San Francisco Ponders Taxing Drivers By Mileage

Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Marin County, California

Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Marin County, California

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Building and maintaining roads, bridges and tunnels is an expensive proposition, and rising costs mean that municipal, county and state budgets often fall short. Raising tolls, or raising the taxes levied on gasoline are both ways to address revenue shortages, but neither are popular with drivers.

A nine-county regional agency in Northern California, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), is considering a plan that would tax motorists by the miles actually driven. While the plan sounds fair on paper, it relies on technology than most drivers would object to having in their personal vehicles.

In order to measure miles driven, cars would likely be equipped with a GPS tracking device, and as Wheels Blog points out, that raises all kinds of privacy concerns. After all, couldn’t such a system also track where a vehicle was driven, at what time and at what speed?

The MTC is quick to point out that, “tracking people is the last thing we care about,” according to spokesman Randy Rentschler. The vehicle tracking scenario is also just one of many under consideration, and Rentschler further clarifies that, “’s way too early to say if any plan would track people’s mileage with GPS. That’s one way it could work.”

Critics say that taxing by miles driven would unfairly impact lower-income drivers, requiring any such fee to take income into consideration. Still, a user fee is seen as more relevant than raising sales taxes, as doing so would impact those who opt not to drive.

The MTC is hardly the first agency to propose such a plan. In 2009, a bipartisan Congressional commission, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, recommended a switch away from taxing gasoline to taxing miles driven by 2020.

No detailed discussion of how to implement such a system was provided, and the group’s ideas were never implemented. As this idea keeps turning up in discussion, it seems to us that a road tax based on miles driven is inevitable.
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Comments (4)
  1. Agreed with the fact that they don't need a GPS to track an individual if he/she has a cellular, credit cars, and is on Facebook. If you don't have all of the above then you are not worth tracking. Taxing by miles would find strong opposition in Florida, where there's not an effective public transportation system and everybody has to drive to make ends meet. If your business involves transportation, this tax is going to bite you hard. This tax and others would prompt business people to export their capital to places where they might operate with fewer taxes, and as a result, East Asia's economy (f. ex.) would continue to grow ;-)

  2. While I agree that taxing miles driven is a fairly effective way to tax drivers - there's no need to use GPS: Simply base it on odometer readings at the time of annual vehicle registration.

  3. @Brian, what comes next? Annual vehicle safety inspections beneath the oppressive jackboot of government?

    I say that sarcastically, but you know there are those who'll object to this as well.

  4. I was thinking the same thing, why the need for GPS? I guess they only want to tax miles driven in that area. That would prevent them from taxing out-of-state mileage. I'm not sure how this would work in forested areas where GPS does not penetrate though.

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