On Thursday evening, a controversial study in the San Francisco Bay Area will be voted upon that could require drivers to allow GPS devices to be installed inside their car. The ultimate goal? Not to see where they're going, but to evaluate how much they're driving -- and consider taxing them for it.
The San Jose Mercury News (via The Reporter) poses this scenario:
Imagine being taxed a dollar for driving to the store. Commute to work? That'll be a few bucks more.
Is it crazy or the way of the future?
It goes on writing that it could even cost drivers in the area $1,300 per year in taxes if implemented. Low-income people would be exempt from the proposed tax on travelling the Bay Area's nine-county highways and neighborhood roads. It would also be expected to reduce congestion.
But first, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments will decide whether or not to even allow a study of how the program would work to take place. CBS Local reports Randy Rentschler with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission saying the study would be a 20-year look at how the area is traveled and how much.
“We’re not interested in where they go. We’re only interested in the amount they travel,” Rentschler is reported as saying. “But for some folks, that’s a distinction without a difference. Anytime you talk about getting information from people, whenever that conversation comes up, it’s another hurdle you have to overcome.”
Listen to KCBS' audio report on the proposed plan:
The proposed Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax could cost as much as a dime per mile. It has been said that revenue from such a program would help fund roadway improvement and public transit.
Here's what some people told the San Jose Mercury News about the proposed tax:
"Are you kidding me?" said South Bay driver Kevin Spencer of Yellow Checker Cab. "It's ludicrous. Some of the families, blue-collar people just trying to make a living, could have to decide whether to pay their mortgage" or drive.
"It really would be premature in the next five years to even think about trying something like this," said former presidential transportation adviser Bob Poole, who supports VMT taxes but called the Bay Area plan too "utopian" to be realistic. "There are a huge number of questions that need to be worked on."
"It's a big fat no," said Jim Eyer, chair of the Alameda County Libertarian Party. "I'd suspect for various reason it wouldn't be very popular. Everybody already feels like they're over-taxed."
Still, the concept does have some support from environmentalists and other transportation experts. Jeff Hobson, deputy director of Oakland-based TransForm that first proposed such an idea, told the San Jose Mercury News this would be "[investing] in our common future."
The plan, which as pointed out by the Huffington Post is part of the One Bay Area plan, is far from being officially implemented though. If it ever does come to fruition, it could raise $15 million each day. Other communities have conducted small studies of such an idea with results showing decreased car travel. The San Jose Mercury News points out that in these cases though the people were given a "cash balance" from which money was depleted when cars were driven and anything left over was given to the driver.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is beginning a similar pilot program this fall, using transportation officials and state legislators as the test subjects.