Paying the Mileage Tax — at the Pump

The current edition of CQ Weekly highlights the Bush administration’s flirtation with a mileage fee as a substitute for gasoline taxes. It is not yet official policy to seek a shift in the funding source for federal highway programs, but the administration is underwriting experiments in Oregon to test the feasibility of technology to administer such a tax. (See my recent column, “The Oregon Solution” for context.)

A chip installed in a car would track the number of miles the car is driving; a one-way signal would turn off the chip when the car left Oregon. Every time the car refueled, the chip would calculate the mileage and transmit it to the pump. The tax would be charged based on the number of miles driven.

Writer Kathleen Hunter quotes Janet Kavinoky, a transportation lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has backed efforts to revise the gas tax: “A gas tax is a proxy. You have different vehicles on the road with different levels of fuel efficiency. Regardless of their fuel efficiency, they are still using the road.”

That’s always been my logic: Motorists should be taxed to fund road maintenance based upon how much wear and tear they put on the roads. I’m surprised that the Virginia Chamber of Commerce hasn’t adopted the mileage-tax idea for the Old Dominion, just as I’m surprised that Virginia Republicans have failed — in spectacular fashion with the Transportation Abomination called HB 3202 — to embrace the user-pays ideas of the Bush administration.

Hunter surfaces one objection to the mileage tax that I find semi-persuasive. By taxing people on the basis of miles driven rather gasoline consumed, the mileage tax would reduce the incentive for people to shift to more fuel-efficient cars – a goal of both environmentalists and those who advocate energy independence.

That is a legitimate point, but I would respond as follows: Shifting to a mileage tax is one step among many that would make human settlement patterns more transportation efficient. In the long run, it will take a combination of both gasoline-stringy automobiles and more efficient human settlement patterns to reduce energy consumption to a more sustainable level.

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49 responses to “Paying the Mileage Tax — at the Pump”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s a question JB.

    Would you think that the chip/mileage method would be used in combination with Congestion Pricing?

    It would seem that if the chip could “turn off” when it left Oregon (or whereever) that it could only turn on/off when a toll road was used.

    That would be my only complaint about charging for mileage rather than charging for both mileage and rush hour.

    It’s Rush Hour that is the main problem in urban areas.

    If you charge the guy who travels outside of rush hour the same price as someone who consistently travels inside of rush hour – you have, in effect, established a subsidy.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, let me repeat what I have said consistently: We need a mileage-tax system to pay for road maintenance. We also need congestion pricing system to allocate scarce roadway capacity during periods of peak demand. We need BOTH.

    Likewise, the transportation people in the Bush administration support both mileage taxes and congestion pricing.

    There are other ways to inject money into Virginia’s transportation system based on user/beneficiary-pays principles: Use tolls to build new roads and bridges, and use CDAs and TIFs to underwrite the cost of building mass transit facilities. If there is no “user pays” mechanism to fund a project, such as an “economic development” project like the Coalfield Expressway, it should compete with other priorities for funding from the General Fund.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    A fuel tax effectively charges vehicles by weight,which is the main criterai for road damage.

    Charging by the mile effectively penalizes those that choose to drive smaller and more fuelefficient vehicles. By saying the fuel tax is a proxy,the complaint is being made, as it was in Oregon, that hybrid drivers were not paying their fair share.

    All this really says is that there is disruptive technology n the market that is changing the market rules. But, anyone who thinks it is unfair is free to change technologies, in order that they, too, can be charged “fairly”.

    But the mileage charge puts those who choose smaller and more efficient cars at a disadvantage. They will come off on the short end of the stick if they are involved in a crash with a larger vehicle – who is paying the same price per mile.

    The mileage tax is dumb as toast for the reasons you mention and others, not the least of which it means establishing a whole new bureaucracy.

    If you ave to adjust the rate upward, because of increased fuel economy, in order to keep the revenue the sme, or to account for inflation, then we should not consider that to be a tax “increase”.

    Given the political realities, and the fact that we are unlikely to do anything else to reduce congestion, then I favor a congestion tax as well. However, I think we need to consider carefully what we do with the revenue. Maybe we should turn it back to those people who are “denied access” to the city because of it.

    In any case, I don’t think the result of the congestion tax will be what we expect. It is likely to become an effective subsidy for sprawl as people adjust in order to avoid the tax.

    I think the congestion tax is also a proxy. If it is rush hour that is the main problem in urban areas we need to ask ourselvees why that is. It is because our planners have allowed too many office buildings in one location. If it is the office buildings that are causing the problem,then tax the office buildings, not those who are drawn to this attractive nuisance.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, the mileage tax can be easily adjusted for the weight of the car, charging more for heavy vehicles that cause more wear and tear on roads, and less for cars that cause less damage.

  5. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    I thought we were already paying a mileage tax. One that doesn’t need a whole bunch of money to push high tech, or add even more costs and bureaucracy to the auto buying/maintenance/inspection cycle.

    When you run out of gas, you buy more. Voila, problem solved.

    Sometimes it pays more to stay inside the box. This mileage tax idea ranks right up there with the solar powered flashlight.

  6. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Speaking of inside the box, Virginia already has a tax on vehicle weight. It’s called the Registration Fee. It appears to work pretty good, they always get money out of me.

    But what about those pesky trucks? Shouldn’t they pay more? Well there’s already a system in place for that too. Whether Virginia uses it or not is subject to discussion.

    It’s called RFID, and more and more companies willingly pay to implement it. The system has the capability to locate trucks, give entrance approval to ports and other facilities, measure the weight of the load, verify the contents, keep track of mileage or other maintenance events, even automatically pay EZ-Pass tolls. And Homeland Security is busy mandating it’s use across the nation.

    Imagine that.


  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I like the solar powered flashlight.

    Darrell is right. How does that chip know if my truck is empty or full? I can tell you my gas tank knows. No chip, no cost, no problem. Only problem is the charge is not enough, so we propose to avoid increasing that charge by making an entirely new one, based on the same basic idea.

