They plan events intended to block the roads (the LAW says they are to ride single file on the right, you know) to annoy and harass drivers. Not long ago, they did this on a major bridge and they hindered an ambulance going to a medical emergency. Did anyone get ticketed? Yeah, right.

    Locally, a distracted SUV driver ran over a bicyclist. Yes, bad thing. She got ticketed (properly) and the papers filled with rage about her arrogant disregard for human life. (Because she drives a car, she automatically has an arrogant disregard for human life, according to our bicyclist pals.) About a day later, a BICYCLIST ran down a PEDESTRIAN IN A CROSSWALK, putting the pedestrian in the hospital with major injuries. (In case you don't know Oregon law, ALL vehicles MUST STOP for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and crosswalks exist at intersections even if they aren't marked...) Did the bicyclist get a ticket for his arrogant disregard for human life? Of course not. Did his fellow bicyclists condemn him? They were too busy making excuses for him to ever say anything bad. (It was dark out. The ped wasn't wearing reflective clothing. It was rainy. The bike's headlight wasn't strong enough to see him... Everything they used as an excuse just proved the bicyclist was going too fast for conditions -- a ticketable offense for car drivers.)

    No, I don't think you can honestly say that bicycle riders (more than a very small handful) believe they are supposed to follow the same laws every other vehicle is, or that they are even close to being treated by law enforcement as if they are supposed to.

  • Re:toposhaba (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @06:08PM (#29432427)

    Not every state requires an inspection, much less annually.

  • Re:toposhaba (Score:5, Informative)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @06:19PM (#29432597)
    No, to me, your post sounds like typical road rage: the road belongs to me, and everyone else on it is a raging idiot who should be shot.

    Everyone else? No, many people, especially those in cars, follow the laws. Some don't. Some go the wrong way around traffic circles. Some do run stop signs. They're wrong.

    Now count the number of bicyclists who break the law on a regular basis. The ones who come to a stop sign crossing a busy road and instead of stopping like the law requires, swerve over a couple of feet and ride through the crosswalk as if they were pedestrians. That puts not only themselves but the pedestrians in that crosswalk in danger.

    The ones I really love are the ones who approach the main road from a side-street (with a stop sign for them) at full speed, while I'm going through that intersection, and instead of stopping or even slowing down, they make a sharp right turn into the bike lane. Someday one of them will hit a piece of gravel in the road, or some dirt, and lose control, sliding themselves under my car. They'll be dead or disabled, and it won't be my fault, but that won't make me feel any better about it, and it won't keep the rabid anti-car nuts from harassing me for the rest of my life.

    No, it's not "road rage based on owning the road", it's anger that those who are supposed to share the road with me are breaking the laws and putting not only themselves but me in danger, and they do it on a regular basis with no reason to expect repercussions -- as if THEY owned the road and I better get out of THEIR way. So, you have it exactly backwards.

    I'm pretty sure also you're part of the idiots who sit in traffic school and think they're perfect drivers,...

    I stop at stop signs, I stop for peds. Not a perfect driver, but I'll compare my record with nearly every bicyclist I've ever seen on the road.

  • Re:toposhaba (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrmeval ( 662166 ) <mrmeval.gmail@com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:52PM (#29433847) Journal

    So if we improve MPG they get less taxes. To compensate they'll charge us by the mile. Which will negate the reason to seek higher MPG. Gotta love them...to death.

  • by arminw ( 717974 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:30PM (#29434203)

    ....Want to drive that 12MPG Excursion or F-350?...

    You are forgetting that such vehicles already pay much more in gas taxes. Large heavy vehicles use more gas and thus pay more tax, but I suspect you want a nonlinear system, where the tax goes up even faster than the gas consumption. This is similar to how they charge utilities, at least electric power nowadays. It used to be that the more you use of something the cheaper it got, but now for many commodities is just the other way around.

  • Re:toposhaba (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:54PM (#29434439)

    And a GPS can't be removed and left at home? Slightly harder but come on. Anybody with the wherewithal to change the odometer can probably find out a way to remove the GPS or something too.

