Transportation Secretary LaHood Mulling Tax On Miles Driven

February 20, 2009

Obama's new Transportation Secretary, Republican Ray LaHood, is eying a tax based on miles driven as opposed to fuel consumed. Why the potential switch? America's relatively low gasoline taxes just can't cut it when it comes to Federal funding for upkeep of American roadways and transportation infrastructure.

Recent - and in some cases fatal - bridge collapses and roadway disasters highlight the issue facing the new administration's Transportation division. Last fall, Congress had to infuse $8 billion into multiple states to help them with their most urgent transportation projects. But while many transportation authorities view the proposed per-mile-traveled tax as an intelligent long-term strategy, drivers in some affected states aren't having it. And LaHood refuses to consider higher gasoline taxes in the midst of our current econimic crisis.

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Edmund Pettus Bridge

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Governors in Idaho and Rhode Island are considering the per-mile tax. A group in North Carolina wants to substitute the new tax for gas taxes altogether. And a Massachusetts strategy that would implement vehicular GPS chips to track miles driven has some citizens outraged at governmental intrusion right into their personal vehicles.

With the inevitability of rising gas costs, and people's incomes and dividend checks shrinking (or disappearing), could a travel tax result in a swift reversal of the flight to the suburbs? Will in-town living make a future America resemble bustling European city centers that rely more on public transportation than the automobile?

High European gasoline taxes that have been largely responsible for the profusion of efficient vehicles in that country are more appealing to me; such a system seems more equitable and easier to enforce. Regardless, you can be sure that if the GPS-based scheme goes into practice, an entire cottage industry of car computer hackers will spring up overnight.

[source: Detroit Free Press]

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