    Besides, this is a new tax, which I thought you guys were opposed to. You own stock in the company, or something?

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    How does an RFID measure the weight of the load? That is news to me, if it is true.

    How is an RFID going to track me, carrying my load of hay from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere?

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    The registration fee only charges me once a year, no matter how much or how little I drive the truck.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Most important point – RFID

    they come in two flavors:

    * active
    * passive

    they “work”

    now… discussion of RFID, gas taxes, weight, registration … in a mode that assumes that these are all mutally exclusive entirely misses the point.

    Once we include RFID – then we have the capability to not only mix and match comprehensively but to calibrate, change, adapt the various charges as time goes by.

    RFID identifies your vehicle. A simple “in-line” weigh station could weigh you on the fly but I don’t think you need that anyhow.

    But you could – Charge registration according to your max vehicle weight that takes into account empty weight trips.

    The vast, vast majority of vehicles will be handled by RFID and pricing schemes anyhow.

    Ray – from a realistic point of view – do you think it would be easier/quicker to charge for congestion than to try to get localities to not build too many office buildings?

    Even if you think that … why not charge NOW for congestion pricing and then as other changes take place… reduce the charges – or as you point out.. if you change your behavior, buy a more gas efficient car, etc, etc a whole range of options to reduce your overall costs so that you balanced the congestion pricing costs .. is a win-win for everybody concerned.

    At any rate.. they already know who you are and all about your car.. and once you put an RFID (called EZ Pass) into the car – all manner of pricing mechanisms are possible.

    The bottom line is this:

    1. – Congestion IS managed directly on a per user transaction basis rather than tax subsidies

    2. – the extra money, if properly taken care of is available to improve the transportation network for EVERYONE even those who wish to drive at rush hour.

  11. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    When it comes to passenger vehicles, their weight, and miles driven, the existing structure is more than adequate. Absent total tolling of all roads, what good is some idiotic method of imposing a mileage tax? The Registration Fee is based on gross weight of the truck. Not enough money? Increase the yearly fee or change the fee structure. Need to tax miles driven? Increase the gas tax. High MPG cars tend to be light weight, Low MPG cars tend to weigh more. Seems to be a pretty smooth operation. Better mouse traps, as we have seen in the past month, are not the GA’s forte.

    Congestion pricing, as I see it, is a toll road only prospect. That is a different discussion entirely.

    Now when it comes to trucks.

    How to measure weight. Hmmm…

    Drive truck on scales at any VA weigh station.

    RFID identifies truck.

    Scale enters weight in state’s database.

    EZ-Pass assesses fee based on weight.

    Not good enough? Add manifested destination, charge mileage fee.

    Out of state truck? No problem. The system captures every truck because each will eventually have to have RFID.

    The technology is available and becoming nationally interactive. The only barrier is designing the method of application and compatibility integration.

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Darrell, You think the gasoline tax is “more than adequate” now? Just wait 10 years. We can anticipate the inevitable shortfalls of the gasoline tax as drivers shift to hybrids, fuel cells and electric, or we can wait for an emergency to overwhelm us.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Darrell – EXCELLENT!

    the only caveat is the gas tax which by many accounts will fail to bring in more revenues if prices go higher… but fine.. keep the gas tax and do the RFID stuff…as time goes by.. if the gas tax goes belly up – adapt with the RFID side….

    In SHORT – the ability to do these things is here now.

    The naysayer will use a gazillion nitpicking .. reasons… i.e. “well how will you do this or do that?”

    but the bottom line is this can be done… and our wonderful elected GA .. rather than exploit what is currently available chose to do everything conceivable BUT THIS.

  14. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Ok, let’s talk about this. The subject is Replace the gas tax with a mileage based fee.

    In order to have this ID system the Feds seem to like so much, the automakers would have to install it on ALL new cars and trucks increasing their cost. Then there would have to be some method of retrofitting these devices onto the existing cars so they can pay the mileage tax too. Then the Feds would also mandate that all gas stations install readers with access to a national database in order to correctly impose the tax. And of course, in order for the states to get their tax money, they have to have a method of accessing this database. There’s just a wee little problem.

    How does a NY car pay mileage taxes to VA? What if they buy gas in MD, and then travel around VA? How about the folks that live in surrounding states that work in VA? How about Virginians that work in MD? Hmmm.

    Gee, in order to ensure VA gets it’s fair share of taxes, I guess we would have to monitor exactly where the cars are operated, and not where they fill up their tanks. So that information would also have to go into the database.

    Now some may like Big Brother solutions to problems, but I’m not one of them.

  15. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Besides, why do we need this high tech gizmo system, when every year we get the car inspected, and the mileage is recorded.

    Could it be that state inspection stations cheat? Why that sounds like another accountibility problem this state fails to address. A shortcoming the GOBs promised us they would correct if they got elected. Another line item in their party platform that was written in disappearing ink.

  16. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Darrell, a New York motorist driving through Virginia would pay the old gasoline tax at the pump. As the gasoline tax becomes increasingly outmoded, it’s a less-than-satisfactory solution, but it is something.

    Perhaps other states would adopt the mileage tax, in which case everyone gets on the same billing system. In that case, problem solved.

  17. Groveton Avatar

    RFID certainly works. However, the Radio Frequency IDentifier needs an antenna. So, the steps are (for one approach):

    1. Register for EZ Pass and provide money (check or credit card number).

    2. People at EZ Pass set up your account (on their computers) and send you an EZ Pass box.

    3. You glue the EZ Pass Box onto the windshield in your car.

    4. You drive your car through a toll booth.

    5. The antenna in the toll booth reads the serial number from the RFID chip inside the EZ Pass box on your windshield.

    6. The serial number and the amount of the toll are transmitted (by computers in the toll booth)to the central computers.

    7. The central computers translate the serial number into your account number then deduct the cost of the toll from the balance in your account.

    These are the basic steps. There are many variations as well as some technical nuance (such as caching of data).

    RFID has no innate ability to measure weight.

