Sunday, June 5, 2005

Paying for driving by the mile

Apparently, Britain is considering implementing a pay-per-mile system to pay for their roads.

Most libertarians hate this idea, but I actually like it.

Yes, I know, there are huge privacy concerns here. But they also very obvious concerns. It's not like the government is going to install a GPS receiver in anyone's car and charge them taxes (with a monthly bill?) without them noticing.

Plus, the system could should be engineered to not even keep track of the data. Why not just dynamically check against a database of all roads every time your odometer ticks up another mile to see which type of road you're on? If you're on a freeway, your total fare is incremented by x. If you're on some main drag, your fare is incremented by y. Some residential road--add z.

In other words, there's no need to save your position data. The system would just need to instantaneously grab the position data to figure out how much to increment your total driving bill.

Some people might say that such a system effectively reduces freedom because now people will limit their driving and feel less mobile knowing that every extra mile they drive will cost them.

And that's bad because??? It's not exactly like there's an energy surplus right now. And traffic's fun to sit in!

But besides the practical advantages to implementing such a system, the best reason is that it makes the automotive transportation market much more free market. You pay for what you use; no more, no less. If I never use a road, I never pay for it. If I drive on roads a lot, I have to pay for it.

The overall cost of automotive transportation is currently buried in oil industry subsidies, pork barrel road projects, gas taxes, licensing fees, and probably many other things. So while the average person thinks they're paying 10 cents per mile (assuming 20 mpg and $2.00/gallon gas), they're really paying much more. Now they'll finally see that.

And this will have several big benefits. First, it will level the playing field for things like buses, light rail, subways, and personal rapid transit, all of which might be profitable for private companies to run (instead of governments) if automotive transportation weren't de facto subsidized, as it is now. Second, it may pave the way (no pun intended...well, maybe) for the future privatization of roads...up until now one of the more kooky and unrealistic goals of libertarianism.

Yes, pay-per-mile systems for automotive transportation have an inherent potential for privacy abuses. But so do (and did) a bunch of new technologies. Cellular phone conversations used to be able to be picked up by off-the-shelf police scanners. The internet, while one of the greatest technological innovations of all time, is ripe with privacy concerns. But nobody is suggesting we abolish the internet.

We shouldn't just shy away from new ideas like this one because they carry privacy concerns. We should embrace new technologies and use things like the Constitution (remember that document?) to ensure that our privacy is protected. Laws can be used to protect our liberties, too.

I heard about this story from The Agitator.

For comments, see the original blog post here.

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