A controversial plan being pondered by federal and state officials to generate funding for America's cash-strapped highway system might soon see motorists being taxed per mile driven.
America's road planners, according to a Los Angeles Times report, want to introduce a new tax bill that will utilize a little black box placed under the dashboard of vehicles to track the number of miles driven by each motorist then calculate the tax burden based on that usage.
The idea is being heavily pushed by bureaucrats because America's Highway Trust Fund, financed with taxes paid at the gas pump, is broke accord to the Times.
It's broke because Americans are buying less gas due to factors like more fuel efficient cars. Politicians also don't consider it expedient to increase the 20-year-old federal gas tax of 18.4 percent any higher with current gas prices.
"The gas tax is just not sustainable," Lee Munnich, a transportation policy expert at the University of Minnesota told the Times.
Minnesota recently put tracking devices on 500 cars to test out a pay-by-mile system and Lee argues, "This works out as the most logical alternative over the long term."
"This really is a must for our nation. It is not a matter of something we might choose to do," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments. California is planning to start tracking miles driven by every California motorist by 2025. "There is going to be a change in how we pay these taxes. The technology is there to do it."
The idea is being pushed by "urban liberals" and politicians like Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, as the most viable long-term alternative to the gas tax.
But there are concerns about privacy. In Nevada, accord to the report, some 50 volunteers' cars were equipped with the devices not long ago and privacy issues were a sore point.
"Concerns about Big Brother and those sorts of things were a major problem," said Alauddin Khan, who directs strategic and performance management at the Nevada Department of Transportation. "It was not something people wanted."
"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."
As the discussion continues on the black box idea, however, some transportation planners have argued that it could all be one giant distraction.
Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area, says Congress could simply deal with the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund by raising gas taxes.
"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."