** New update at the end of this post. **
On Saturday, I took my car in for its mandatory emissions inspection. Seven minutes and $15 later I was on my way. All I’ve got to do now is mail in $76 and my car’s good for another year on the road. My brief visit to the testing facilitiy was hardly enough time to ponder the eternal verities, but I did have a couple of thoughts.
It’s well known that people don’t like paying so much to license their cars. So I devised a way to make licensing your car free. Are you ready for this?
It works as a feebate. Basically, we’d identify the median level of tailpipe pollution (the level at which half of all cars are cleaner and half are dirtier). Easy enough. Then we’d devise a sliding fee schedule: the dirtier your vehice is than the median, the more you pay. But the extra revenue wouldn’t go to the government, it would go to reduce the licensing fees of cleaner-than-average cars.
In this way, the dirtiest cars would pay enough to make it free or very cheap to license the cleanest cars. As the vehicle fleet became cleaner, the median would move, and the fee schedule would continute to provide an incentive for driving clean cars.
Feebates are grand. In different ways, they’re being considered in California, Canada, France, and the UK. But there may be a problem with my scheme.
Find this article interesting? Support more research like this with a gift!
Vehicle licensing vehicles could end up being inequitable. I haven’t looked into it, but I worry that lower-income people are driving dirtier cars. And I wouldn’t want my licensing feebates to be regressive.
On the other hand, my worry could be unfounded. The poorest tend to not actually own cars in the first place. And lower income folks tend to choose economical cars that are also cleaner: generally speaking, it’s going to be the Ford Focus, not the F350. So my feebate could actually be progressive. Someone would have to get the data and run the numbers.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there’s good evidence showing that lower income people are harmed the most by air pollution. For example, the air quality near freeways can be downright poisonous, especially for children—and that’s not usually where the well-heeled make their homes. Reducing vehicle air pollution, and the illnesses that result from it, could be a big win for struggling families.
Hat tip to Todd Wentworth who inspired this post.
UPDATE 12/7: In light of the robust conversation in comments, here’s a proposal. To avoid annoying SUV owners who say they only take their SUVs skiing, we could do this: read the odomoter.
Mileage driven since the last emissions check-up would be used as a weighting factor in determining the license fee. This would make the feebate scheme more complicated, but I don’t think it would make it infeasible.
What do you think?
I think that is a great idea. We could take it a step further and apply it to sales taxes when purchasing a car/SUV. Cars and SUVs which get poor gas milage (and high overal CO2) should have a sales tax extra high. 20% or more. Cars which have 40+ mpg (and very low CO2) would be sales tax free.It should be a sliding scale so that it is overall revenue neutral to the government.This would be an indirect way for states to regulate CO2 emmissions without crossing the EPA.
To avoid having people abuse the system by crossing state lines to buy their SUV (and avoid the tax) we would need to apply some sort of equivalent tax to cars being registered in the state for the first time.
This idea is already at work in Japan where as the regular auto market slumps, mini-cars continue to take off. My father in-law and sister in-law there have both made the transition to Daihatsu mini cars.The financial benefits of buying a mini car include the obvious of lower gas prices and cheaper maintenance costs but also include significantly lower annual vehicle tax fees and auto insurance premiums as well as cheaper parking and expressway tols. The savings comes to thousands of dollars a year and is amplified by higher gas prices, taxes, parking, etc. I drive a mid-size sedan today, but would make the switch to a mini car given these incentives.
This only makes sense if you factor in miles driven. For instance, if someone owns a relatively polluting Expedition that they use for a few ski trips a month, but they ride the bus to work every day, it hardly seems fair to penalize them when they are producing less net pollution than someone who drives a Prius but commutes 60 miles to work every day.
For instance, if someone owns a relatively polluting Expedition that they use for a few ski trips a month, but they ride the bus to work every day No. The SUV owner you describe is rich. The rich don’t ride the bus. Poor examples of why things won’t work aside, I’d also like to reiterate that insurance premiums should be based on horsepower.
