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Are you using nominal tax receipts or did you adjust them for inflation? A simple solution to this would be to index the gas tax to the rate of inflation. Of course, one should start that indexing back in the 1980s, when the federal gas tax was last increased. Leaving the gas tax constant is bad energy, environmental and infrastructure policy.

re: Mileage per vehicle per year, I believe this is what you're looking for:

Lots and lots of data in those CSV files - but not too hard to work with once you get the pivot tables going.

What you'd need to do is get the weighted average mpg for the actual distribution of all the makes on the road.
It shouldn't be too hard to find the dataset showing the % breakdown of annual sales by model so you can determine the "fleet" mix. Ie. mostly Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys on the road - not so many Ferraris...

Oregon is one of the leaders in looking at implementation of a VMT. The Virginia DOT has this to say: "Potential challenges to implementation of a VMT tax were addressed recently by the Oregon Department of Transportation in a pilot study of a VMT-type tax. Oregon DOT encountered issues of the efficiency and reliability of the technology required, the cost associated with fitting vehicle-monitoring equipment, public acceptance of the new system, increased burden on the private sector to collect fees, the cost of the new fee collection systems and the associated security and privacy issues involved in tracking miles traveled. The Oregon Pilot Study ultimately found, however, that the VMT tax is 'workable and practical, a genuine alternative to the gasoline tax.'"

The impression I get from various sources is that public support in Oregon is poor for wildly different reasons - one part of the political spectrum can't believe it's being proposed that their driving be monitored by "guvment" that closely, while another has a negative visceral reaction to losing one of the unintended benefits of having a Prius (or the like). Cyclists end up part of this conversation only in a negative way, as in, "hey, don't come to us car owners for more money; what about getting some $ from those scofflaw cyclists?" Perhaps it is better for cycling advocates to lay low on this one.

Googling "vmt gas tax oregon" brings up relevant stuff to read more about it.

I would argue that vehicle mile-pounds -- vehicle-miles multiplied by the weight of a vehicle -- is a better measure of the cost imposed on the roads by a vehicle. I've even seen research that the wear done by a vehicle rises with the cube of the weight, so maybe vehicle miles-weight(cubed) would be even better.

Bilsko, yeah, the raw data is there to make a weighted average. The time to do it is not.

Contrarian, that's a good point, and it would make sense to tax the owner of a smartcar less than the owner of a dump truck.

Of course now, if you drive an electric car, you use the roads for free - same as a cyclist (see, I can tie it back in).

This isn't actually true -- consider these numbers. You're right that gas tax revenue has been declining, but it's important to note that non-user fees have been filling the gap: taxes, bonds and other forms of funding. That means non-gas-consumers have been paying for roads to an increasing extent -- including cyclists. When you consider our more modest infrastructure requirements and the negligible wear we place on that infrastructure (semi trucks famously cause a vastly disproportionate share of damage to roads), I think there's a case to be made that we're actually paying *more* than our fair share.

I just think the system that needs to be created for charging by the mile is way too complicated compared to just raising the gas tax, and creating a special annual tax for electric vehicles, and making sure that biodiesel and comparable fuels are also taxed.

Anyway, there are some general numbers about gas mileage, based on consumption of oil and VMT.

I believe that Singapore has something like a VMT tax. Also, the registration for heavier and more powerful cars is more. You can get a break on your registration if you only drive on the weekends, or odd numbered days.

I will be in Oregon next week and can do some reporting on the ground.

Its important to recognize that the bike hugging hippies in Oregon don't get on so well with the blue collar logging, fishing, and agricultural workers, or the conservatives in Eastern Oregon.

They usually ignore each other and get along, but when you have something that really affects one group, you get a s*tstorm.

Tom, of course. I was talking from the position that a gasoline tax was a user fee and that roads were paid for by the user fee. A position which I don't hold and the numbers don't support. I realize that wasn't at all clear.

Richard, it isn't that hard to charge by the mile.

You just need a wifi capability so that when a car refuels it downloads the miles traveled since last refueling and the tax is added to the gasoline bill. This requires a small adaptation to cars and to gas stations (but not much).

