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Imagine a gadget attached to the dash of your car that calculated the per-second costs of driving. The “meter,” similar to a taxi-cab ticker, would not only flash on the screen the cost of gas, emissions, and wear and tear, but also your impact on public roads. How would such a meter change your behavior? It would certainly change mine if I really knew how much my trusty ol’ Benz costs per mile. Now, take this fantasy one step further. Imagine paying a tax dedicated to mitigating your impacts. Collected by the government, the tax would funnel towards alleviating impacts of pollution, wear and tear on roads, and lower emissions. Neat idea?

Well, it’s happening in pilot form in the Netherlands, and Elisabeth Rosenthal covered it in today’s NYTimes, In Auto Test in Europe, Meter Ticks Off Miles, and Fee to Driver

"The car had been outfitted with the meter so that Mr. Van Dedem could take part in a trial of a controversial government tax proposal to charge drivers a fee for the miles they drive. The meter also factors in the cost to society in the form of pollution, traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and wear and tear on roads. Hooked up to the Internet wirelessly and to GPS, the system tabulates a charge for each car trip by using a mileage-based formula that also takes account of a car’s fuel efficiency, the time of day and the route. (Driving on busier thoroughfares costs more than driving on less-traveled roads.) At the end of each month, the vehicle’s owner would receive a bill detailing times and costs of usage, not unlike a cellphone bill, although participants in the trial did not have to pay the charges." Again, In Auto Test in Europe, Meter Ticks Off Miles, and Fee to Driver

Now, I can hear the scoffing through my screen, “That would never happen here!” Well, why the hell wouldn’t it? How do we know? If IBM sponsors a pilot and partners with a progressive city, it seems completely reasonable to do.

The process is democratic and the gadgets and tax would (at first) be voluntary. A handful of existing employees within a city’s government structure could dedicate a few hours per month on a special committee that would distribute the collected fees towards mitigating pollution and/or pooling the tax towards infrastructure. Piece of cake. Portland, OR seems ripe for this type of experiment.

In my state, Massachusetts, it doesn’t take much to draft your very own bill, file it, and get it into committee for review. In fact, I think that’s exactly what is missing from much of modern enviro-discourse: Just how can individual environmentalists draft bills, or get sponsors for bills, or even conduct basic lobbying? I’ve written my fair share of “Dear Senator Kerry, I oppose the GOP’s efforts to gut the EPA, you best do the same,” letters. But, with respect to creating solutions, I think getting a bill sponsored by a representative would have more impact because media is more apt to pick it up and bring it into the public square.

What do you think?

Update: The program displaces other fees, such as registration, excise, and gas taxes. It targets drivers who drive most, and would lower operating costs for low-income drivers.

Update II: It removes regulations (read the article), not increases them. It cuts government waste. It makes government more efficient by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative bureaucracies, such as registration and tax commissions. As far as government intrusion, vehicles are extremely regulated, from texting, to speed, to turning, to materials, to insurance, to annual inspections, to taxes. Why not remove some of these burdens, especially on those who drive less? 

  1. climateadaptation posted this