Ah, sorry, I thought this was a fact-based discussion, not a fantasy-based one.Not that facts matter, but I know several young urban people who drive 10+ year old SUV’s that they only touch once or twice a month, for Costco runs or skiing or camping. But they must be rich, and therefore not ride the bus. I’ll let them know. They’ll be thrilled.Your insurance theory is also flawed for several reasons. HP to weight would be a better measure, but that discounts the role of torque, which can be geared to produce the same result as horsepower, a fact which gains significance as diesel sports cars start to appear (see Audi’s upcoming 738ft/lbs monster). That still ignores the fact that premiums are already based on make, model, and engine size, which essentially factors power in (in an even more meaningful way, since, for instance, 500HP Mustang GT500’s have much higher accident rates than 500HP Porsche GT2’s—a result of different driver demographics, habits, and average miles driven).Oh, and you’d also have to start government testing horsepower, since right now it’s just a manufacturer’s statistic and way, way off for many cars. In your simpleminded proposal, I guarantee you’d see “110HP” Corvettes and Mustangs.
Dan wrote:I’d also like to reiterate that insurance premiums should be based on horsepower.Insurance premiums are based on statistical costs for losses. Introducing other issues like horsepower with some mandated scale would be inappropriate. Sports cars, which are typically higher horsepower, already carry higher insurance premiums. But it is not because of the hp, it is because of the typical driving style of those people and the historical costs involved.
brooks wrote:Not that facts matter, but I know several young urban people who drive 10+ year old SUV’s that they only touch once or twice a month, for Costco runs or skiing or camping. But they must be rich, and therefore not ride the bus. I’ll let them know. They’ll be thrilled.All SUVs need to be taxed out of existence. Even those that the rich young urban bus riders own, even though they might only be used once per month. Avoiding sensible policies (higher fees and taxes for SUVs) because of the 1% exceptions (your cited example) would lead to nothing ever changing.
Insurance rate algorythms are the crown jewels for insurers. The goal is to attract the least risky customer at the maximum price. If SUVs statistically lead to higher claims, then rates should already be higher. Regulation to map this to horsepower would turn the industry on its head and likely lead to higher overall rates across the board. (Not to be an apologist for an insurance industry which needs reform in other ways.)
Wow, morrison_jay, feel strongly about this?I suppose delivery trucks and vans should be taxed out of existence, too? How about semi trailers?Idealogues are all well and good, but the only economic policies that have ever worked have been based on reality. Attacking the problem—people who put huge mileage on SUV’s they don’t need—makes a lot more sense than arbitrarily deciding that a particular vehicle category is “bad”, regardless of any individual’s actual usage.And I never advocated “avoiding sensible policies”—I pointed out that the proposed policy wasn’t sensible. Here’s an easy solution: Polution index * miles driven = tax. Most (all?) states already have emissions testing, and they record the odometer there. When you buy a car, the odometer reading is recorded. Combine the two and you get a fair pollution tax without having to resort to the SUV bogeyman and trying to legislate a definition of “SUV” which carmakers will just skirt anyway (does a CUV count? How about a truck? What if it’s used for work?)Social engineering based on ideology never works. Pragmatic, metric-based policies can work. They may be less emotionally satisfying to angry people, though.
Matt the Engineer
I’m tempted by [brooks] scheme, having an only-for-the-snow vehicle myself (and yes, I ride the bus). But assuming the “pollution” you’d be monitoring is CO2 (which isn’t currently monitored), what you’re proposing is effectively a gas tax. Which would be easier to implement at the pumps.I think the point of the increased license tax on low-efficiency vehicles wouldn’t be to drive them out of existance. It would just add a little ongoing cost for owning such vehicles and make you think twice about buying them. Would I consider a 4wd hybrid just for the occasional trip to the snow? Not under the current price scheme. But if I’d get much of it back in resale (due to my low amount of miles) and it would save me hundreds of dollars a year? I’d certainly consider it.