    If you want to measure weight, the easiest method is to require the person to register the make and model of their car when the EZ Pass account is established. The weight of cars is fairly constant based on make and model. For trucks you use a built in set of springs in the undercarriage. The amount of compression on the spring is a crude scale. The spring is connected to an active RFID chip which transmits the weight of the vehicle along with its serial number every time it passes by an RFID antenna (usually a toll booth).

    Different tolls can be charged by time of day, type of car, etc. once you have:

    1. RFID chips in vehicles and…
    2. RFID antennas next to roads where you want to charge tolls

    This is how almost all automatic toll paying systems.

    One other alternative (used in London, for example) is to electronically photograph the license plate of cars driving past the permanently installed banks of cameras. The license plate number is determined (using visual recognition software) and you are billed based on a data base lookup on a data base keyed by license plate number. Of course, the cameras know when they took the picture of your license plate so different charges can be charged based on time of day.

    Both of these technologies:

    1. Work fine today.
    2. Cost substantial money to ste up.
    3. Require that you drive by or through a gantry on the roadside (toll booth, camera bank).

    The question in my mind is whether the politicians at the state level in Virginia could possibly be trusted to SUBSTITUTE a milage tax for a gas tax. Or, will it become an ADDITIONAL tax. Personally, I don’t trust the politicans. So, even though this would be a good idea if it were implemented properly I oppose the idea because I do not trust the politicains to implement it properly.

    To me, giving the technology required to implement a milage tax to Virginia politicians is like giving a machine gun to a teenager ….

    The best you can hope is that nothing will happen.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    All that is needed is an EZ-Pass and for more gantry’s to be installed wherever they are needed and just like red light cameras – the fee is built in….

    But the second point that Groveton makes is a big concern for me also.

    Having watched what happened to the Dulles Tollroad… so quickly and easily ..

    and in most states that are using TOLLs, the money goes to their DOT.

    And if I’m not mistaken,that is the way it would work in Va.

    So.. for instance, congestion tolls in NoVa might well go to VDOT who would, without a fight, proceed to use it – statewide.

    Even if NoVa keeps it – there will be different factions trying to use the money. Some will want it for transit, others will want it for more ICC type roads and yet others will want it to pay for local secondary roads, etc, etc.

    From a revenue point of view – it’s the wild, wild west.

    But to do nothing.. kicks the can down the road.. and in my view, worse outcomes are possible.

    I suppose the case could be made that to do nothing.. that when/if congestion gets bad enough.. folks will take whatever person actions they must to cope with it ..

    It seems to me that no method existing or potential is immune from fiscal mishandling of revenues – a reason for caution for sure but not good enough in my mind for not moving forward.

  19. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    RFIDs work for the task for which they were designed. They were not designed as a universal raod taolling mechanism designed to take into account weight and horsepower and speed.

    The gas tax takes into account weight, horsepower, driving habits, and even aggressive driving; and it is already here now. It does not require an infinite number of toll booths or toll booths in infrquently travelled places.

    The only argument against it is that it does not raise enough money, and if it works as intended, then it will raise even less less money. So, one of the main complaints is that it works.

    The solution is to raise the gas tax until it does raise enough money, and if people respond with thriftier vehicles, raise it some more. While you are at it, make it a fuel tax and have it apply to home heating fuels as well. If it means gas is two dollars and the tax is two dollars, well, welcome to Europe.

    All you have done here is enumerate all the “fixes” that RFIDs, the system, and the state would have to make in order to adapt them to a process for which they were not designed. All of these fixes are already covered by the fuel tax, if you will just let it work.

    Nothing new is required.

    As I understand it, the sytem in London does NOT work fine because it is prohibitively expensive to operate. I suspect we will find the same thing with the RFID as London has found, and the District has found with the traffic cameras. The contractors running the system get much of the money.

    Darrel is right. We do not need this high tech gizmo system. I’m a high tech early adopter kind of guy, but I still think this is the stupidest idea I ever heard of.

    This is one case where our wonderful elected GA is doing the right thing by ignoring this technology. Let some other state be the guinea pig. After a few years do a careful study of the effects and effectiveness, then come back and talk to me.

    The RFID and a universal road tolling system is a dead horse as far as I’m concerned.

    There is no doubt such a system is possible or that we can’t work the kinks out eventually. But let’s be realistic about what it will take. The FAA has been working on a similar idea for decades, and they have only a few thousand vehicles to track.

    They are still decades away. There is a huge, enormous, complex difference between having something that works, and having it work universally and routinely.

    Let’s give it up (for now) and move on.

  20. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    If there is such a thing as a simple in line weigh station, then why does VDOT still use big old clunky scales?

  21. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Motor Carrier Service Centers (formerly Weigh Stations) belong to DMV.

  22. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “do you think it would be easier/quicker to charge for congestion than to try to get localities to not build too many office buildings?”

    Yes, it would be easier and quicker. It would also be wrong.

    The drivers are not the ones who planned for too many office buildings. They are not the ones who missed the link between land use and traffic congestion. They aren’t going to be the ones to benefit from the money exacted from them.

    Let’s say we implemtnt congestion charging and it works.

    All of a sudden a lot of businesses that depend on that traffic congestion would not have the people it supports. they would have to make major adjustments in hours of operation, move out of the area, pay their employees more, and a host of other adaptive strategies.

    For the driver who pays the tax and cruises on in to work, it is business as usual, except he no longer has to deal with the riff-raff driving Yugo’s.

    And where is his money going to be spent? We no longer need to spend it on the congested area because we just fixed that problem with the congestion tax. So tell me, what exactly is that user going to get for the money he spends, other than exclusive access?

    If we can prohibit a bed and breakfast in Catlet on the basis that it will cause too much traffic, then by God we ought to be able to do the same with the bloody Sears tower. If a bed and breakfast in Catlet is going to devour too much open space then a place like the Sears tower should have an equivalent open space contribution required.