For an electric car, you just have the odomoter download while charging and add it to the utility bill.

In the interim, you can report the odometer reading on your state income tax form (and have it checked at inspections) or when a car's title is transferred.

@washcycle -
Playing with the raw data is time consuming.
Your point remains though, the $/VMT has declined over the past few decades. It shouldn't come as a surprise since the gas tax has gone largely unchanged over the same time period.

The idea of having cars download miles driven is an intriguing one - but I can already see the push back from the tea party / privacy groups. Remember a few years ago when they tried to institute a ticketing system on the NJ turnpike where they would check the time you entered the freeway vs. the time you left and if it was shorter than a 65mph travel-time, then voila! ticket. That one didn't get too far in the state legislature. Unfortunately, I can see the tax per downloaded odometer data meeting the same fate.

Did you include the state gas tax? That link just seems to be for the federal tax. (Of course one should also deduct the sales tax exemption.)

In Maryland, the annual registration fee brings in a much as the gas tax and is a true user fee, although charging the same for an extra car in the garage as for one used every day is inefficient.

Jim: its not inefficient to charge a different price, its actually very efficient if your only concern is administration of the program. It is, however, not at all equitable.

I agree with the earlier proposals that you could add a mileage tax to be collected each time you get your emissions done.

Jim, just federal tax. State (and local?) tax is probably 100 times more difficult.

I'm no expert, but I think of a user fee as being per-unit-used not all-you-can-eat. So my membership in CaBi is not a user fee, but my overage fees are. But maybe I'm wrong.

Why not just increase the tax, and either index it for inflation or make it a percentage of sale price rather than a fixed amount per gallon? Clearly the tax is too low, but it's less clear whether per-mile or per-gallon is a more equitible way of charging.

Also, it's not just bicyclists and EV owners who pay no fuel tax. The state of Virginia has 25 groups who are exempt from fuel tax, including farmers, taxi-drivers and private schools. The list is here:

I'll repeat something I posted a few years ago: (


But I do think it would be good political theater to propose a tax on cyclists. Using round numbers, start with the $100 billion or so collected in fuel taxes each year. Bicycles are about 0.5% of vehicle miles traveled, so allocate $500 million to bikes. There are roughly 100 million bikes in the US, so that's $5 per bike per year. Discount it for the fact that bikes don't tear up the road, use less of the road than other vehicles, and are banned from the most expensive roads. Propose a tax of 75 cents per bike per year, and stand back.

I'll even amend my idea to say that LAB should have a program where cyclists can voluntarily send their 75 cents to the US Treasury and in exchange LAB gives them a certificate showing that they are paid in full for the year.

Have you read the Ben Ross post at GGW on the Maryland gas tax? He makes an interesting point that I had not seen previously -- that (at least in Maryland) gas is exempt from the sales tax, so in effect driving is subsidized even to the extent that the gas tax offsets the cost of roads. Here's the link:


I think you have a small point, but the numbers you are using are way off. CAFE isn't the number you want. There are a lot of inflation's there -- ethanol for one --and you're missing out on trucks.

EPA number would be slightly better, but again there are weakness

I think peak OIL use per capita in the US was 1980 or 81. However, what is killing gas tax is the expense side which is growing much quicker than the tax can take in.

My very fuel efficient 4 cylinder car gets 15 MPG in the city. That's what CAFE can't capture: when your idling or in a traffic jam your mileage is zero. Also, remember VMT is a very imaginary number.

There is plenty of headroom to raise the gas tax. 5 or 6 dollar gasoline will not destroy the average consumer. $10 gasoline would really hurt, but the real problem again isn't the consumer - it is how business would be hurt.

Another data source:


Contarian, I think we're going to see electric cars replace gasoline cars. Maybe not at the rate that digital cameras replaced film, but maybe over 50 years. Which means we have to make the change eventually, might as well do it now.

charlie, even if I ignore fuel efficiency, it still looks largely the same and we're still far lower than average. I'm not sure what ethanol has to do with it. I looked only at passenger vehicles, but trucks should look similar. All that it will do is pull the average per mile up, since they get lower fuel efficiency.