“No. The SUV owner you describe is rich. The rich don’t ride the bus.”That’s ridiculous. I have a 10-year-old SUV at home, but I bus to work, both for environmental and economic reasons. I am squarely middle class. I wouldn’t buy an SUV today, but I don’t feel bad about driving it on weekends to take my family of 5 skiing or camping or hiking. Do you think it would be better for the environment to junk this car (creating more waste) and buy a new Prius? Are you serious?
Eric de Place
Let’s sharpen the debate. To avoid annoying SUV owners who say they only take their SUVs skiing, we could do this: read the odomoter. Mileage driven since the last emissions check-up would be used as a weighting factor in determining the license fee. This would make the feebate scheme more complicated, but I don’t think it would make it infeasible. What do you think?(I’m also putting this comment up in the post as an update.)
Why not just tax fuel more heavily at the pump? That way, people are directly paying for the pollution they cause, without having to do anything as complicated as feebates, and regardless of where [or even if] the vehicle is registered.
Just about every other country on the planet has higher gasoline and diesel taxes than we do, and they are typically have auto fleets with higher average fuel milage. So clearly that would work and would not involve any complicated plans of fees or sales taxes. The problem is that raising the gasoline tax is politically impossible for most politicians. They like easy re-election campaigns.A sales tax or higher fees on new choices going forward might be more politically acceptable. It does not punish people as much for past bad decisions.
brooks wrote:I suppose delivery trucks and vans should be taxed out of existence, too? How about semi trailers?Brooks, don’t worry about the trucks and vans. Peak Oil will take care of those. Just about anything that requires gasoline is going to be worthless once the shortages become a regular occassion. Just my advice, go electric ASAP. It will work for motorcycles and small compact cars, but the trucks are too heavy for most battery systems. I’m not sure how Walmart or Costco are going to function in that environment.
In which case they won’t need to be “taxed out of existence”, right?—–Odometer based methods – I’m perfectly pleased with them (insurance included). However, it’s my suspicion that other forces like emissions cap systems and roadway use fees will come into play sooner. They may create a tolerance for odometer based policies. They may make odometer based fees redundant. For example, the WCI stills thinks that liquid fuels can be included in the regional cap system; SR 167 is almost certainly going to get an HOT lane soon, and 520 will be getting tolled before construction. I think people are more supportive of use-fees that are less intrusive. As well, I think people’s conceptions of what does or doesn’t come for free effect their opinions. For instance, most people believe that fuel taxes pay for roads that should therefore be free to use. It seems a bit easier, though, to convince folks to pay a use fee to access, say, an HOT lane or to pay for an improved 520 corridor.Another thing about odometer fees/taxes is the difficulty in trying to correct for social impacts. Corridor fees are much easier to allocate back into the corridor, for reasons of politics and accounting.
Eric de Place
Couple of thoughts. While I generally favor an “upstream” approach to this kind of regulation—pollution taxes or carbon caps, for example—the license feebate has a couple of distinctive merits:1. Unlike the others, it’s progressive, not regressive. (Or, at least it could be.) It can actually reduce costs for low-income people.2. At least in Washington, there’s been gosh-knows how much outcry over vehicle licensing fees. So the political optics could be good: you can license your car for free! (Provided you choose a clean car.)
Agreed.Who/what has authority to alter the mvet?Since emissions wouldn’t be used to calculate the entire fee, what portion might be palatable/feasible?
My preference would be that the first 1,000 miles that you drive in a year are free regardless to the vehicle that you drive. Any mile after that is charged, with exponential increases in fees based on each mile driven (charged per block of 100 miles with larger penalties charged for mileage over 5,000 a year). Subsidies could be provided for underserved populations. Emissions are one thing but they are less of a concern than the total mileage driven (speaking as a bicyclist emissions are a part the problem but the greater concern is the total number of vehicles on the road – it does not matter how clean a car is it still poses a threat to others the more it is driven).
