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A per-mile tax? Toll roads are a better alternative

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Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

With cars more fuel-efficient and Americans driving less, revenue generated by per-gallon fuel taxes is on the decline. But Oregon's response to that dilemma, which raises cost and privacy concerns, represents a wrong turn — especially because there's a far better approach.

Oregon is seeking 5,000 volunteers for a pilot project set to begin in 2015, Fox News reports. They'll still pay the federal per-gallon tax but instead of Oregon's 30-cents-per-gallon tax, they'll pay 1.5 cents per mile driven — as measured by devices attached to their vehicles' computers.

Those devices can't track their locations. But to avoid taxing such drivers for miles driven on private or out-of-state roads, per-mile taxation will need to incorporate smartphones and/or GPS systems, which add cost and can track locations, raising obvious privacy concerns.

GPS cost averages about $200 per vehicle. And there's the cost of calculating and billing to consider: A 2012 Government Accountability Office report said collecting GPS-based per-mile taxes for 230 million U.S. passenger vehicles likely would cost far more than collecting per-gallon taxes. And per-mile taxation would hit the most fuel-efficient cars as hard as the worst gas guzzlers.

So, what's the existing, far better solution? Why not more toll roads? Not raising new privacy concerns, not needing costly new collection systems and treating all passenger vehicles the same, toll roads are the preferred alternate route to the same destination — more revenue.

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