Pay Per Mile Tax: Innovative Thinking Or Inability To Innovate?
It always amazes me how human ingenuity turns things that only lived in our imaginations into reality. The image above, I took when visiting a computer museum a couple of years ago. It shows the illustration by an artist, H. Miller whose imagination of the electric cars of the future and was printed in 1957 LIFE magazine. It demonstrates that electric vehicles in the future would be autonomous, and passengers could spend their commute on quality time like family games.
If we were back in 1957, we definitely be entertained by the idea and never in our minds would accept this could be possible. Even today it is not easy to picture all autonomous vehicles on the roads, but today electric vehicles and self-driving cars are already a reality. Maybe in its initial stages, nonetheless the reality. Perhaps we can't see the full picture, it is not that difficult to accept that self-driving electric cars are here to stay and grow.
Innovations in computer technologies, electrical engineering, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence has been growing exponentially. This makes technologies like autonomous electric vehicles possible and offer solutions for things that we could only imagine before. There has been progress in all disciplines too, civil engineering and architecture didn't stay still either. There are many brilliant minds in these spaces as well. But why does it feel like they have been lagging behind in innovation?
Of course spending precious time while in a car for more productive and quality activities seem great in comparison to staring at the road while trying to get to the destination. What would be better though is not to be stuck in traffic and wasting hours and hours on daily basis. Did they fail in pre-planning when building roads? Did they have wrong estimates of the growth of vehicles on the roads? Did they lack innovation or motivation? What happened?
Maybe it is a lack of motivation to innovate since most road contractions, maintenance, and improvements are under the control of government entities. Maybe it was a corrupt nature of officials who are in charge of granting construction contracts to those who kick back instead of offering better solutions. I can only speculate and offer my thoughts. Perhaps, there are better answers.
One thing is clear that these officials and politicians never fail in thinking creatively and innovating is the taxes. Currently, electric vehicles on the roads only take very small percentage of all vehicles. But politicians are already worried about their revenue that comes from gas taxes. As more and more drivers switch to electric vehicles government will receive less and less money in gas taxes. Their solution is pay per mile tax.
In the state of Washington there are already actions in place to implement pay per mile tax. Some states like Oregon and Utah already have active pay per mile taxes. This practice will probably will extend to other states and countries too. They love their taxes and will use any justification to get them.
The reasoning behind pay per mile tax is that everybody needs to pay their share to maintain the roads. You drive, so pay your share. My question is what do you do with other taxes? For example, if people go to work and have to drive, why do they need to pay per mile when they are already paying income and other payroll taxes. Or what about when people go shopping, they pay sales taxes. Most people need to drive to do any of these activities and already pay decent amount in taxes.
Well, yes originally taxes start out small and one type of tax can pay for everything. But lack of competence or corruption causes these taxes not being enough over time. Then what do you do. You invent other types of taxes. Super innovative minds, no? To be fair, some taxes do go for good use, and I am not completely against them. What I question is lack of transparency and accountability and using taxation as the main source of solution when any challenge future presents.
Vehicles have been getting smarter, electric or otherwise. Pay per mile taxation will open the door for another problem. A problem of privacy. Now that newer cars have better computers and collect all kinds of data, government official will demand vehicle manufacturers to provide access to this data. This request or order will be justified by the need to calculate taxes. However, governments don't have great track record of using data as initially intended. I would expect there would be some controversy around driving data, if and how they should be shared and/or collected.
There can also be a lot of good use for collective data if used without intruding individual privacies. If there are many autonomous vehicle on the roads, these vehicles will operate more effectively and safely if they talk to each other and share data their sensors detect. Also, this may help in detecting rush hours and coming up with better solutions that create less traffic and get the commuters to their destination in reasonable amount time.
Again, I see a need for more transparency and accountability to achieve better outcomes. Traditional ways of doing things are not good with transparency and accountability. What if there was a technology that could offer these features in the most effective and efficient manner? I am talking about blockchain. I think blockchain can provide much needed transparency and help holding officials accountable for their actions on how they spend public funds.
Of course any changes like this shouldn't be considered in vacuum of only increase of electric vehicle adoption. There are other areas like public transportation, parking fees, toll roads that need to be considered as well. This may also include design and architecture of new buildings, roads, and infrastructure.
Sometimes it seems hypocritical to me when there is a massive campaign to encourage people to use electric vehicles instead of those that use diesel or gas. There are incentives given to the manufacturers and buyers to do so. But then they turn around and say well time to tax you. lol. It's ok. Sure, go ahead and tax. Just be reasonable. Problem with any kind of taxes is, once they are in place, the next thing politicians do is keep increasing them.
Another source of income from drivers is collecting fees for public parking. When Covid crisis started, restaurants and businesses got shut down. When slowly started reopening, one of the requirements for restaurants was to only offer pick up or delivery orders. Then they also allowed for eating out in open spaces outdoors. Some restaurants have outdoor properties too. Some don't. What they did was start utilizing parking spaces in front of the restaurants for outdoor dining. Smart idea.
Smart business thinking like this does help businesses in the communities to survive, otherwise the alternative is to go out of business. Going out of business, which already happened for many, is not good for local economies, communities and also means less taxes. Streateries are an open space constructed in the parking lane outside a local business, in other words street eating.
Streateries became common during Covid and continue many businesses continue to use them. Edmonds City officials just recently agreed to start charging these businesses thousands for using this space. Because these parking spaces are public, and city is losing revenue in parking from these spaces they think businesses should pay instead. Clever income generating tactic? I think not.
I think these officials should be thanking businesses for staying open and continue operating in such difficult times. Instead of offering help, these kind of measures of how to get more money from people only serve as obstacles. Let's say these businesses break down their streateries because they don't want to pay these fees. What is the outcome? Who would park there anyway if the business is not operating?
What do you think? Are pay per mile taxes or other kind of fees innovative thinking or inability to innovate? Let me know in the comments.
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