In some ways, taxing people for the miles they drive makes sense. After all, we need money to keep roads in good shape and it already happens today, indirectly, through gasoline taxes. But when anyone talks about taxing the miles directly – i.e., through a mileage or "vehicle miles traveled" tax – hackles get raised.

Nonetheless, a new VMT tax is being proposed in the San Francisco Bay area, where officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments just approved studying how a per-mile tax would affect revenue, pollution and traffic. The study will look at rates between a penny and a dime a mile. The Mercury News figures that, at the higher end, the tax could raise up to $15 million a day. The study will last through January and the commission could vote on it next April.

What's tricky in the Bay Area proposal is that vehicles would need to have "GPS-like odometers or other devices" installed in order to track how far they've gone. Sure, many people already have such trackers in their cell phones they carry with them all the time, but to require this from drivers would be a new step. A mileage tax project that was tested in Oregon had a clever workaround. Yes, the cars had GPS units, but they only broadcasted information when the car was filled up, allaying some privacy concerns. In 2009, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also talked about a mileage tax, but the idea was quickly shot down.



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  • 88 Comments
      Jon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why the fancy GPS odometer? Whats wrong with the regular one?
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Jon
        That is exactly the problem. If you turn off your cell phone how is the government going to track your every movement?
        JakeY
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Jon
        You need the GPS because they can only tax you for the miles you drive within the area's boundaries (so you won't be double taxed when you go out of that area). An odometer can't provide that information.
      throwback
      • 2 Years Ago
      Dumbest idea in a long time from San Fran and that's saying something. So only people who live in San Fran will be taxed for their driving while drivers from outside of SF will not? Also, does anyone think where you drive will not be public information?
      Ryan
      • 2 Years Ago
      If we come up with basically 'unlimited' batteries for cars someday (2,000 mile range), and it doesn't cost much per mile...once millions of people can drive without a fiscal penalty, the traffic will be crazy. But, my property taxes go towards road construction around town. And the gas taxes are about half a cent per mile for my car. Anything higher than that is a big problem unless they also raise gas taxes. $50 for 10,000 miles. Maybe if they actually built roads right then we wouldn't need to replace them every few years... And we already have most of the roads we need. Why haven't road construction costs gone down? I also have to pay registration for my car, and luckily I don't have toll roads around here, but that will be another double tax issue. What about farm vehicles or off-road driving? My home owner association paid for and maintains the roads around my house to prevent the city for incurring the cost. My HOA fees cover that. I pay Federal Taxes that should cover my use of roads across the country. It is too complicated, too much initial money if they are going to GPS cars, and you won't get everyone to comply unless you have inspection stations.
      • 2 Years Ago
      So I say do away with the fuel tax in general. Implement a Road Tax for all registered vehicles. Also, an additional tax based on the avg. MPG for vehicles that directly consume fossil fuels.
      paulwesterberg
      • 2 Years Ago
      A bad idea that just keeps coming up because there are a lot of companies that hope to cash in by building tracking devices and databases to keep tabs on every driver, turning all roads into toll roads. Just raise the gas tax. Simple, easy, works.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 2 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Unless people aren't buying gas - ie BEV, PHEV owners. There needs to be a way to assess road tax without having it connected to a specific energy carrier. Toll roads are an option, albeit not practical in a large scale; taxing per mile is much simpler and easier to implement.
      Jeff Zekas
      • 2 Years Ago
      The problem with a "mileage tax" is that it is extremely regressive: that is, the poor and middle class pay more, in relation to their income. For a millionaire like my dad, paying a dollar a mile is nothing; for my buddy, Mike, who works at Walmart for $8 an hour, he would end up spending 20% (or more) of his income on mileage taxes!
        Letstakeawalk
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Jeff Zekas
        The current gasoline tax is even worse. The wealthy can afford to buy expensive cars with great mileage that allow them to reduce or eliminate (Tesla buyers) the tax they have to pay. The working poor are typically driving older vehicles that get very poor mileage - around here old Crown Vics and Caprices are the most common.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          Nice try, small efficient cars are alot cheaper than SUVs and hummers
      Marco Polo
      • 2 Years Ago
      There seem to be a lot of arguments about the best method of imposing a tax. Differences of weight, frequency, ideology, and complicated methods of payment collection. The biggest source of contention seems to be that there is wide variety of vehicle types. My suggestion is to impose a tax on the one thing all vehicles have in common, and allows heavier vehicles to be easily identified. Tyres ! Simply impose a tax on tyres at manufacture. The tax is automatically paid, and the tax disc is built into the tyres construction. The greater the travel, the heavier the load, the more wear, the larger the tyre the more tax etc. Not only is this a simple, fair and easily enforced vehicle tax, but would enormously assist domestic tyre production ! Oh well, just a thought .
        Dave D
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        Good thought, but I'm afraid you'd see people driving WAY past the point of safety on old tires trying to drag it out as long as they could (and sometimes they would have no choice) and it would be a safety issue.
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          Dave D Well, yes I guess that's a downside. But, it's really a question of law enforcement. the tag would display a distinctive colour on the sidewall of the tyre, once tyre tread levels were worn below a certain level providing for easy detection. (that technology already exists). In fact it may add to safety, since it would prevent the percentage of tyre users already driving on unsafe tyres. Such a plan could incorporate a recycling incentive, and discounts for the disabled, pensioners etc. The cost of the additional technology to the tyre would be less than $2 per tyre, and the tax would be paid at the wholesale level.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sounds a lot like England
      paulwesterberg
      • 2 Years Ago
      Bev owners could easily be assessed a road use fee of approx $100(based on vehicle weight) on their annual vehicle registration.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Worst Idea. "Tax what you wish to discourage". If gas tax revenue goes down because people are driving greener cars, great! Raise the gas tax in that case, that should speed up the process even more. If you think the gas tax is too high, switch to something greener.
      Kuyper Hoffman
      • 2 Years Ago
      Gas tax is the simplest way to do this, but it should be Federal; it gets better: on average, Americas consume (and this number is fairly accurate) 500 gallons per year. So raise gas by $1/gallon and refund (via IRS) every tax payer $500. Those who don't drive, just got $500 to spend on public transport/running shoes/bicycles. Those who use the exact average; no change. Drive a hummer once a week? No problem. Rack up 20,000 miles in a Prius, your probably paying in. Tada. Solved.
      porosavuporo
      • 2 Years Ago
      Uh .. tax tires instead ?
        Jake
        • 2 Years Ago
        @porosavuporo
        It seems like an intuitive idea, but the problem lies in the varying tread life of tires. To get similar per-mile tax, touring tires need to be taxed a lot more than high performance tires. To cheat this tax, a tire manufacturer can just understate the expected tread life on its tires.
          porosavuporo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Jake
          Actually anyone with high performance tires will be tearing up the roads a wee bit more anyway, so i'd say its fair to tax them a bit higher per mile, no ?
          Jake
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Jake
          Is there evidence of that? Unless people are doing burnouts all the time I don't see the added wear to the pavement. The softer rubber wears out faster, it doesn't wear out the road faster.
        porosavuporo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @porosavuporo
        Actually, do the math. Say a set of tires lasts you a 35K miles. If you want to tax this at a penny a mile, you just added $350 to the price of the set. What sucks is this is all up-front cost for driving spread over several years.
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