    I have some open space for rent,if that ever comes to pass. In the meantime, I am required to rent it to the county for free.

    Yep, it would be easier and quicker. because the poor schmuck affected hasn’t got near the political power or economic clout that the developers of the office buildings have.

    Which is how the office buildings got there in the first place.

    So, my suggestion is that if you want to cure a disease treat the cause instead of the symptoms.

    We know that the same bacteria that causes dental plaque also causes the plaque in your arteries. So if you don’t want your arteries to clog up then you need to revent the high rise plaque before is causes a problem.
    Failing that, you go have the plaque removed frequently in order to prevent the buildup that will kill you.

  23. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde


    Thanks for the correction, but the question reamins the same.

    What services do the weigh stations provide to the motor carriers, other than weighing?

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – there is a wonderful website you need to check out.

    These two sites will inform you that ETC (electronic toll collection)


    …” Dallas, Texas, the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, and in Florida , cars do go through electronic lanes at full speed.”

    then swing by:

    where you’ll read:
    “E-ZPass tags are RFID transponders”

    then check out:

    where you will find dozens, of existing applications that “work” 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to automatically identifiy a vehicle according to it’s DMV info and automatically charge a TOLL without the driver having to slow down or enter a TOLL booth.

    This is not “new” fancy high-tech gadgetry…. at least no more or less than cell phones or Wal Mart scanners or Red light cameras.

    EZ-passes are little plastic boxes roughly the size of a pack of cards but thinner with a sticky side that goes on your windshield.

    There ARE .. MILLIONs of these things on cars all over this country, in use, every day.

    The costs of operating EZ pass are cheaper than conventional TOLL booths.

    Jim idea of pricing in service stations would be as simple as putting a standard EZ-Pass receiver near the gas pumps and automatically identifying the car/truck/net/gross vehicle weight/special fuels hybrid/etc et al.

    You could do the same thing in auto inspection stations.

    No – they won’t capture the miles on a vehicle but as you point out gasoline useage is a good proxy for that.

    What the gasoline tax won’t do is charge enough to pay for new infrastructure especially infrastructure that is needed to reduce congestion at peak hour in urban areas.

    But EZ-Pass CAN do that.

    It can MANAGE congestion by pricing it – on the fly – adjusting the price as traffic demand changes – and letting people decide how much congestion they are willing to accept .. or “buy it down”.

    This – as opposed to collecting the same amount of money from every citizen in Virginia – no matter whether their driving habits contribute to congestion or not.

    Essentially, by taxing everyone the same – you are subsidizing those that are more intensive users – the same folks that cause congestion and require billions of dollars of new infrastructure to service their desire to drive anywhere at anytime no matter whether it contributes to congestion or not.

    Raising the gas tax does not equitably assign these costs to those that are intensive users – it merely makes all drivers pay into a fund that essentially is prioritized towards intensive use drivers.

    What you are advocating is charging the same admission price to a theatre or sports event no matter what seat someone sits in and no matter how many people want to go to the event.

    What you are advocating is that everyone pay the same amount for electricity no matter how much they use.

    We all know what would happen if we tried to operate movie theatres and electricty this way.

    … and we know what happens when we operate the transportation network this way….

    this is an obvious – no brainer solution…. that is fair and equitable .. AND efficient AND a mature technology that will deliver less congestion and better mobility to everyone.

  25. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    There are dozens of applications that work in limited environments. There are none that are ubiquitous.
    It is a huge leap from one to another, just look how long seat belts and car seats took, and we still don’t have it right.

    And even if you can make it work, it is still a dumb idea.

  26. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    While we are talking about fair allocation of the cost of travel here is a thought:

    In 1984 several of us proposed putting a toll on use of I-95 HOV lanes that varied by the number of occupants, 4 go free, three pay X, two pay 3X and one pays 5X. Hot Lane are all the rage.

    How about also charging based on how many times a month the same vehicle goes down the road with less than 4 passengers?

    Almost everyone has to go to the Core for a meeting now and then, but if you go every day, that is different.


  27. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    That’s fine, but why make things so complicated? Put the cost on the gas and be done with it.

    If you go occasionally, you pay occasionally, if you go everyday, you pay everyday.

    Raise the price until you see people sharing cars or until you get dis-elected.

    If you cna;t raise the price without getting dis-elected, well then at least we know what the people think about that funding mechanism.

  28. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “There are dozens of applications that work in limited environments. There are none that are ubiquitous.”

    dozens? How about millions?

    It’s called the transaction-based free market.

    Each transaction is a quid pro quo exchange of money for goods/services and it works just fine in practice.

    You keep confusing government-imposed regulations that add to the price of goods/services as opposed to the actual total price of the goods/services that is governed by supply and demand.

    Incorporated into the ticket price for a theatre or stadium is the embedded costs of government-imposed ADA ramps but they still are going to charge you more for better seats and even more for “in demand” shows or events that occur in the most sought-after time periods.

    What you’re advocating is that everyone pay the same – a higher gas tax – no matter how they use the roads – in effect, a subsidy from those that choose to carpool or drive outside of rush hour to those that choose to drive inside of rush hour.

    Your approach penalizes everyone for the costs that are caused by a smaller group.

    Because no one pays the actual costs – the “benefit” of not driving at rush hour amounts to pennies…

    When it amounts to DOLLARS, the actual cost of maintaining the infrastructure – then people CAN choose to trade time for money.

  29. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “What you’re advocating is that everyone pay the same – a higher gas tax – no matter how they use the roads – in effect, a subsidy from those that choose to carpool or drive outside of rush hour to those that choose to drive inside of rush hour.”

    Again, I never said any such thing. I’m in favor of congestion tolling, and that may be the sort of limited application where EZpass can work, because you don’t need an unlimited number of tolling stations to figure out where everybody is goin and where they are coming form.

    EZ pass works on the Greenway because there are a limited number of entrances and the price is the same no matter how much or how little of the greenway you use.

    But congestion tolling is a different thing from universally raising the money we need to maintain and improve our highway system.

