California to try charging drivers by the mile

Next month, California will begin an experimental program that will eventually charge drivers for every mile driven in lieu of the gas tax paid at the pump.  The experiment will involve 5,000 volunteer drivers who will simulate paying by the mile, while paying the normal gas tax at the pump.

Washington Examiner:

In 2014, the Golden State passed legislation directing a study into charging drivers a mileage-based fee. Under the nine-month pilot, set to start in July, 5,000 volunteers will report and simulate payment for the amount of miles they travel.

The state legislature will receive the program's results at the end of the pilot and then decide how to move forward. If successful, California's gas tax, which will be reduced to 28 cents a gallon on July 1, could be replaced by a system that charges by mileage.

"Our whole point of the pilot is to see if this is feasible for California," said Vanessa Wiseman, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation. "What we know right now is that the gas tax isn't cutting it anymore."

With dwindling funds for road maintenance, the state slashed $1.5 billion for incoming projects last year, Wiseman said. Earlier this year, the California Transportation Commission announced a 38 percent, or $754 million, reduction in transportation funding.

Oregon started a similar test in 2015. The program, OReGO, has just over 1,000 participants. Oregon's volunteers are exempted from the state's 30-cent tax and instead are charged 1.5 cents per mile driven, while California's volunteers will pay for gas as they normally would since the state hasn't established a per-mile rate.

OReGo participants have various ways to report on their mileage, and California's program plans to do the same.

In 2014, an 11-state group known as the Western Road Usage Charge Consortium was formed to study mileage-based fees and other gas tax alternatives. States such as California, Texas, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington are in the group, and next year, a similar mileage-based revenue pilot program will start in Washington.

"We're all in the same boat as a nation," Reema Griffth, a Washington Transportation Commission spokeswoman, told the Washington Examiner. "Sooner or later, the reality will set in that we don't need the gas tax system we have. It's a real revenue reality check."

While the idea has merit, the top question has to be, how will government monitor a driver's mileage?  GPS?  A plug-in that records where and when a driver has been? 

The notion that the government will probably be able to track your movements whether in real time or not is anathema to the concept of personal liberty.  And what other personal information would be available to the government if such a system were in use?  How much should electric car drivers pay?  They won't be using gasoline, but their cars will still be stressing highways, contributing to maintenance costs.

If a way can be found to protect the driver's privacy while raising the necessary funds to maintain our roads, the idea of charging a driver by the mile driven might fly.  But it's hard to imagine such a system at this point, which means that the idea should stay in the experimental stage.

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