    This is precisely what is going to be built for the Netherlands. The plan is for a system that has the following components:

    • An "on-board unit" (OBU) comprising a GPS receiver, a GSM mobile phone, a "trusted element" (a smart card chip), and a small computer (CPU, RAM, Flash, etc.).
    • A long-range passive RFID tag attached to the windshield. Supposedly there's a way to make it essentially impossible to remove without destroying it. I don't know the details.
    • Road-side gates that interrogate passing window RFIDs and/or photograph license plate numbers. Think EZ-PASS toll gates.
    • Hand-held RFID scanners used by police.

    The GPS receiver constantly tracks miles traveled and the GSM transceiver is used to periodically send a track log to the central system. The log is digitally signed by a private key stored in the trusted element, which may also append details of the class of vehicle, since different types of vehicle have different tax rates. The central system calculates miles driven and assesses taxes to the vehicle owner.

    The road-side gates, window RFIDs and hand-held scanners all exist primarily to ensure that people don't remove their OBU or modify its operation (say, to show it as a different class of vehicle, or to give it a different owner identity). RFID and license plate observations collected by road-side gates and police handhelds will be cross-correlated with the track logs. If a vehicle passes a gate, but there's no corresponding signed track log, the OBU has been modified or broken, and an investigation will ensue.

    Any unauthorized removal, swapping or modification of license plates, RFID, OBU or trusted element will be a crime. Installation of all of the above (except maybe the license plate) will be performed by government-certified service centers. New vehicles will have all of the equipment installed either by the dealership before the sale or (eventually) by the manufacturer.

    I think it's insanely intrusive and would fight like crazy to prevent anything like that from being implemented here, but apparently the authorizing and funding legislation has already passed the Dutch parliament.

  • Re:Dems? (Score:2, Informative)

    by paper tape ( 724398 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:10PM (#29434605)
    Interesting that the chart ends at Bush, given that the current budget under Obama's presidency will add twice as much to the national debt through 2016 as Bush did during his entire presidency, and the current spending plans will double the national debt over the next decade. http://www.heritage.org/research/budget/bg2249.cfm [heritage.org]
  • I called Representative Blumenauer's phone number and talked with Mr. Willy Smith there. I didn't know that members of Congress cannot be recalled.

    Apparently no one in Rep. Blumenauer's office has any technical knowledge whatsoever. That's what Willy Smith told me. Apparently no one in that office realizes that their complete ignorance could possibly be a concern.

    Mr. Smith told me, "Representative Blumenauer has never done heart surgery. Does that mean he cannot introduce health care legislation?" First, Representative Blumenauer knows a lot about heart surgery if he has read news reports over the last 20 years. He knows, for example, that heart surgery often fails. He knows the sociology of heart surgery because he has heard his friends and family talk about it.

    Second, yes, if he doesn't thoroughly understand something, he should not make expensive proposals about it, especially since it seems that no one in his office wants to learn. Certainly that is the impression I got from Mr. Smith. Although we had a friendly, respectful conversation, nothing I said seemed to make any difference to him.

    Wi-Fi and RFID are entirely voluntary technologies. They depend for their operation on the idea that the users want the technology to work. When the GPS on a United Parcel Service delivery truck fails, the central office can call the driver on his cell phone. The driver will be happy to say where he is. Failures are unfortunate, but soft and friendly.

    Tracking the location of every car is NOT a voluntary use. Any failure or accidental interference would be a reason for a court case.

    Mr. Smith told me that many people say very negative things about legislation introduced by Representative Blumenauer and other senators and representatives. So, why should he listen to me, he implied. Good point.

    People are, at present, saying very negative things about President Obama's health care bill. Generally what they say is poorly expressed. But certainly they have some reason for complaint. President Obama is trying to accomplish something in a way that is socially impossible. Hillary Clinton tried another confused bill, and her ideas were rejected, also. However, although many people don't like the health care bill, no one seems to think that President Obama intends to profit personally.