    I also don’t think that congestion tolling will give us the results we expect, but that is another matter.

    As you point out, there are millions of those things out there. And that is for relatively limited applications. What I would say is that there is no need of having millions of those things out there to cover specific situations precisely because this is a universal situation: you use the roads, you pay. You use the roads, you use fuel. It is a match made in heaven that does not require we siderack millions of dollars building and managing and paying subcontractors to manage millions of gizmos that are yet another piece of junk we have to recycle.

    EZ Pass for congestion charging might be OK, but as a general method of raising road revenues it is idiotic. However, it does offer the additional benefit of letting the government know where nearly everybody is most of the time.

    If you think that is a benefit.

    However, even in this weeks editorial on congestion charging, the author made no mention of easy pass and ridiculed the London system of cameras. Instead, he suggested we just ad a surtax on parking, for which the collection methods are already in place.

    This is the same argument for the fuel tax: the collection methods are already in place.

    So, I think there are two issues. General revenue collection which can be done in a general way. Despite your claims, it in no way penalizes those who drive less in favor of those who drive more. What it does not do is fix the problem of allocating how the funds will be spent, but that is an issue that is going to plague congestion tolling, too, and allocating how the money is spent is a situation EZ Pass won’t fix either.

    I doubt EZ pass has millions of systems in place, maybe millions of individual passes. As I understand it most of them are primarily access control situations: you go through a booth to get on the tollraod, your go through a booth to get in the port facility, parking lot, or whatever.

    That is a completely different situation from measuring everytime somebody moves anywhere, which the gas tax does exactly. What it doesn’t do is track where and when you went. If we decide that is a necessary and valuable additional benefit from the EZ Pass system, then I concede: the gas tax can’t do that.

    I don’t see how you can claim the gas tax penalizes everyone because of the actions of a small group. If it is such a small group then their costs must be truly extraordinary before they would make a measurable difference as a whole. Then lets suppose that everyone who commutes more that 45 minutes to work changed their habits tomorrow. How much would that change the highway maintenance bill?

    Finally, when it amounts to DOLLARS, the actual cost of maintaining the infrastructure – then people CAN choose to trade time for money. That is exactly what those long distance commuters have chosen to do. They are trading time in travel for the additional costs of maintaining urban infrastructure in the form or urban homes and urban taxes.

    I am not convinced that there is anything about your proposed system that is more equitable, cheaper, more environmentally friendly, or necessary that isn’t handled better by a fuel tax.

    I fail completely in seeing any rationale whatsoever for the claim that it will somehow magically result in something that is more fair or equitable or result in reduced congestion.

    I’ll give you this. Suppose we had a ubiquitous easy pass system, and suppose it was set up in such a way that we could automatically and seamlessly change the tolls across the system to eliminate congestion everywhere, using ad hoc congestion tolling.

    Now THAT would reduce congestion. I see two problems with that. You would need to be able to alert people in advance of when you changed the tolls in order to afford them the “choice” you so often ballyhoo. How do you suppose we would do that? Short range radio brodcasts? Podcasts? Illuminated signs? It seems to me that would raise the price of the tolling gantries significantly, and it means yet another piece of required equipment in the car.

    Here is the second problem. You own a home on a quiet cul-de-sac. You’ve been there for 20 years, commuting 25 minutes to work, but that has been increasing over time, and now it is 35 minutes.

    Suddenly, your county administration approve a big new development that goes in a redevelopment spot between your home and yoru office. Your customary path to work is suddentl congested and the ad hoc EX pass congestion mechanism goes into effect: your cost of going to work doubles. This is entirely on account of a relatively small group of people who took actions you had no choice in.

    It is bad enough that you now have to compete with those people in rush hour, but now you are going to give them the option of paying so that they don’t have to compete with you.

    Of course, it is a free market. When those units went on the market you had the “choice” of competing for one of them on price and just up and moving closer in oder to get a jump on the new congestion.

    Humbug. B.S.

    Here is what has really happened. The planners that allowed the new development lost the link between land use and transportation management. And now, with automatic, ad-hoc, EZ Pass tolling you are going to reward them in cash for continuing this idiotic behavior.

    I fail to see how trading one form of inequity for another is going to result in “better” settlemet patterns, but I can see how such a plan would have results that would make opposition to the gas tax look minor in comparison.

    That ability to create immediate and ad hoc financial detriments to participating in a congestion event raises the uncertainty level in every transaction from housing to deliveries, and business hates uncertainty.

    The lobbyists will be camped out at the GA in droves to repal such a travesty.

  30. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “That is a completely different situation from measuring everytime somebody moves anywhere….”

    I think we may not be tracking together.

    The only difference between EZ-Pass and Congestion Pricing is the method of assessing the toll charge.

    An ordinary toll road uses EZ-Pass to charge a set (unchanging, static) toll.

    Congestion pricing uses EZ-pass but the toll charge varies according to the traffic conditions. It can and will actually change in minutes.

    You could have a $5 toll go to $15 for the same exact stretch of road.

    And the technology is able to adapt a statically charging TOLL road to a variable (congestion) pricing road – overnight.

    Congestion pricing also does not have to be put on every road but only select roads – just the same way that only some roads have HOV on them – not all of them and some roads are TOLL roads and other not.

    It’s the same general scheme.

    Tolling every stretch of road was never the intent of congestion pricing.

    Is this where we differ on our understanding?

    I’m not an advocate of the more complicated GPS-based systems that JB seems to like because like you – I think using current/existing technology is cheaper and more efficient – and much more likely to be implementable in a relatively short time frame without reinventing the wheel so to speak.

    I don’t pretend that there will be no costs with deploying gantries but point out that you don’t need to have them everywhere AND even the ones you decide that you will have – don’t have to all be installed in one fell swoop overnight.

    More likely .. phased in… over time

    And guess what… EZ-pass can be deployed with with on-street and off-street parking also.

