While gasoline taxes have built most of the nation’s highway network, most experts agree they are on their way out. First of all, they don’t account for the cost of the roads each user drives on. Second, alternative fuels will make them obsolete.
Many of the Antiplanner’s faithful allies, such as John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, believe that gas taxes should be replaced by GPS devices that charge people based on where and when they drive. But other people have privacy concerns. Do we really want Big Brother to know everywhere we go?
At one extreme, the GPS could transit its location at all times to a central computer. The computer would calculate the charges and send the user a bill. This would have minimal security for privacy.
At the other extreme, the GPS could calculate all the charges itself. It would then periodically report the charges, but not any of the locations, to a central system. Such a GPS would have to include a complete map and navigation system, along with a schedule of charges for using various roads, all of which is periodically updated by a central system.
While a basic transponder costs only about $10, a complete GPS navigation system today costs about $300 to $400. These costs can be expected to decline, but the cost of subscription services of the sort that could regularly update the maps and user fees have historically not been falling.
To reduce those subscription fees, a new paper by the Antiplanner’s faithful ally Gabriel Roth and an engineer named Bern Grush propose an intermediate model that uses the kind of system made for anonymous cell phones. In this model, the GPS transponders send basic data to proxy servers that calculate the user fees and pass that information to a payment operator that matches the billing to either a prepaid account (assuring total privacy) or a credit card (which could let authorities know how much people have spent on tolls but not where or when they spent it). This system would reduce the up-front cost of the GPS transponder and eliminate the need for a subscription service.
Co-author Bern Grush works for Skymeter, a company that has developed the technology that makes this all possible. But the Antiplanner’s faithful ally Peter Samuel, of Tollroads News, says that at least two other companies — Transcore and Siemens — have similar technologies.
Of course, some people are going to resist any form of tolling. “If you believe in freedom, why not believe in free roads?” asks this guy of an imaginary libertarian. But libertarians don’t believe things should be free; they believe people should be free to make their choices as long as they pay for the choices they make. This guy says he doesn’t want “a toll system that begins to charge me the minute I back out of the driveway,” but somebody has to pay for the roads beyond the end of his driveway. Why not the people who use them?