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SUV owners: make ’em pay

By enelson
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008 at 4:05 pm in driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, technology.

epa-fuel-economy-comparison.BMPAs I’ve noted, it’s difficult to pronounce the word “infra- structure” these days without putting “crum- bling” before it. Our recent story on the Dumbarton rail bridge is yet another example of that not-at-all retorical reality.

That in turn raises the question of how to pay for keeping up our highways, rail lines and ferry terminals, to say nothing of expanding those systems after we gulp down the $20-billion Prop 1b approved by voters in 2006.

Lucky for us, someone did a study about this.
Asha Agrawal, a research associate at the Mineta Trans- portation Institute at San Jose State University, and her colleagues had noticed that various members of the legislature had proposed various iterations of environmentally indexed fees for driving.

Silicon Valley Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, for example, authored AB 2791, which would basically penalize you if your 2011 GMC Sierra pickup upset the Sierra Club. If its greenhouse gas emissions exceeded a certain threshhold, to be set by the California Air Resources Board, you’d end up paying a surcharge of up to $2,500 (not to exceed the sales tax on the purchase). If your new vehicle was carbon-light, you could get a similar-sized rebate of sales tax, if I read the bill correctly.

Sound like a good idea? Not to the legislature. Proposed in 2006,  2791 died in the State Senate Rules Committee. Now there’s another bill proposing the same thing.

“So my colleagues and I were anxious to test out, is the public as tentative on this as our elected leaders are?” Agrawal explained.

If you guess the answer, you win a free subscription to the new online news site, “Well, Duh!”

Presenting the 1,500 California adults with a hypothetical proposal similar to Ruskin’s, but with a smaller carrot (up to $1,000 rebate) and similar stick (up to $2,000 surcharge), the Mineta Institute researchers found that 65 percent supported the idea.

Other proposals asked polees about a straight doubling the vehicle registreation fee from $31 to $62, and then a green-indexed registration, and the green idea won out, 40 percent, compared to 63 percent.

And there was also the wildly unpopular mileage fee. Our great transportation thinkers and planners worry, rightfully so, that rising fuel economy means our already inadequate 18 cents of transportation taxes on gallons of gasoline will continue to fall. This bright idea would levy a per-mile fee using GPS or other technolgy that would talk to gas pumps and tack on your fee every time you topped off your tank.

Survey says: Twenty-eight percent like this idea. But if you allowed Priuses to pay less per mile and forced Yukons to pay more, that support jumped to 50 percent.

While that won’t carry a referendum, Agarwal she’d never seen the mileage idea score so well in polls.

Once again, what seems obvious to the unwashed masses seems to be confusing and problematic in Sacramento or Washington. Clearly, support for this type of thing is building, perhaps even to the point of withstanding opposition from the oil and SUV lobby. With research like Agarwal’s and some well-timed e-mail campaigns, our government might finally catch up with its peeps.

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2 Responses to “SUV owners: make ’em pay”

  1. Hayden Says:

    There was a brief NPR item the other day on mileage-indexed insurance, rather than the current “all-you-can drive” American model, under which one pays a flat fee that typically covers unlimited mileage. Switching to mileage-indexed insurance was reported to reduce miles driven by 10-15%.

    Separately, you’ve probably reported on this, but what percentage/amount of state gas taxes go to public transit?

  2. DensityDuck Says:

    ANOTHER form of free advertising for Toyota? The car-pool lane is already a Toyota billboard.

    Does Argawal propose some sort of new-car subsidy for people who can’t afford to buy a new vehicle? It’s not as though I can just go to the Car Library and trade straight across, particularly when nobody’s going to want to buy an SUV since they’ll get charged an extra $2500 a year.

    If this gets passed I predict a rash of SCI’s, “Sudden Combustion Incidents”, where your SUV all of a sudden and for no apparent reason explodes into flames and burns to a crisp. Gosh, Mister Claims Adjuster, I don’t know what happened, I was getting in the car to go to the DMV and pay my sin tax, and I heard a “pop”, and then the whole thing went up like a torch. I barely got out in time, I had to go change my pants afterwards, just write out the check please since my doctor says I’m suffering from PTSD and can’t hold a rational conversation.

    Another fun aspect is that we’ll see yet another sharply-visible indicator of the line between “rich” and “middle class”. Rich people can afford to pay the Carbon Tax for their big cars and pickup trucks; the mere middle-class will be stuck in compact sedans. Hooray, Argawal’s reinvented the Sumptuary Laws!

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