Democrats have an idea to make bumper-to-bumper traffic worse: tax drivers more when they’re sitting in traffic. Incoming House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is planning to propose a new tax that would penalize drivers by taxing them at a higher rate when they experience traffic.
The traffic tax would be part of a new pilot program for a “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT) tax which would replace the federal gas tax and instead charge motorists based on a per-mile fee.
In order for a VMT system to work, GPS systems would be installed in vehicles which would track vehicle movement and measure miles traveled in order to calculate the tax. Rep. DeFazio would then use the guise of replacing the gas tax with a VMT tax to charge differential rates based on highway congestion.
“The only fair way to do VMT is with congestion pricing. You shouldn’t charge a farmer who has to travel 20 miles to the feed store the same per-mile fee as someone who jumps on 205 in Portland and causes a backup,” DeFazio said.
To be clear, DeFazio isn’t talking about creating new toll lanes or raising toll prices to reduce highway congestion. He is instead talking about installing a tracking system in your car that would monitor your vehicle’s movement and the location at every moment, transmit this information to federal agencies, and then tax you based upon how busy traffic is when you’re driving.
Such a form of congestion pricing is a deeply regressive form of taxation that would be exponentially more detrimental to the working poor who spend a higher percentage of their income commuting to work. DeFazio’s traffic tax would also disproportionally tax suburban and rural drivers who use highways more frequently and commute further to work than individuals in urban areas.
Apart from the inherent unfairness of the tax and obvious privacy concerns of having the federal government collect information on every driver’s whereabouts, the point of taxation would be deeply unpopular with voters.
Imagine the frustration you’d experience when you’re late for work because road construction is causing traffic delays while at that same moment knowing the government is charging you more money for the pleasure.