In 2005, the total highway trust fund revenue from gasoline and diesel was $34.8B. Total miles driven was 2,989,000,000,000. So the tax per mile becomes 1.16 cents per mile (in 2005 dollars). That's not too far from what I came up with. But if I wanted it to be more accurate, I'd redo it using those numbers.

In terms of CAFE, you get a credit if your vehicle runs ethanol. Deigned to promote ethanol use and allow large SUVs. It is a very artificial number. It is designed for one thing, don't use it for another. So a SUV that gets 15 MPG may get a CAFE number of 25, if it a "flex-fuel". CAFE numbers are unreasonably high as a result, and don't reflect anything like real-world MPG. EPA numbers don't either, but are a bit closer.

And given that commercial use of vehicles is about 1/2 of our fuel use per year, you've got to factor that in.

None of this ( otherwise meritorious discussion ) addresses the not insignificant issues of the structural costs of the petro economy that are built into the income tax system. Taxes that are shared by the populace in ways totally unrelated to ones' personal means of transportation or the extent that one relies on the over all web of commercial product movement by marine, road trucking, air & rail transport systems. All powered by oil plus or minus the very odd clipper ship. Things like incentives to oil companies to drill in US waters for new oil - even the ability of oil companies to deduct the 'expense' of buying up and taking off the market competing technologies. ( don't laugh ) Things like the enormous US defense budget required to prop up a worldwide petrochemical transport system. What portion of the cost of a tanker full of crude passing safely thru the Suez laid to the cost of keeping the US 6th Fleet on station? I run a business that uses diesel trucks and I am perfectly willing to have the actual cost of operating those trucks on the roads be reflected in the fuel and other vehicle taxes but there is a bigger picture that must be recognized and addressed in achieving a sensible approach to both the cost of building roads at one end of the process and the cost of dumping tons of carbon in the air at the other end.

So, washcycle, if "it would make sense to tax the owner of a smartcar less than the owner of a dump truck," why not just stick with taxing by the gallon burned?

Isn't that a fair proxy -- it eliminates trying to figure out all the variables (weights of cars, etc.)

Also, you don't have to report to Uncle Sam how far you drive every year or have a GPS unit report it automatically. Privacy, anyone?

Isn't that a fair proxy

No. Hybrids and electric cars are changing that.

it eliminates trying to figure out all the variables (weights of cars, etc.)

What exactly goes into the etc... there. There is one variable - weight of car.

Privacy, anyone?

I'm pretty sure that how far you drive per year is readily available to Uncle Sam. I think they already read and record your odometer when you do an inspection. And when you buy or sell a car.

The Congressional Budget Office did a study on this topic a while back: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/121xx/doc12101/03-23-HighwayFunding.pdf

I think taxes should be as closely correlated to externalities as possible. So definitely tax gas, which has all sorts of negative side externalities, but also tax electricity produced from carbon fuel.

The main externality of trucks is road damage, so tax weight. The main non-emissions externality of cars is congestion, so collect tolls based on congestion impacts. I'd have no problem putting rush-hour or peak-hour tolls on most roads in urban/suburban areas prone to congestion. But I wouldn't tax that guy on a deserted road in Montana for congestion, just for emissions (via gas or electric tax).

The response to the VMT after the CBO report was pretty negative in some quarters not just from the intrusive government point of view, but also from reverse commuters, people who work off-peak hours that don't usually cause congestion, people in rural areas etc.

"I'm pretty sure that how far you drive per year is readily available to Uncle Sam. I think they already read and record your odometer when you do an inspection. And when you buy or sell a car."

Really -- that is news. Uncle Sam inspects your car?

Granted, in some cities Uncle Sam may mandate the state to do an emissions check, but they don't check your odometer.

A far simpler model is the road tax disc as used in the UK.

Uncle Sam inspects your car?

Not uncle Sam, but the government. I don't think privacy rights people draw a line. And I don't think the feds would find much resistance if they asked for that information from the states.


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