Just because some people don’t need SUVs doesn’t mean that they should in turn not allow others to have them. The market will dictate who drives a SUV. Gas prices have risen alot in the past couple years because of a growing China and India, and intense speculation on oil prices. That in turn has driven many people away from SUVs and into crossovers and even some cars. Legeslating SUVs out of existence wouldn’t sit well with people who actually have SUVS for a purpose, ie most people on the east side where it actually snows a whole bunch. In fact, wait, let me look out my window, yup, parking lot covered with snow, roads are full of gravel and some snow and its been like this for a week. Oh it will probably snow tommarow. Is it safer to have an suv (at least for a second car) to get around in these conditions? Yes. I would encourage people to take a better look about what their rants on this wall would actually mean. A market driven solution with light government incentive if needed is almost always the best way to get things done. Brooks I really agreed with your post.
I have a ’99 Subaru Impreza and I did fine delivering pizza in Upstate NY for five years—incidentally, they order more when the weather is really bad. Before that I cut my teeth driving with a 2-wheel drive Dodge Shadow. You don’t need an SUV for the weather. But plenty of parents of college kids from NYC thought so, so I had to avoid those behemoths driven by clueless new drivers that thought their SUV was a golden suit of armor. They just had a higher center of gravity.If you need space, a minivan is a lot more cost-effective.
Well, I have to agree with dePlace that accounting for costs and impacts should a part of tax policy when such policies become disincentives to freely pollute. Feebate incentives should be considered along with mileage-based taxes and/or in place of a part the general gasoline tax. I’m very leary of using GPS tracking systems for mileage-based taxes or rush hour user fees. I think annual re-licensing odometer readings is more acceptable for those who don’t want to feel like they’re under surveillance while driving.Here’s another way this tax policy can be parsed: When plug-in hybrids become more common, how will their emissions be measured and taxed? Will households that drive plug-in hybrids have to measure the portion of electricity used for driving? Probably. Hydrogen fuel cell technology is all hype. And we should not keep separate from this ongoing discussion the extreme costs and severe impacts that all motorized vehicles have (regardless of their emissions) upon multi-modal urban/suburban transportation systems that must include walking and bicycling, and the means to structure appropriate mass transit service.
SirKulat wrote:And we should not keep separate from this ongoing discussion the extreme costs and severe impacts that all motorized vehicles have (regardless of their emissions) upon multi-modal urban/suburban transportation systems that must include walking and bicycling, and the means to structure appropriate mass transit service. SirKulat, we are going to have cars of some sort. They are a requirement of society at this point. We have already built the suburbs and the bulk of our homes so the distances are not going to change significantly and mass transit will only penetrate a fraction of these trips. So we might as well fight the battles that have a shot at being won. It is too late to get everyone into urban village utopias. The land has already been developed. Advocating for the lowest emmission vehicles and lowest impact cars is the best opportunity we have to make a meaningful change. Just my opinion.
So then, morrison jay, what you’re saying is you don’t want anyone to discuss the car epidemic? Motor vehicles are a severe impediment to safe, convenient walking and bicycling, and an obstacle to the arrangement of practical and modern mass transit, forms of travel that are more energy efficient than the most efficient car and go furthest to building local/regional economies. Motorized vehicles must play a far lesser role than they do currently, or their numbers will only grow and their impacts become all the more severe. No super duper car can do much about the greater impacts of motor vehicles.Building cities and suburbs into places where all travel modes may function is unavoidable if modern society is to be sustainable. Morrison jay wants to censor discussion and do harm to our environmental cause. Morrison jay’s opinion in this regard is juvenile. I liked cars when I was young, years ago, and drove the most fuel efficient available. But all efforts to produce fuel efficient cars has come to naught. Seattle environmentalists are a little too lazy and a little too unimaginative. Just my opinion.
