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A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue

The devices would track every mile you drive —possibly including your location — and the government would use the data to draw up a tax bill.

October 26, 2013|By Evan Halper

Nevada is among several states now scrambling to find affordable technology that would allow the state to keep track of how many miles a car is being driven, but not exactly where and at what time. If you can do that, Khan said, the public gets more comfortable.

The hunt for that technology has led some state agencies to a small California startup called True Mileage. The firm was not originally in the business of helping states tax drivers. It was seeking to break into an emerging market in auto insurance, in which drivers would pay based on their mileage. But the devices it is testing appeal to highway planners because they don't use GPS and deliver a limited amount of information, uploaded periodically by modem.

"People will be more willing to do this if you do not track their speed and you do not track their location," said Ryan Morrison, chief executive of True Mileage. "There have been some big mistakes in some of these state pilot programs. There are a lot less expensive and less intrusive ways to do this."

In Oregon, planners are experimenting with giving drivers different choices. They can choose a device with or without GPS. Or they can choose not to have a device at all, opting instead to pay a flat fee based on the average number of miles driven by all state residents.

Other places are hoping to sell the concept to a wary public by having the devices do more, not less. In New York City, transportation officials are seeking to develop a taxing device that would also be equipped to pay parking meter fees, provide "pay-as-you-drive" insurance, and create a pool of real-time speed data from other drivers that motorists could use to avoid traffic.

"Motorists would be attracted to participate … because of the value of the benefits it offers to them," says a city planning document.

Some transportation planners, though, wonder if all the talk about paying by the mile is just a giant distraction. At the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area, officials say Congress could very simply deal with the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund by raising gas taxes. An extra one-time or annual levy could be imposed on drivers of hybrids and others whose vehicles don't use much gas, so they pay their fair share.

"There is no need for radical surgery when all you need to do is take an aspirin," said Randy Rentschler, the commission's director of legislation and public affairs. "If we do this, hundreds of millions of drivers will be concerned about their privacy and a host of other things."

evan.halper@latimes.com

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