Should drivers be charged a fee for the miles they drive? A controversial tax proposal in the Netherlands calls for just such, with miles measured via a meter placed in drivers’ cars. European cities and governments in Asia (Singapore) and the US (Oregon, Texas and Minnesota) — all eager to reduce traffic congestion and its ills — are watching the Netherlands’ trial of the technology with interest. But the in-car meters raise a host of concerns about privacy and the monitoring of where people drive, as well as amounting to a new type of tax.
Some Dutch drivers are participating in a trial of the proposal by having their cars outfitted with a meter that displays the charges for driving every minute, just like the meter in a taxi. The meters record charges for each car trip using a “mileage-based formula that also takes account of a car’s fuel efficiency, the time of day and the route,” says the New York Times. The meters, which are hooked up to the Internet wirelessly and to GPS, also take into account the cost to society in the form of pollution, traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and where one is driving, with charges higher if you’re using well-traveled roads. At the end of the month, drivers would receive an itemized bill of charges, like a cell phone bill. (The participants in the trial run of the devices were not charged.)
The Netherlands, whose residents have the highest commuting times in Europe and who have been in favor of a number of environment innovations had planned to create a nationwide system next year with rates varying from 4.5 to 45 cents a mile. But things stalled with a change of government in 2010; the new party in power said it would not raise taxes.
A proposal in Oregon would record miles driven using an odometer, an earlier proposal that called for using GPS on the devices having met with public outcry.
Supporters of the meters point out that using the meters actually provides for a “more equitable” system than taxes currently in place for the purchase of a car and registration fees. The meters, and the taxes people would pay for their driving, measure how much a person drives and not only ownership: Use your car more and you pay for it:
If imposed, [the charges from the car meters] could supplant gas and vehicle taxes as well as tolls. Governments could program computers to require consistent gas guzzlers to pay higher rates, for example.
Distance charging also provides a means of replacing declining revenues from gasoline taxes as more people drive highly efficient, hybrid or electric cars, helping governments that have traditionally depended on gas taxes for road upkeep.
As the New York Times observes, and as I can imagine, simply having the meter in your car has a psychological effect. When you see the miles, and the fees, racking up, you may well realize that you need to make some changes in commuting habits, i.e., by not taking the car as much and walking or taking public transportation.
Do such meters mean that “Big Brother” is now watching your every move behind the wheel? Or do the benefits of the taxes charged and the good effects of people driving less on the environment outweigh concerns about privacy?
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