    One of the problems with Representative Blumenauer's actions concerning the 2009 H.R. 3311 bill is that, to a lot of knowledgeable people, they look like criminal fraud. He has taken money from companies that sell GPS technology. He is proposing that those companies get a huge amount of taxpayer money, for a study. That means that the companies can spend taxpayer money, but they don't have to produce anything useful. Maybe a study could cost $100,000. But $145 MILLION? For something that any technically knowledgeable person knows immediately cannot work well? That looks like criminal behavior.

    Can Representative Blumenauer be ignorant of the fact that people don't want to be tracked everywhere they drive? Certainly, people think, he cannot be that ignorant. Therefore, they think, when he completely ignores the issue of privacy, he must understand what he's doing.
  • Re:toposhaba (Score:5, Informative)

    by mcsqueak ( 1043736 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:00PM (#29434985)

    Not in this town. Not near the campus where I see most of the bikes and flagrant violations.

    Give me a break and present some stats.

    http://bikeportland.org/2008/12/09/city-auditors-survey-less-cars-more-bikes-and-safer-streets/ [bikeportland.org] According to this article the City Auditor says that just 8% of people in Portland commute by bicycle, and that among people commuting to work downtown, that number drops to 4% for their primary mode and 8% for their secondary mode. I don't know what your definition of "many, many more" is, but to me a 12% vs 88% constitutes "many, many more".

    Here is another article with data from a 2006 ODOT survey: http://velocommuter.org/blog/?p=76 [velocommuter.org] there were on average 11,109 bike commuters vs. 197,632 car drivers, city wide. So yes, EVEN in this town, EVEN near "the campus" (PSU? UP? I'm assuming downtown by PSU).

    And just for fun, one last set from the Portland Business Alliance http://bikeportland.org/2008/06/13/business-alliance-reports-uptick-in-bike-commuting/ [bikeportland.org]

    Ahhh, yes, the ubiquitous "drivers break the law too" excuse that makes bicyclists as pure as the driven snow. Doesn't work that way.

    It doesn't make cyclists as pure as snow, it just deflates the argument that "ZOMG so many bikers break the law, if drivers did that it would be INSANE!" argument that seems to persist.

    As if bicyclists never speed.

    It's true, they do, but it's a lot harder to speed on a bike. My last ride, on Sunday, my average speed for the ride over 13 miles was approximately 8.5 MPH, calculated by my GPS. I might have broken some laws there.

    As if there wasn't an order of magnitude difference between a driver going five over on an interstate where everyone is going the same speed and the road was designed for twenty over the current limits

    Doesn't make it any less illegal. Last time I checked the speed limits were pretty much set, not flexible based on perceived outdated limits. Hell, I just received a speeding ticket two months ago, and everyone else WAS going my speed, but I was the lucky person that got picked out. Damn, I should have used everyone else as an excuse to my actions when the cop stopped me. I'm sure he would have understood that breaking the law was OK, since the 35 MPH speed limit on Mclaughlin blvd is outdated. I could have also told him cyclists break the speed limit, too.

    As if the driver of that 3000 pound vehicle is just looking for ways to kill you.

    No, they aren't, but if I fuck up while biking, I stand a much greater chance of dying and they (maybe) have a dent in their vehicle. I'd like to live, and I ride with the assumption that people won't see me.

    Stop spouting nonsense and stop trying to excuse the vast majority of your fellow bike riders who simply refuse to obey a simple law, instead expecting every car on the road to protect them from themselves and demanding special rights to pick and choose what laws they will obey.

    I'll stop spouting when you go on a bike ride with me and see how it is on the other side and stop spouting nonsense yourself, like your arguments are any more valid than mine. I'm a driver too, but as far as I can tell you're not a cyclist. You're ignoring all the law violating that drivers do in order to push your anti-cyclist points, which as far as I can tell aren't backed up by anything other than your opinion.

  • Re:Dems? (Score:3, Informative)

    by tobiasly ( 524456 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:05AM (#29435951) Homepage
    Now, please recreate the chart to show which party controlled Congress as opposed to who was in the White House. You know, because Congress writes the budget, not the President.

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