Oregon changes course on mileage fee

Oregon drivers to have a choice of systems behind a road user fee

Blog Entry May 14, 2012
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Responding to strong resistance to a GPS-based system that would track where a vehicle travels and use that information to calculate a road use fee, a task force of the Oregon Department of Transportation is looking at other options.


Jim Whitty, director of the Road User Fee Task Force, which tested a GPS-based system in 2006, said the GPS option is now dead.


"We have completely changed the approach," Whitty told the Associated Press. "We're moving away from a mandate for a government box in your car, and from GPS."


Whitty said a new pilot study would allow participants to choose a road user fee system that makes use of electronic systems that already record and report mileage, such as a system used by an insurance company that bases fees on where a user drives or a cell-phone application that counts only in-state mileage or a flat, annual tax.


It seems a little silly to me for Americans to object to paying a toll specific to the road they are driving on and the time and congestion conditions they are driving in.


Americans give up their personal information for the sake of a grocery-store loyalty card that lets the grocery store track their buying habits. They give up personal information for an electronic toll pass (possibly tied to a credit card or bank account) that tracks which toll roads they use. They give up personal information for a video-club card that lets the video purveyor track the movies they watch. Aren’t most cell phones now equipped with GPS chips that record everywhere the smart-phone user goes? Facebook now lets members tag their updates with their location. I don’t know why someone would do that, but some people do.


I know the grocery story, video store and credit card vendor are private companies not government agencies, but that fact doesn’t make it any less creepy to me. Partly because I don’t believe corporate records are safe from government eyes. In the current environment, in which we are perpetually in a state of war with terrorists, all the police state has to do is claim national security, and they can get all the private records they want. I have no faith in the court system to protect me from unreasonable surveillance. Maybe I’m just paranoid.


That said, I still think it is possible to design a road user fee system that will not report travel details to the government but will allow the user to save money by choosing travel options that avoid congested areas and times or pay a little more for express lanes, the way some tolled roads do now. Maybe the travel details could be handled by a private contractor that would aggregate the information and issue summary reports.


Maybe the details are unnecessary. Maybe all we need to do is pay per mile according to our odometer, as several e-mailers have told me.

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