    EZ-pass could conceivably work as a METRO Pass… also…

    we could even put gantries in gasoline stations… to add sur-charges based on the frequency of your gasoline purchases for that vehicle – in effect charge you for miles based on the EPA estimate for your vehicle.

    There are already hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in NoVa who already have an EZ-Pass.

    I have one.

    We use it when we know we know we’re going to travel on a toll road. It’s an easy choice. Sit in line waiting to get to the toll booth or breeze on through the EZ-pass lanes.

    We use it when we go to Nags Head and when we travel to New York State and we’ll be using it on the new toll roads out west this year.

    That same EZ-Pass would would work just fine on new gantries installed in NoVa.

    My EZpass account would automatically be recognized by new toll gantries in NoVa – as well as anywhere else that they might be erected… or already exist – like the Powhite Parkway in Richmond or the Dulles Toll Road.

    If, at the end of the year, the state wanted to rebate some of the tolls to those below certain income levels – they could.

    They could also rebate money to chose with fuel efficient vehicles.

    The state could also award a road equivalent of “frequent flyer miles”, etc, etc, etc.

    Such a system while not endlessly configurable would, in fact, be so comprehensively configurable as to be beyond most folks current imaginations.

  31. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Yes. This is whare we difffer. I see no reason why Easy Pass or something similar can’t be used for limited access areas like congestion charging areas.

    But we still need some other method to charge all road users something closer to what building and maintaininng the general use roads costs. For that, I still maintain that a fuel tax is the right idea.

    I think there are three issues here. General increases for all users are needed, since we have not increased the fuel tax since 1987. Some generalized increase is needed and justified.

    Congestion charging for the worst areas will provide additional incentive to fix the problem of wasting time and gas while waiting to go to work.

    But whatever we do will make no difference in congestion unless we address demand management. To do that we need to address the root cause of the demand, which is not, in my opinion the relative handful of people who drive long distances. Demand management has two purposes which are related but separate. One is to reduce fuel use in a general way, and the other is to reduce congestion, which is a waste and a nuisance whether you are burning fuel or not.

    Clearly, the more we drive the more fuel we burn and the more we pollute. But that is partially offset by the fact that we pollute even more while sitting than while moving at moderate speeds. We need to simultaneously reduce the need for driving long distances and reduce the congestion that results from trying to crowd everything together.

    We know for a fact that the greatest throughput for a road occurs at 35 mph and three car lengths apart. I submit that a very similar analogy holds for the throughput of any urban space: too close together and things slow down and get more expensive, too far apart and you are not getting maximum benefit for the investment made. The difference is that we know for a fact what the situation is for roads both by experience and mathematical analysis, when considering the more complex urban systemas a whole we have far too many opinions and vested interests and far too little real knowledge.

    Jobs are the single thing that causes congestion more than anything else. On snow days and holidays, congestion is markedly reduced. We do not need to scatter jobs out to the fringes but we do need to move them out of the most congested core areas. Even EMR concedes that Arlington is misbalanced by a surfeit of jobs.

    As JB notes, it isn’t going to be easy, but it also isn’t going to be easy to move a few dozen suburbs either. If we have a teeter-totter with all the jobs on one end, then it strikes me a ludicrous to think that the way to balance it is to move more dwellings to that end.

    So, if jobs are the root cause of congestion then it strikes me as a mistake to tax the symptoms rather than the cause. If we do elect to tax the symptoms, through congestion charging, then we need to find a way to use the proceeds to alleviate the cause rather than spend it (excessively , at least)on transit in yet another futile attempt to manage the symptoms instead of the problem.

    So, here is a question on congestion charging. We know the max throughput is 35 mph and 3 car lengths apart. I’m in charge of setting the congestion charge at my station, and I’m faced with rush hour. I raise the price until the street I control is running at 35 mph.

    But, the throughput isn’t enough to meet the demand at that price, and traffic is stacking up outside my control station waiting for access. So I keep raising the price until people give up and go home.

    Is that what we mean by instantly and infinitely configurable?

  32. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    The problem is not what we know. It is what we know that ain’t so

  33. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    So, if jobs are the root cause of congestion then it strikes me as a mistake to tax the symptoms rather than the cause. If we do elect to tax the symptoms,”

    “So I keep raising the price until people give up and go home.”

    The “symptoms” are realities of what happens when people do not pay the actual costs of driving at rush hour.

    By the way.. forget the pollution arguement – it’s not germane to the discussion. No matter what path is taken – the trump card is held by EPA which insures that the pollution angle is addressed.

    Long distance commutes are not insignificant either. Look at the AADT counts of the major interstate arteries coming into NoVa and you’ll see that for every 10 new jobs in NoVa.. that it is virtually certain that 5 of those will result in more cars from Fredericksburg and environs.

    But your last point about what happens when you force everyone to stay home and there still is not enough “capacity” is a false premise.

    Ask yourself what would happen if the EPA says you cannot build any more roads to start with.

    Wouldn’t the result be the same as you are claiming that would happen with Congestion pricing ultimately?

    The EPA rule is in effect right now and the congestion problem is primarily a peak-hour SPIKE … simply way too many folks trying the use the roads during fairly narrow windows.

    Congestion pricing would spread out the window, flatten the spike AND – ultimately what would happen – is that people COULD get to work on multi-passenger vehicles – and could do so much quicker.

    It would be like HOV lanes on steroids.

    I know.. you’re gonna say this is inherently evil to “force” innocent commuters to do something that they don’t wish to do…

    but this is like saying it’s wrong for Super Bowl tickets to sell for $1000.

    No one is entitled to cheap Super Bowl tickets and no one is entitled to drive an SUV 100 miles SOLO at rush hour everyday in exchange for $1.50 in cash.

    Roads are not free but folks persist in their belief that their gas taxes pay for roads regardless of whether those roads are two lane rural or 12 lane urban freeways that are maxed 2 hours out of 24 ever day.

    I support the idea of indexing the gas tax to keep up with inflation of maintenance costs but to collect sufficient money to pay for the kinds of roads that are said to be needed – the numbers don’t work.

