A Black Box in Your Car?

October 31, 2013

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America's major roads.

  • The push comes as the country's Highway Trust Fund, financed with taxes Americans pay at the gas pump, is broke. Americans don't buy as much gas as they used to. Cars get many more miles to the gallon.
  • The federal tax itself, 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't gone up in 20 years. Politicians are loath to raise the tax even one penny when gas prices are high.

"The gas tax is just not sustainable," said Lee Munnich, a transportation policy expert at the University of Minnesota. His state recently put tracking devices on 500 cars to test out a pay-by-mile system. "This works out as the most logical alternative over the long term," he said.

Some transportation planners, though, wonder if all the talk about paying by the mile is just a giant distraction.

  • At the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area, officials say Congress could very simply deal with the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund by raising gas taxes.
  • An extra one-time or annual levy could be imposed on drivers of hybrids and others whose vehicles don't use much gas, so they pay their fair share.

"There is no need for radical surgery when all you need to do is take an aspirin," said Randy Rentschler, the commission's director of legislation and public affairs. "If we do this, hundreds of millions of drivers will be concerned about their privacy and a host of other things."

Source: Evan Halper, "A Black Box In Your Car? Some See A Source Of Tax Revenue," Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2013.

 

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