Here's a question for you: Would you rather pay the current state gas tax of 20 cents a gallon (on top of the federal tax of 18.4 cents a gallon) or instead pay a tax based on how much you actually drive?
A lot of people who are trying to solving the state's funding crisis are quietly talking about the feasibility of someday tracking Texas drivers and charging people only on the amount of road they actually use. As many cars become more fuel efficient, and cars that run on electricity or other fuels become more popular, states are eventually going to have to find an alternative to levying a gasoline or diesel tax. Taxing drivers on vehicle miles traveled is something that theoretically can be done with today's technology.
In any case, today the Texas Transportation Commission is getting a briefing about a pilot program that's about to launch in Minnesota. In the program, a group of Minnesota drivers will carry special mobile phones that track their movements beginning in July, and pay a per-mile fee based on how many miles they travel. The beauty of this science is, motorists can also be charged a higher fee for traveling during peak times of day, when space on the roads is at a premium, and they can travel at a much lower rate when the roads are clear.
The Texas commissioners are very interested in this subject, and are asking a lot of questions of the Minnesota representative, whose name is Ben Pierce of the high-tech firm Battelle.
Commission chairwoman Deirdre Delisi of Austin noted the recent controversy that has brewed worldwide after it became known that Apple can readily track its iPhone users with technology that's already in the phone. Delisi asked a question to the effect of, if the state promises the pilot project participants that they're not being tracked for ulterior reasons -- i.e. spying -- will the citizens believe it?
Pierce noted that participation would be voluntary, and that those who didn't want to carry a phone to track their vehicle miles could simply go back to paying a flat rate for their tax.
He said that while some would object to being tracked, the attitude of others is "I'm carrying the phone anyway, so it's not much difference. It's a discount system. If you don't want to use the phone in your car, don't. Just pay the flat rate."
Commissioner Ned Holmes of Houston thanked Pierce for his briefing. "We look forward to hearing from you," Holmes said. "When are you coming back."
Pierce said he could provide the Texas panel on how the Minnesota program is working as soon as October or November.
-- Gordon Dickson, [email protected]