    Once cent on the gas tax brings in about 50 million a year – STATEWIDE.

    How much would you have to raise this tax to bring in enough revenues to make a dent in the NoVa problem?

    And if you did that wouldn’t you end up with even greater transfers of transportation money from NoVa to RoVa?

    So.. if you restricted the gas tax increase to only NoVa guess what would happen?

    Weekend gasoline fillup trips.

    Even if you did that in statewide Va… people would stream across the borders…

    And this assumes that gas tax revenues would actually increase – which they almost surely would not – and the reason not – is not that folks in RoVa would no longer pay. They would.. they have no choice in getting from home to the school they teach at.

    The decrease would be in the urban areas where folks would start switching to multi-passenger vehicles to save costs.

    Which is the same exact thing that would happen when congestion pricing got out of hand – except that RoVa would not be penalized.

    The gas tax has a major inequity in it in that you pay the same no matter whether you drive on uncrowded roads in Farmville or maxed out roads in NoVa.

    You won’t get the money needed for NoVa problems by raising the gas tax statewide because the numbers are against you to start with.

    Why not put the tax on the vast majority of people that need the upgraded infrastructure to start with and why not have a tax that allows people to make choices about how important it is for them to drive at rush hour?

  34. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “The “symptoms” are realities of what happens when people do not pay the actual costs of driving at rush hour.”

    I think that the symptoms may equally be the reality of what happens when businesses do not pay the full cost of locating in a way that is preferentially in their benefit.

    You mention the case of the refirgieration mechanic in F’burg. Why does he have the right to loacate where he can have access to the greatest number of surrounding customers and the greatest number of surrounding eligible employees without being responsible for all the U-shaped travel he causes?

  35. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “By the way.. forget the pollution arguement”

    No, we can’t forget the pollution arument. It is a primary driver of the problems we have, and of the potential solutions.

    I agree that EPA is not going to allow more roads in the most congested areas. It is one reason I say we need to be very careful about promoting the user pays argument. Sooner or later someone is going to ask, “Pays for what?”

    When they discover that they are paying for Metro, which carries 16 passengers per revenue mile at a cost of $8.50 per mile, then they are likely to be upset.

    I’d suggest that it would be better to pay businesses to move out of the city and create more places.

  36. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Long distance commutes are not insignificant either.”

    I don’t think they are insignificant, but they aren’t the driving force either. Jobs are the driving force.

    It IS unfortunate that average driving times are getting longer. The solution is to move BOTH residences and jobs closer together.

    When I drive to town, the first twenty miles is wide open. 85 mph is not uncommon, and you had better roll or get rolled over.

    If everybody who drives that stretch lived 20 miles closer, you would still have to maintain that roadway, and support it for the sake of much less traffic.

    And, if they all lived 20 miles closer, then 30 miles closer the congestion would BE EXACTLY THe SAME. However, if they all lived 20 miles closer, housing prices there would be much, much higher.

    Have you ever looked at a suply and demand curve? It only takes a one or two percent shortage before prices go asymptotic.

    Where do you think the total system saving will come from?

  37. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “But your last point about what happens when you force everyone to stay home and there still is not enough “capacity” is a false premise.”

    You caught me.

    I concede that was weak. What’s worse is that I felt it in my gut at the time, but I let it pass because it was late and I was tired.

    But your arument against it plays into my hand.

    “The EPA rule is in effect right now and the congestion problem is primarily a peak-hour SPIKE … simply way too many folks trying the use the roads during fairly narrow windows.”

    So what do we do? Let private tol road enterprise scalp the tickets we need to get to our jobs? Let prices rise to $1000 like superbowl tickets?

    The reason I posed the question was to ask how high a price is too high? What is the real cause and cost of locational decisions? Who decides the price and who has to pay? Let alone where the money goes.

  38. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Congestion pricing would spread out the window, flatten the spike AND – ultimately what would happen – is that people COULD get to work on multi-passenger vehicles – and could do so much quicker.”

    Well it might spread out the window and flatten the spike some. But we are already looking at a rush hour that is four hours. How much more flattening can we possibley do?

    True, we could squeeze some more people in under the same envelope under certain conditions. But why would we WANT to? The places we are trying to squeeze them into are already the most expensive and most highly taxed. To my way of thinking that is an indication that they are also the most dysfunctional, because functional means cheap.

    But the idea that we can get more people there faste on multipassenger vehicles is simply a fantasy. It has never happened anywhere that there was any alternative. Remember alternative modes?

  39. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “How much would you have to raise this tax to bring in enough revenues to make a dent in the NoVa problem?”

    I think we can take a clue from Erurope.

    Their taxes are about equal to the cost of the gasoline, and they still have congestion and suburbanization.

    On the other hand they have good trains and good transit. Since this hasn’t worked for them, I suggest we find some other way to spend our money.

    Or, we can just flush it down the AMTRAK toilet.

    On the other hand

  40. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “The gas tax has a major inequity in it in that you pay the same no matter whether you drive on uncrowded roads in Farmville or maxed out roads in NoVa.”

    I agree. The inequality is that if you drive on uncrowded roads in Farmville, you do so at someone else’s expense. In the meantime, they not only pay for your roads, but they can’t drive on their own roads. So in addition to paying for your roads, they get to pay for Metro, and then they get to pay to actually ride Metro as well.

    I’d say it was unequal.

  41. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “The decrease would be in the urban areas where folks would start switching to multi-passenger vehicles to save costs.”

    How in God’s name are they going to save costs by swithcing to multipassenger vehicles which are not only more expensive and slower, but do not relieve them of the costs of also owning an automobile?

    That idea is stark raving mad.

  42. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “The reason I posed the question was to ask how high a price is too high? What is the real cause and cost of locational decisions? Who decides the price and who has to pay? Let alone where the money goes.”

    It’s quite simple. How much does it cost to provide and maintain transportation infrastructure for those that need it.

    If you’re worried about “abuses” why are not not worrying right now about VDOT “abuses”?

