15 May, 2008

Progressive Fuel Tax - not a crazy idea

Location: below the earth's crust
Mood: stingy

I have an idea.

I have pitched this idea to several people, and for some reason, no one seems to like it. And I am not sure why. Maybe I am not preaching to the right choir? But anyway, my faithful readers, I will present it to you here, and I would be VERY eager to hear your feedback on the idea. In case you are curious, by the way, there have been 71 unique visitors to this site. Not bad. Of course, it may just be one person who has viewed the site from 71 different computers, but let's not rain on my parade now, please.

So here's my idea.

Progressive fuel tax.

How does it work? Simple. A bar code or chip is mounted inside the gas tank rim on your vehicle. The nozzle of the pump at the station detects this chip, and knows what kind of car you are driving. The price of your fuel is set according to the fuel efficiency of your vehicle.

Your first question might be "What about tampering?"

Answer: No chip = No fuel

Your second question might be "How could you keep someone from putting a Hybrid chip into their Hummer, to spoof the system?"

Answer: When you do your emissions test every other year, they scan the chip, and make sure there has been no tampering - the chip would be embedded in the material of the vehicle in such a manner so as to make it very difficult to remove without leaving very obvious visible evidence.

See. I have thought all this through.

And it would go something like this (assuming today's prices of about $3.80 per gallon):

Driving a fully electric car: $1.00/gallon
Driving a hybrid: $2.50/gallon
Driving a Toyota Corolla: $3.25/gallon
Driving a Toyota Camry: $4.50/gallon
Driving a Ford Explorer: $6.00/gallon
Driving a Hummer H1: $10/gallon

Here's your next question - I know it's coming: "What about 18-wheel trucks?"

Answer: Commercial trucking would need have some type of exemption, but I am not sure exactly what it should be. Because obviously, if fuel prices for diesel were to suddenly triple, then it would stand to reason that everything we buy would be much more expensive too.

See, I am thinking about the details. Really.

And 100% - yes, one hundred percent - of the amount over and above the average gas price goes to environmental and/or energy efficient technology development - not the oil companies.

The "discounted" gas prices would actually constitute a "subsidy" whereby the government would be paying the "delta" on price to the oil company for you. So if median price that the oil company sets is $3.75, then for your hybrid, the government pays $1.25/gallon to the oil company. But if you're driving an Ford Explorer, then $2.25/gallon of your money is going to the government as an energy surcharge for wasting fuel.

Maybe the price gradient should be even more steep? To be honest, I think the price step should be oppressive. If someone can afford a $100,000 vehicle, they probably don't mind paying a couple of hundred a week on gas. But that's just me being draconian. And the auto industry would probably rightfully go bonkers if we tried to put their high end market completely out of business. The main goal is to penalize waste, and promote conservation, and provide resources for alternative energy research. So, it doesn't really need to be completely over-the-top to be worthwhile.

But nobody seems to like this idea.

I have heard other people suggest that we should tax people based on odometer readings - so the more you drive, the more you pay. But that is not really fair because it is a tax on people's occupation choices and living arrangements, and is somewhat ignoring circumstances in individual lives that might make people forced to have long commutes that cannot be done with public transportation.

How about this? Another idea.

Part of this graduated gas tax could be used to make ALL public transportation FREE in every city at ALL times. That would be a breeze. I bet you that even a 10 cent per gallon tax on everyone would be enough to make public transportation sustainable with no per-use charge. But we don't do that. Why not?


Why not?

I will resist the urge to start my "corporations have too much power" rant. But, boy, do I want to start that rant!


  1. I'd like to say I've viewed your page on 71 different computers, but alas, I have not. Your parade continues, rain free.

    I'm not at all opposed to this idea, but I think the chances of anything close it it happening are right next to zero.

    A few questions on the details - this would work out well for anyone who buys a new car, but what about older cars? Who pays for having those chips installed? Do people have to take time out of their day to wait for hours to get them installed? Where would they get installed? What kind of lead time would people have to "retro fit" their cars? How would the system get updated as gas prices constantly change? The cost of the chips themselves, who pays for that? If it's the government, where do they get the money for that cost? I'm not trying to kill your idea with questions, just pondering the small stuff.

  2. it's not a bad idea, and complex enough that it would be appealing to bureaucrats.

    it seems as though the gov't wouldn't be underwriting the energy-efficient vehicle users as much as the non-energy efficient vehicle users would, no?

  3. I knew there was something I was missing. Not sure what to do about older cars. Retrofitting would be difficult, probably. Maybe the design should not use a microchip, but maybe could do something like scan a barcode built in to the license plate tab? That would be an option.

    The question about changing prices is easy - because it would always be a percentage. So, if "market value" = 1.0, or 100%, then you could say that the most economical cars are a 0.5, and the least economical cars are a 3.0, for instance - and that would be the "multiplier" for the gas prices. So the more expensive gas gets, so would go the discount AND the surcharge proportionally.

    I agree that the chip in the gas tank is too complicated. But shoot a hole in the license tab scheme. Go on! I dare you! :)

  4. I like the license tab idea, except that cars older than a certain age don't have to get tabs any longer. =) I think that's the only hole I can find in that theory. I think you need to print out your proposal and submit it to your congresscritter posthaste! I'll second the motion.

  5. black bean burger16 May, 2008 14:50

    older cars do still have to get emissions tested don't they?? (i say this because i had an 85 honda accord that failed the emissions test)... so maybe you could have the chip tested/installed when they test your emissions...

  6. I am nearly positive that once a car reaches a certain age, they do not do emissions tests, either. Seems completely ridiculous and against the whole point of EMISSIONS tests, no? Anyway, the lesser populated counties in Washington also don't require emissions tests. I have friends who have registered their cars at parents' addresses to avoid emissions testing.