SirKulat, This thread is about vehicle fees. You might want to start at the top.Making silly claims that someone is trying to “censor” you is a particularly juvenile form of trolling. I am not a moderator here.One of biggest problems we have as environmentalists is our inability to advocate for realistic changes that have a shot at being adopted. Your post was a classic example. It was basically “we need to get rid of cars”. That is not a realistic option. It is too late for that because we have already built a low density country. They are not going to demolish all of the suburbs and rebuild them into high density urban villages, at least not in any significant way. When that is the start of the debate “get rid of cars” the rest of society just tunes out the discussion. They no longer take you seriously and as a result you marginalize yourself.We have to stop saying “No” to everything and start advocating realistic alternatives that people can embrace.
No, Mr Morrison jay, sir, I have always stated that all modes of travel must function, else motorcars will remain dominant, their costs continue to burden economies, their impacts (including emissions) continue to degrade our immediate and global environs. My statements are a hell of a lot more sophisticated than “we need go get rid of cars.” Only the last paragraph in my original post dealt with urban planning. The three paragraphs preceeding were about vehicle fee systems in which I did not say No.Your statements, on the other hand, suggest our use and incredible numbers of automobiles is manageable. Yeah right. Seattle cannot manage its current level of traffic, let alone its growth without highway expansion. And that expansion will inevitably lead to the need for more expansion if the highway lobby caters to some immature nerd’s preference for various techno-fix. Real solutions must include eventual redesign of urban/surburban development patterns whereby overall amounts of driving may be reduced. Take away our ability to drive as we do, and village economies are our only resort. Don’t be a tool, Mr J.
SirKulat (aka troll), your lack of understanding of how the real world actually operates is astounding. The numbers of vehicles HAS to be managed. We are expecting population in the King County region to grow by 20%. So ignoring that is simply childish and foolish. People are going to have personal mobility options, so from an environmental perspective, addressing the emissions of those vehicles is a requirement. Your strategy seems more based more on ignoring the problem and pray that people see the light and ride the bus or light rail. With our density levels, it isn’t going to change much. There is no example of it even happening anywhere in the USA. Blinders like those that you wearing are what holds environmentalists back from making real changes. The NIMBY attiude is holding back real progressive changes in our community.SirKulat wrote:Real solutions must include eventual redesign of urban/surburban development patterns whereby overall amounts of driving may be reduced. Take away our ability to drive as we do, and village economies are our only resort.Sounds like a wannabe dictator in the making. You are part of the problem and you marginalize the real environmentalist with your extremism. Do us all a favor and don’t try to help too much.
Question: How many suburban communities dedicate their commercial core to car dealers and parking lots of car-centric retail? Answer: all of them. There is enormous potential to reconstruct most of these dreadful commercial zones and transform them and the surrounding neighborhoods into walkable, cohesive communities, better servicable by transit systems, and actually improved motor vehicle access. Mr J is the troll here awkwardly standing in the way of progress. When anyone tries to make a point by claiming knowledge about “how the real world operates”, it’s likely that person is presenting a biased view. Reducing vehicle emissions does little about their greater impacts: road infrastructure, the sheer numbers of cars, the economic burden of having no choice but to drive for every purpose the longest distances, the cultural degradation of isolationism, etc. I am compelled to present a viewpoint that is more broad than that presented by Mr J and other such infantile environmentalists. My arguments are not all that radical. Should we manage traffic (and its impacts) or reduce traffic? The answer isn’t obvious to Mr J and like-minded corporate interests who’d rather finance a supposedly more perfect car than live in a more perfect community.
Eric de Place
SirKulat, This is your last warning: clean it up. We love vigorous debate. But if you can’t make your point without insults and name-calling then you’re not welcome here.
Eric dePlace, like Mr J, does not want vigorous debate here. My opinion was belittled by morrison jay, so I formulated a reply in its defense plus returned the same degree of belittlement. I am cleaning up my act, but it is nowhere near as bad as what goes on elsewhere. This website forum has few committed environmentalists who truly understand urban planning and transportation system design, including its editors. I must be critical when necessary. The only offense being taken here is by those who can’t appreciate contrary or even slightly differing viewpoint.
SirKulat, get over yourself. Please.