For some time now I have been hearing and reading about this issue of alternative cars and gas taxes. In a nut, the issue is that gas taxes go to pay for road maintenance and cars that are more fuel efficient don't pay their fair share for road use. While I appreciate the concern, America really does not need one more argument against reducing fossil fuel consumption.
The most common answer I have heard as a solution to this problem is to charge a mileage fee, or VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) tax. This would simply involve outfitting the 250 million or so vehicles on the road with some kind of mileage counter that would then be read at some undetermined interval (at the pump, quarterly, annually) by another unit that would need to be manufactured, installed in a couple hundred thousand locations, and maintained. One fear about this program is that Big Brother will record exactly where we go and us this to keep tabs on us. Personally I think the bigger fear is, who is going to pay for all of this new infrastructure required to keep track of, read, and calculate tax for 250 million vehicles? Another issue is, how do you calculate the tax rate, exactly? To be fair, a Hummer or F-350 creates a lot more wear and tear on our public roads than a Prius or a Fit, not to mention large industrial vehicles like semi-trucks, earth movers, garbage trucks, etc. For that matter, your average SUV driver actually does less damage to the road per mile than someone using their vehicle to carry heavy loads on a regular basis. Do we make mileage counters that also calculate the weight of the vehicle per mile? There are reasons the VMT idea has not been implemented on any large scale. While the gas tax is not perfect, until the advent electric and hybrid cars it was a surprisingly equitable system.
So, how can we better deal with the issue of needing to pay for road maintenance while simultaneously needing to cut back on fossil fuels? I have an idea. What do we already use on every vehicle that, like gasoline, must be replenished from time to time in direct correlation to the use of the vehicle? Tires. Tax tires according to their size and use and use that tax money to pay for road maintenance. It may even be a more equitable system than the gas tax.
Here's the beauty of this idea: when vehicles create wear and tear on the road, they also create wear and tear on the tires. It's pretty simple. There is a direct correlation of wear and tear where the rubber meets the road. Tax rates could be assigned based on tire ratings for various vehicles -- truck tires, small passenger car tires, etc. -- and vehicles that are on the road more will pay that tax each time they replace a tire. Some exemptions could even be made for off-road, farm use, or other applications where the tire is not actually going to be on the road. The best part of this idea is it would cost almost nothing to implement -- calculation of appropriate tax rates and state and federal passing of the tax. Done.
Is it the end-all, be-all solution to the problem? Probably not, but it's something we can do today, right now, that could be a step in the right direction.
Just a thought.