Now, here’s a Dutch treat: last week, the Netherlands became the first country to adopt a tax-by-the-kilometer system to pay for roads, bridges, and other car-oriented infrastructure. As far as I can tell, it’s not a tax increase, but rather a tax shift: the government will reduce taxes on car sales, slashing vehicle purchase prices by about a quarter, and replace the lost revenue by charging drivers a few cents per kilometer. Each car will have a GPS system that tracks driving habits; and the fees will be fine-tuned to account for a vehicle’s size (heavy trucks pay more), fuel consumption (efficient cars pay less) and even congestion impacts (rush hour drivers will pay a premium).
I’m trying to find out more about the program, but since I don’t speak Hollandaise (or whatever) I’m having a hard time tracking down the details. But it sounds similar to the distance-based tax that’s been tested in Oregon as an alternative to the gas tax, and also like a full-scale implementation of the Traffic Choices study that the Puget Sound Regional Council did a few years back. By switching from an “all-you-can-drive” to a “pay-as-you-drive” system, the Dutch government says they’ll trim CO2 emissions by 10 percent while unclogging traffic. (And I thought the Dutch actually liked clogs.)
To me, it totally makes sense switching from point-of-sale taxes to a pay-as-you-drive system would reduce driving. After all, I’m likely to gorge myself at an all-you-can eat buffet, but I eat more reasonably when I pay a la carte. So here’s hoping that the Dutch are on to something: if they work out the technical kinks, this could be a great model for for fighting congestion and reducing fuel consumption in our part of the world, too.
Even other than enforcing that people aren’t disconnecting the GPS, I can definitely see some challenges with getting this to work equitably. The Independent article linked says people will pay more during commute hour “and for traveling on congested roads” – will this push people to take backroads and surface streets through residential areas? If the tax isn’t very expensive, people won’t – but then they won’t reduce their trips in general either. And I’m sure you’ve seen those documentaries where single parents bus two hours each way before dawn for their jobs – there’ll have to be some way to help them out. Of course, if they can get it to work, great!
I dunno. A gas tax seems much, much easier to implement and has the advantage that you’re discouraging carbon emissions (via gasoline consumption) much more directly than by taxing miles driven, assuming lowering carbon emissions is your primary goal, and lowering congestion is secondary.Plus, I think the privacy concerns with the government tracking everyone via GPS would make this a non-starter in the U.S.