  43. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “The inequality is that if you drive on uncrowded roads in Farmville, you do so at someone else’s expense.”

    You might want to consult the numbers at the VDOT website where you’ll find that the roads there are minimal and money for improvements is even more minimal and probably matches what locals pay into it with their gas taxes.

  44. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “How in God’s name are they going to save costs by swithcing to multipassenger vehicles which are not only more expensive and slower, but do not relieve them of the costs of also owning an automobile?”

    The same way it is cheaper for you to fly to Orlando rather than drive.

    Have you heard of slugging, van pools, buses, VRE, METRO?

    People don’t sell their cars and switch to multi-passenger vehicles exclusively except perhaps in the middle of downtown NYC.

    It’s not an either/or proposition.

    You say you hate going to Dulles 3 hours before your flight.. and hang around for more delays before you FINALLY get to your desination?

    Well.. drive it….

    You’ll ultimately have similiar choices with driving at rush hour.

    You use the word “more expensive” – more expensive than what?

    If you are not right now paying for the true cost of your rush hour driving.. then yes.. it will be cheaper.

    When the actual price of driving solo at rush hour is allocated to you – then “cheaper” might be a little harder to decide expecially if it is a time vs money proposition.

    If you think this idea is insane – then please tell me what part of congestion pricing that you do not understand – because the entire premise of VALUE (congestion) pricing is affixing VALUE to a commodity – your time.

    If NOVA is going to continue to grow and more roads are not likely, what would YOU DO to avoid gridlock?

    If you took 50% of the one passenger vehicles on the roads and converted them to 3 passenger vehicles you’d gain almost instant increased capacity without building a single new road.

    So.. if you don’t like this idea.. and think it is insane.. pony up your idea.. of how to avoid gridlock in NoVa as it gains more population and drivers!

  45. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Metro carries something like 16 passengers for every revenue mile they operate their trains. If you took 50% of those trains and upped them to 3/4 s capacity, as yousuggest with cars, you could also gain more capacity without building a single new road.

    It isn’t going to happen, and for very good reasons.

    Trains get more and and more empty as they approach the end of their route because they serve fewer and fewer destinations. Even during rush hour they are full onw way and empty the other. VOILA, fifty percent capacity off the bat – at best, and only during rush hour. I goes downhill from there.

    I recently observed four in-service buses, headed towrds Balston, from different directions, during rush hour. Among the four buses there was a total of one passenger.

    Anecdotal? Sure.

    Cars have a cost in parking, when they sit empty and unused, trains have a cost in carrying empty trains around.

    Automobiles already carry a higher load ratio than transit. I know that is hard to believe, I didn’t believe it either at first.

    Peak load capacity is enormously expensive for transit. Even more so than for roads. The one good thing is that with cars, it is the owners of the cars who pay for much of the peak load capacity, whether or not they choose to use it.

  46. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    There are some people who work in the city that value their time less than the rest of us. When we price them out of the market, how is the city going to operate without the low cost services they provide?

    Yeah, I know. Hand out a rebate at the end of the year, based on salary.

    Dumb as toast.

    How are they going to get the rebate if they can’t afford to go get the salary?

  47. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “how is the city going to operate without the low cost services they provide?

    Yeah, I know. Hand out a rebate at the end of the year, based on salary.

    Dumb as toast.”

    OR… a revolutionary concept for sure – actually pay them what is required to attrract them to do the work.

    This is simple. If you live in an expensive area – you CAN find a plumber. He might live somewhere else and you can bet the costs of him driving to your place to fix your plumbing IS going to include the costs of doing that.

    In fact, no where will you read that broken and unfixed plumbing in expensive homes is a symptom of not providing affordable housing for services.

    The complaint is about the costs of getting a plumber… whining from the folks who make the money and have to pay the bill.

  48. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Cars have a cost in parking, when they sit empty and unused, trains have a cost in carrying empty trains around.

    Automobiles already carry a higher load ratio than transit. I know that is hard to believe, I didn’t believe it either at first.”

    I’m not so focused on transit nor the costs and/or cost effectiveness of transit – when roads are so heavily subsidized in comparison.

    Free Parking causes massive congestion AND removes valuable space that could be used for affordable housing AND causes runoff pollution.

    If we REQUIRED parking garages as part of ANY multi-story construction – and have those costs absorbed by those that need the parking – it would dramatically affect the equation.

    I hear bitchin and moaning about a one way TOLL of as much as $15-$30 but almost no complaints about having to pay $15-$30 to park your car daily.

    You wanna see how METRO works with Transit-oriented development and cars?

    Simple. Require parking garages – and then people choose – to drive – or to use transit.

  49. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: economics of transit especially with regard to rail verses rapid bus transit.

    One of the huge benefits of congestion pricing is that dedicated lanes will be built for multi-passenger vehicles.

    This is important because, as Ray points out, rail transit is very expensive and by the time you achieve the density necessary for it to be economically feasible, the land for possible right of way is so danged expensive that it becomes a major impediment.

    This is why most expansions that we see are done with re-development where you tear down low density.. and put in higher densities.. with transit.

    What congestion pricing does is allow “virtual” extensions of transit via a comprehensive network of rapid bus transit that is much more easily configured and adapted to changing conditions than transit.

    BRT .. INTEGRATED with METRO would work much like buses and VRE work with METRO.

    Right now.. shuttle buses take folks from commuter lots to VRE stations where folks take VRE to a METRO station and then to their destination.

    This could “work” using BRT as an integrated component.

    For instance, take VRE to a METRO BRT transfer station.. get on the BRT and finish your trip to work.

    Come 7pm.. the BRT parks it’s buses for 8 hours and fires them back up at 5am.

    The KEY to this is DEDICATED BRT Lanes – which we cannot afford unless we convert to Congestion Pricing.

    Of course, I’ll admit that the folks who currently screw up the existing transporation network by making stupid decisions could indeed carry forward their same stupid ideas to screw up congestion pricing and BRT – if we let them.

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