Keep Driving Fees Flat No Matter the Vehicle

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It’s plain that the federal gas tax is past its sell-by date. Originally introduced as a fair way for automobile drivers to pay for the upkeep of the roads they use, it has become less fair as rich people buy hybrid and electric vehicles.

A system of mileage-based user fees (MBUFs), where people pay depending on how many miles they drive, makes sense. However, some people think the fee needs to be different depending on how many emissions your vehicle puts out. That doesn’t make sense, and it repeats the mistakes of the current gas tax.

The gas tax was fair because it was based on a simple principle: user pays, user benefits. Before the gas tax, all taxpayers paid for the upkeep of roads and building new ones. But this was particularly unfair to the poorest people who could not afford a car. The creation of the Highway Trust Fund in 1956 and the introduction of the gas tax to pay for it switched the burden to the people who used roads and highways.

Yet in recent years, the gas tax has moved more toward a “some users pay/all users benefit” model. With the introduction of hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles, some road users have been paying far less than their fair share for the wear and tear they impose on the roads as they pay less or nothing at all in gas taxes.

This unfairness is compounded by the fact that hybrid or electric vehicle (EV) owners are likely to be well-educated, young, and comparatively well-off. A study by, for example, found that the average owner of a Ford Focus Electric had a household income of $199,000 a year. The people who are paying the most for road upkeep are more likely to be less well-educated, older, and poorer than the hybrid/EV owners.

Switching to MBUFs would help alleviate this disparity. Hybrid and EV owners would once again pay into the Highway Trust Fund according to how much they use the roads. Some people argue that MBUFs are unfair on rural Americans who drive longer distances, but it’s no more unfair than the gas tax. Indeed, MBUFs may be fairer in that respect, because rural Americans tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient vehicles.

Read the full article at The Philadelphia Inquirer.